Issue Number 16
What's an RDP?
But to do justice, and to love kindness,
And to walk humbly with your God?
With great joy and hope, Presbyterian Promise announces its intention to hire a coordinator for the exciting new Reconciling Dialogue Project. Presbyterian Promise is initiating the new project as part of its commitment to serve using the tools of prophetic voice and pastoral love in the Presbytery of Southern New England, where the organization is located, and throughout the Presbyterian Church USA.
The Reconciling Dialogue Project will use the efforts of a skilled coordinator to nurture reconciliation among the members of our church families as well as among friends and colleagues who have experienced alienation caused by discriminatory and hurtful societal and church policies related to sexual orientation and gender identity, among other things.
This project is an act of faith and commitment. We believe that the deep pain that Presbyterians feel about issues surrounding sexual orientation can be healed only as grace moves among us, and as we share a commitment to compassionate conversation and listening. The gracious reconciliation that has been reported in the Peace, Unity, and Purity dialogues at the General Assembly and presbytery levels shows the transformational power that comes from humble and compassionate sharing. We hope to develop creative and effective ways to nurture such dialogue and reconciliation among people in the churches of Southern New England.
Presbyterian Promise will continue to advocate for the full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Presbyterians. Healing, compassion, and justice are not incompatible – the life and teachings of Jesus demonstrate that. Presbyterian Promise is truly excited to make a public commitment to the development of new ways to foster reconciliation through the Reconciling Dialogue Project.
Presbyterian Promise has announced its search for a creative, well-organized, and spiritually mature person who feels called in their Christian life to coordinate this project. The Coordinator will work collaboratively with ministers and lay leaders in the Presbytery of Southern New England to initiate and nurture mechanisms of reconciliation at congregational levels. These mechanisms will include development of model programs that foster the in-depth sharing of individual stories, and a maturity of acceptance of differences.
The project also will also result in the development of a pastors' workshop that will look at
So just what is a Reconciling Dialogue Project?
It is an effort to create opportunities to meet each other at the deepest levels of our faith. In his sermon at the annual meeting of our Presbytery, John Webster said what divides Presbyterians goes beyond our ideas about scriptural authority and interpretation, beyond theology, beyond tradition, beyond even our feelings about each other, to something found deep in our guts. Indeed, we can see the divide well beyond our present denominational struggles, beyond even the struggles in Christianity. It can be seen in our national political battles. It can be traced back through our history at least to the Council of Jerusalem recorded in the Book of Acts. It seems to be happening among people of other faiths and of no faith as well. But whatever its parameters, it troubles us now.
So the Reconciling Dialogue Project has a big agenda. People are not comfortable talking about what's in their gut. Indeed, the tomato sandwich I had for lunch is by now pretty much past discussing! Yet we need to face the challenge. Consider the passionate expression from Mark Achtemeier, one of the theologians on the denominational Peace, Unity and Purity Task Force, in this issue.
Consider also the damage done to ourselves, our families and our neighbors when we fail to speak the truth in love. There is much talk of schism. But there is a real schism, comparatively invisible, of people who drift away from their church and often their faith as well because we do not practice the love we preach. So an RDP will be an effort to help each of us share in more profound ways our faith and our fears.
Reconciling dialogue will be hard work. We must be mindful that all people are not equal at the table. Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender folk, and often their families, risk exclusion and loss of career by speaking their truth. Others fear their faith may be undermined by these conversations.
The RDP will also be a research project. If we are to explore the depths of our faith, we need new approaches. Each congregation is different. Will what works one place work in another? This is not the first attempt at congregational dialogue. What can we apply from what's been done already? And how can we share our discoveries, both those about process and about the depths of our faith?
Reconciliation is always a challenge. It involves, if not necessarily giving up, at least adapting deeply held attitudes and understandings. It involves the effort to engage with people we don't easily meet.
At a minimum, for this project to succeed, it needs all of us to get behind it. Can we count on you to help your session and congregation understand that the need for dialogue is real and urgent and that, even if it sometimes seems remote, it is urgently needed for our own well being? Encourage your session and congregation to take the opportunity seriously and commit the time it needs.
The RDP is a financial challenge. Presbyterian Promise has funds to get the project underway, but if it is to continue past this first year, we need your financial support. Please consider this prayerfully!
Significantly for Presbyterian Promise, this project will mean hiring a person to coordinate the effort. This will give a new focus and visibility to our work, and new intensity and sense of purpose. But we'll have to wait for the harvest to find the real answer to the question, "What's an RDP?"
