Creating a Climate for Change

Joanna M. Adams

Co-Pastor, Fourth Presbyterian Church, Chicago
Co-Moderator, Covenant Network of Presbyterians

Address to the Covenant Network Lunch at the 215th General Assembly
Denver, Colorado
May 26, 2003

Though most of you know the history of the Covenant Network, it will not hurt any of us here today to remember that the Network came into being six years ago to lend support to the effort to remove Amendment B from the Book of Order. That primary objective was and is at the core of the mission of the Covenant Network. The full inclusion and ordination of all whom God calls to service in Christ’s church is what we in the Covenant Network work for, long for and pray for every day. We are committed to the removal of Amendment B at the earliest possible moment. Our profound sense of urgency is tempered only by the practical reality that is it wiser, we believe, not to call the question until we have at least a chance of winning the vote.

In a spirit of solidarity with our friends, sisters, brothers, daughters and sons who continue to be injured and disrespected by the ordination policies of our denomination, we do not want another negative vote. We do not want to broadcast once again to the church and to the world that Presbyterians are still entrapped in the flawed ideology of exclusion, which is antithetical, we believe, to the spirit and content of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Here is what the Covenant Network is about and will be about in the year ahead: creating a climate in which constitutional change will happen. We didn’t carry a single presbytery in the South in the last attempt to eliminate G6.1016b. Now we have put into place a staff person working in southeastern presbyteries to build support for change. We are becoming better organized and are forming and strengthening Covenant Network groups and coalitions for change all over the country. Having come to the realization that many in our church are ill-informed or mis-informed about the matters about which we care so deeply, we are deepening in a very practical way our commitment to communication and education.

The wise Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hahn has said, “If you want the tree to grow, it doesn’t help to water the leaves. You have to water the roots.”

And so it is time to go deep, and to preach and teach anew the radical story of Christ’s love for all people, of God’s justice for all people. It is time to reconnect with the life-giving power of the Holy Spirit, who makes all things new, up to and including the weary PC(USA).

Each of us in this room is called to the vocation of leadership. Each of us in fact is called to the vocation of proclamation. The love of God, the grace of Christ, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit is what we are to proclaim, by how we live and how we work together and how we treat one another while we are at it. What is it Paul says about the fruits of the Spirit? Love, kindness, faithfulness, long-suffering (Galatians 5:22-23) as opposed to contention, divisiveness, and outbursts of wrath.

I was surprised to learn from the Presbyterian Layman that we have supposedly thrown in the towel. As my colleague John Buchanan said, “You’ve been accused of being a flame-thrower, Joanna, but never a towel-thrower!” Let me assure you that we have not.

There may be different strategies among those of us who are arm in arm in common cause. But our commitment to the full inclusion of gay and lesbian people in the life and offices of the Presbyterian Church is unflagging. And we will continue to work in harmony, remembering that none of us can ever say to another part of the body, “I have no need of you.”

The Board’s decision not to support the Des Moines overture does not mean that we are opposing it. We deeply respect the view of those who believe it is the right thing to do to put the matter before the church each year. But we are convinced that a comprehensive, persuasive strategy of preparation for that vote is needed. The Covenant Network’s efforts are especially focused on the “great middle” of the church — so that the goal of actual constitutional change will be realized, and sooner rather than later.

Does this mean that the Covenant Network is sitting back and waiting? No, it means that we are working harder than ever. It means that we are supporting sisters and brothers around the church who are being targeted and attacked. It means that nobody is going to rest until there is no one who is categorically excluded from answering God’s call to service.

In his letter to the Romans, Paul writes of how the whole creation groans in labor with birth pangs until now. I am convinced that the old ways of meanness and small-mindedness and exclusion are on the way out, and that something else — something new — is being born, painfully but surely being born.

And I would be brave enough to suggest that what is being born is a Presbyterian church whose true identity reflects nothing less than the true identity of Jesus Christ. It was Christ, after all, who tied a towel around his waist and washed the feet of his disciples and called them to a ministry of service. It was Christ who blessed them with responsibility, and who put into their hands the message of love and hope and justice and inclusion — a beautiful, glad message that you and I are called to share with all the world.

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