Shekinah Glory


Open Letter to the 219th General Assembly
July 13, 2010, 8:22 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

In the last year, the District of Columbia’s City Council and Congress approved same gender marriages as legal for the District. Many of us applauded the hard work of many who testified, agitated, and bent history’s arc toward justice. It was due to the strong work of the city council, human rights advocates, LGBTQ organizations, and a committed core of ministers called The D.C. Clergy United. I am deeply proud to have played a small part in the work to make a positive move in this essential civil rights issue of my generation.

When I found a haven within the Reformed family almost twenty years ago, it was as a battered ex-fundamentalist/evangelical who saw love and affirmation within its walls. Many of my gay and lesbian friends had already abandoned the church because it was a place where they felt excluded. Yet, I felt mentored in my beliefs and deeply supported by friends in the PC(USA). They helped restore me to a faith that had been so deeply damaged and broken by legalistic moralists. I grieve when I think of those church leaders who related that this was a denomination where my conscience could be free and that there was a place for me. I am glad that they have passed on and do not have to endure the pain that some of us face these days. Unfortunately, our pews and clergy have become more aged, so when we discuss the approval of same gender marriage in the Presbyterian Church (USA), our church has resorted to becoming that same legalistic church of old.

On the issue of same gender marriage, I stand with the teaching of Pauline Christology when he claims to the uncircumcised gentiles of Galatia and Rome “against such things there is no law.” I do not believe that our 219th General Assembly, or anyone for that matter, has the authority to bind the conscience on matters that the Spirit of God is directing portions of her church. I therefore cannot follow the definition of marriage set out by our current Book of Order. Through prayer, careful study of Scripture and discernment, I believe that this definition is unnecessarily restrictive to our members whom we claim have full membership rights within our churches.

I believe the inaction of the General Assembly, the abdication for fear of losing some of our most conservative elements, and the culture of disciplining only progressive ministers unfairly constitutes a betrayal of the “true liberty of conscience” spoken of in the Westminster Confession. The complicity of our governing bodies in unjust actions against progressive and liberal ministers who have scruples and endeavor to hold fast to their Presbyterian system is the true definition of injustice. All this while those who cry and wail “apostasy” at our church get what they want and stay uncomfortably as living schisms. Absolute and blind obedience to this type of governing is of destruction to some of our liberties in Christ. True love casts out fear, so let us not govern our church within it.

Since the General Assembly refuses to give any concrete guidance on issues of marriage equality, those of us who work in locations where it is legally permitted to marry those of the same gender are left in a quandary. The idea of claiming scruples set out by the Peace, Unity and Purity report has not stemmed Evangelicals’ desires to convict people of conscience in church court, and it appears that you have abdicated your responsibility as a governing body to give direction to church courts. Rather than allowing us to discuss specific proposals in the democratic forum of our presbyteries you have given us a much more amorphous two years of discussion, thought, and prayer, which is odious and stifling of the democratic principles our church was founded upon.

What you have left liberals and progressives is the terrible choice of lying or hiding their actions of conscience, binding their conscience and losing their liberty in Christ, or to face the emotionally, spiritually and psychologically draining possibility that evangelicals will use church courts to sell their ideology in the name of “purity.”

For too long my denomination has been more than willing to cede their view as “people of the middle way” to the threats of Biblical literalists. It has slowly eroded the character of what it means to be a historic Presbyterian in the United States and insults an expanding history of the Reformed tradition. Some of us refuse to agree out of scruples with something that binds our conscience against the things that the Spirit of God is calling us. It is time for us to be a “big tent” denomination in allowing all of our ministers to practice their full gifts, discernment and direction in which the Spirit is calling them, and not merely excluding a few so that the majority “may” feel comfortable.

In Christ,

Rev. Brian Merritt
The Palisades Community Church
Washington D.C.

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37 Comments so far
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Excellent. Thank you. I stand with you.

Comment by john shuck

Thanks John.

Comment by pastorofdisaster

I love you and this letter. The peace of Christ shines from these letters and fashion a vision “church” needs to embrace. You are a prophet and I pray the “Babylonians” heed your words.

Comment by ryan

Thank you Ryan.

Comment by pastorofdisaster

Amen and Amen. The Synod of the northeast has insinuated that the current conflict puts pastors in these 5 states and D.C. In the position of violating your obligations to provide pastor care on the context of worship if you refuse to perform a ceremony you feel called to perform abs violating marriage definitions I’d to DO perform them. THAT is untenable. Pastors must have the freedom in these contexts to do what is legal and what they feel casket and morally obligated to do.

Comment by Michael Kirby

Don’t you hate autocorrect on the iPhone? So this SHOULD say:

Amen and Amen. The Synod of the Northeast has insinuated that the current conflict puts pastors in these 5 states and D.C. in the position of violating your obligations to provide pastoral care in the context of worship if you refuse to perform a ceremony you feel called to perform and violating marriage definitions if you DO perform them. THAT is untenable. Pastors must have the freedom in these contexts to do what is legal and what they feel called and morally obligated to do.

Comment by Michael Kirby

Michael~

I was very disturbed by this ruling since I was the Chair of Grants and Loans on the Synod of the Northeast.

Comment by pastorofdisaster

I pastor a church in Massachusetts. I have no problem telling someone I can not marry a gay couple, whether they are in my church or a couple from the outside. Most pastors don’t have the sanctified [edited offensive comment by a righteous man] to say “NO”

Comment by Jeff Winter

I think it takes more courage to put up with the ugliness that people like you spout by saying yes. Please refrain from using ugly language on my site.