I was part of an in-group e-mail conversation this past week. The initiator of the exchange worrying about those awful liberals and what they've got planned for the 2006 GA. Amidst extensive quotes from Calvin's Institutes, my correspondent wondered out loud how we could possibly stay in the same church with these people if they got their way. Because of course we know that these are people who have decided that the Bible is just plain wrong and they know better.
In such settings I think about my friend Scott Anderson and I realize how much being on the Task Force has changed me.
Because I know that while Scott and I may not see eye to eye on some things, Scott is not a bad person, or a non-Christian, or someone who ignores the Bible, or is self-indulgent or casual when it comes to discipleship.
And because I know that, I tend to start feeling a bit queasy when I find myself in the middle of conversations like the one this week. It is as though God has suddenly given me ears that can actually hear how much "demonizing from a distance" we do to one another in our life as Presbyterians. It is as though God has suddenly allowed me to hear the irony of all the contemptuous caricatures we deploy against one another, demonizing brothers and sisters in the faith for the sake of righteousness – that would be our own righteousness.
Regaining my hearing like this, becoming aware of what is going on around me, has been profoundly alienating, I have to say. It is disturbing and unsettling and sad to find oneself feeling uneasy and strange in the midst of conversations and settings that have always felt like home. Getting to know Scott and some of the other liberals on the Task Force has been eye-opening and a gift of grace – but like so many divine gifts it carries a price. Over and over and over again I find myself in the midst of comfortable, in-group gatherings where everyone is of course on the same page, finding I can no longer share the assumptions that underlie the conversation. Because I have come to know Scott and others, and I am burdened with the oppressive knowledge that the caricatures and demonizations are not true.
If that weren't bad enough, when I'm honest with myself I have to say that I think Scott is a better Christian than I am. Scott is a gay man who has received with great seriousness the authoritative teaching of our church, a teaching that goes very straight and very painfully to the center of his life, and one that he disagrees with strenuously. But because Scott is a conscientious Christian and a faithful Presbyterian, Scott for the good of the body has laid aside his ordination in obedience to a church teaching he is convinced is mistaken. All those years in seminary, all those struggles to get through the examinations, to pass muster with the CPM, to secure the call – I can't imagine what it would be like to leave it all behind. And through it all Scott remains a Presbyterian, as active as our church permits him to be. I look at this story and I have to say, I don't think I would have it in me to stick around. I don't think I would have the grace to resist the temptation of outward bitterness the way Scott has.
On occasion he will speak with great affection about some reunion, some crossing of paths, with people who were once his parishioners. And the obvious love for them that radiates outward as he speaks about them – I find myself wishing we had more pastors in the PC (USA) who were like that, and then I catch myself, and then I feel my stomach knotting up.
I have seen Scott sit impassively through some of our sexuality discussions at the Task Force meetings, gamely working to hang in there with the group as we speak in the abstract about whether it is permissible to welcome him, or baptize him, or marry him, or ordain him, or to be him in the context of "our" church. You can see in his face how wrenching it is – he tends to look pretty exhausted afterwards. But I have never heard a bitter or hostile word from him about it, never witnessed a pulling back in anger, never a severing of friendship or of fellowship. And when I am honest with myself I have to say, I don't think I could do it. I would throw in the towel, I would give in to anger, I would walk out, I would seek comfort elsewhere. "The fruit of the Spirit," says Paul, "is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control" (Gal. 5:22-23). I believe Scott is mistaken in some of his opinions, but those mistakes very obviously do not prevent the Spirit's fruit from shining forth from his life in striking and remarkable ways. His witness, quite frankly, puts me to shame.
There is mystery here. My prejudices are in tatters and it is unsettling as hell. And I have the uneasy feeling that God is pleased with my discomfort and working to increase it, and that if I'm not real careful – if I ponder it too deeply or examine it too closely – I am likely to learn things about the Gospel that I would rather not hear.
I am a conservative. I hold a high view of Scriptural authority and the Lordship of Christ. I pray, I commune, I read the Bible, I confess joyfully the ancient creeds. I have learned to my surprise that those loyalties do not separate me from Scott Anderson, and in fact they tend to draw us closer together.
I have come to realized that I don't want to be a part of a church that doesn't have Scott in it. Scott's presence reminds me in a powerful way that the church is not the creation of me and my like-minded friends, but the gift of the Spirit, who distributes his gifts and graces in ways I would never conceive of on my own. Scott's presence reminds me that baptism into Christ is not something we can wash off for the sake of separation into our comfortable little cliques. Scott's presence challenges me and my understandings, opens me up to dimensions of the Scriptural witness I had never attended to before, and gives me new appreciation for the depth of my own need for the grace of Christ.
Scott's presence reminds me that the true church is not about conservatives and our righteousness, but about Christ and his love for all of us sinners. At the end of the day I can only gather up my unease and surprise and astonishment and cry out with Paul,
O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! "For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?" Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?" For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory for ever. Amen. (Rom. 11:33-36)
P. Mark Achtemeier
Achtemeier is a member of the General Assembly's Task Force on the Peace, Unity and Purity of the Church, and Associate Professor of Systematic Theology at Dubuque Seminary. These remarks were originally published on the website of John Knox Presbytery. Scott Anderson was present at the meeting.
Ellison completed his doctoral studies at Union Theological Seminary (New York) and teaches Christian social ethics at Bangor Theological Seminary. He is an ordained Presbyterian minister Presbyterian Church (USA) in the Presbytery of Northern New England. He founded the Religious Coalition against Discrimination in Maine to support civil rights protections for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people. He co-chairs the Maine Interfaith Council for Reproductive Choices, an interfaith network of religious leaders who support reproductive rights for women as a matter of moral conscience and religious freedoms. His publications include Same-Sex Marriage? A Christian Ethical Analysis (The Pilgrim Press, 2004), Body and Soul: Rethinking Sexuality as Justice-Love (The Pilgrim Press, 2003), Erotic Justice: A Liberating Ethic of Sexuality (Westminster John Knox Press, 1996), and The Center Cannot Hold: The Search for a Global Economy of Justice. (University Press of America, l983). He lives in Portland, Maine with his partner Frank Brooks, a clinical social worker.
WorkshopEllison will join Presbyterian Promise to lead a workshop –"What Do Good Relationships Ask of Us All: Same-Sex Marriage and Beyond." – on October 22nd at Westminster Presbyterian Church in West Hartford. Recent civil and religious debates about same-sex marriageare bringingrenewed attention toa nest ofquestions aboutintimacy, sexual difference, moral values, and the role of both church and state in promoting strong families and healthy relationships.This workshop will explore these questions in the context of Christian teaching about sexuality and families and the ongoing struggle for gender and sexual justice. All are invited, but enrollment will be limited to encourage interaction.
We anticipate Rev. Ellison will lead worship the next day at a PSNE church. Mark your calendars!
OvertureThis year all the progressive organizations are backing a single overture to the 2006 General Assembly. It proposes to delete G-6.0106b and remove any language that could prevent ordination of gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender people. We encourage you and your session to reflect prayerfully about joining in the effort to bring this matter to GA from many presbyteries. Contact Ralph Jones or Terry Davis for more information.
LitigationAs you may have heard, last summer Rev. Janie Spahr participated in a wedding of two friends in Canada. On this basis, she has been charged with a violation of Presbyterian polity. The case is presently before the Redwoods Presbytery Permanent Judicial Commission where she is a member.
A committee will soon be formed to develop a process for engaging the Presbytery in substantive and deep conversations about full equality for LGBT persons in the life of the church and in society. It is hoped that this process may be a model that can be replicated in other Presbyteries.
Back in 2000, Dan Blackford commented, "Since its half-a-loaf support of civil rights in 1978 the not-so-generous Assembly of our church has sat uncomfortably on the fence, resisting retreat, unwilling to move forward, testing the ties that bind. How long, PC (USA), how long?" How long, indeed....
Connecticut has traditionally honored this time with a festival on the New Haven Green the first Saturday in June and a bigger event in Hartford in the middle of September.
For whatever reason, the organizers of the New Haven event didn't get
it together this year. But an ad hoc group is planning a scaled down program
anyway. It will be a block party on Crown Street at Chapel, starting at
6 PM. Presbyterian Promise and others from Welcoming Congregations of New
Haven will be there.
On June 18th, Presbyterian Promise will again pitch its tent in Station Park as part of Rhode Island Pride. We expect to see many friends from Providence and other nearby Presbyterian Churches at that event.
We'll also be present in color! Each year the RI Pride committee publishes a guide. For the past three years, Pres Prom has participated as an advertiser. This year's guide will be all color. So Greg Price has redesigned our presentation to take advantage of a full rainbow of colors. He created a companion piece for the Providence Church. We'd love to reproduce it here for you, but this is black and white. You'll just have to come out on June 18th to see it yourself!
I want to share in the work of Presbyterian Promise!
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I can share these talents:
Please list my (our) name(s) as:
Make checks payable to Presbyterian Promise and send to 704 Whitney
Avenue, New Haven CT 06511
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