Comment by pastorofdisaster

I stand fully with you on this. If there were a way to sign it with you, I would, happily.

Comment by tragic_pizza

Thanks. You have been a huge encouragement.

Comment by pastorofdisaster

Amen and Amen.

Comment by marciglass

Thanks Marci.

Comment by pastorofdisaster

Amen. Thank you for your integrity & faithfulness, Brian. Keep it up.

Comment by Revlkb

Revlkb

I really appreciate your kind words.

Comment by pastorofdisaster

As a Session Elder, I thank you for your strength and passion. God’s love trumps institutionalized fear every time. Peace.

Comment by marstonmyers

God’s love and mercy are what I put my hope in. Your encouragement gives me strength.

Comment by pastorofdisaster

Beautiful and well said. I cringe everytime I hear someone talk about the “purity” of the church. Hetrosexism is far from “pure.” Thank you Brian.

Comment by Melissa Lynn DeRosia

I appreciate the encouragement. Your bravery has been an inspiration.

Comment by pastorofdisaster

While reading this a letter a powerful little term kept popping up in my head – status confessionis.

Comment by Kimberly Knight

Kimberly~
That is an interesting point. It is not one that has been used, to my knowledge, in the PC (USA)

Comment by pastorofdisaster

Great letter. Right on target about those who cry apostacy. Thank you.

Comment by Christy Ramsey

Christy~

I appreciate your encouragement.

Comment by pastorofdisaster

Well put. I think the ordination vows we make as Ministers – to give pastoral care to all of our church and be a witness of the new humanity – stands in primacy to the narrow reading of the directory of worship, which only offers a description of marriage, not a prescription against offering the full ministry of care to all. I think that this is true not only in those states where same gender loving couples may legally marry, but especially in those states to do not yet recognize the inherent worth of all people and the covenants that they make with one another.

I for one will not withhold such pastoral care.

Comment by Will McGarvey

Very well said. Thank you.

Comment by pastorofdisaster

Excellent letter, Brian! Thanks for sharing it! While I’m no longer PCUSA, I am still committed to an always reforming church, and still hold out hope for the PCUSA– on my good days.

Comment by Bet Hannon

Bet~

It is good to hear from you! Yes, unfortunately the Presbyterian church is focused on losing members without focusing on the incredible people like you that we have already lost.

Comment by pastorofdisaster

Good Lord–what a total distortion of Pauline thought! The progressive desperation to rationalize whatever sexual variation you prefer now colors your entire church/worldview. Love, to you, apparently means self-indulgence. Mean-spirited Biblicists leave you no option but to hide or lie? There is another option–one we all share in Christ’s Body–humbling ourselves an submitting to Love’s divine correction. But when giving of yourself involves something less than full sexual indulgence, you want to cry “INEQUALITY!” “OPPRESSION!” GLBTQs have no lesser calling than married straights, but they also must observe the same biblical boundaries. If you’re married, be faithful to your spouse. If you’re single, don’t sleep around. There is no biblical justification for creating a special exception for homosexuality. If that’s a problem, forego ordained ministry.

Comment by Noel Anderson

And God’s love to you as well.

Comment by pastorofdisaster

Brian, I am one of those Presbyterians that doesn’t believe you are a homosexual. I believe you have same-sex attractions but I don’t believe you were born gay. From my study of Scripture and scientific evidence I strongly believe that God does not create homosexuals. As much as you want to believe that you are gay, I don’t believe you are. That leaves me and you in a quandry. I can’t let the PCUSA ordain homosexuals or embrace homosexuality. Since there are so many people thrusting their pro-gay theology on the majority of the church, I can do only one thing…and that is to fight back and say enough is enough. I think we would be friends if we knew each other. Unfortunately, we won’t be because of my strong belief that homosexuality is not of God of Scripture.

Comment by Jeff Winter

Um. I am not a homosexual.

Comment by pastorofdisaster

A truly eloquent letter Brian. I am behind you all the way on what you sad and deeply saddened that the PC(USA) continues to humiliate and discriminate against its baptized faithful men and women who happen to be gay and lesbian. We need to hear more clearly the baptismal demand contained in the letter to the Galatians “no longer is there male or female…..”

Next on the agenda is the injust treatment of lay employees by the many courts in the PC(USA).

Comment by Alan Barthel

Brian–I grieve with you. As one who was at GA and who sat in on the committee on Marriage and Civil Unions, it might be a hopeful note for you to hear that the committee actually adopted a very helpful AI, which, due to confusing parliamentary maneuvers at the plenary, never was brought to the floor for discussion.
There is a part of me that thinks that commissioners to GA should be sequestered to do their work prayerfully and in community with one another without outside influence and “help.” There is no place for the Spirit to work when the kinds of manipulations I witnessed are permitted.
Perhaps we should work on that?
Blessings.

Comment by Mary Lynn Tobin

Brian, thank you for this cogent commentary on the state of the PCUSA. The church has failed to promote justice and love kindness in its unwillingness even to discuss the need of pastors to provide care to their members in states where marriage is inclusive. May your voice be heard by those who have ears.

Comment by Jean Southard

Brian: Thank you for your letter, which I have signed. Is there any way to remove some of the joker-signatures that are starting to accumulate on it? Grace and peace.

Comment by Christine Kooi

Hi Brian, call me a latecomer to this conversation (just don’t call me late for dinner). Two things – while I acknowledge that PJCs have mainly tried progressive/liberal types, I feel I must make mention that some of our conservative and evangelical classmates have been encouraged out or forced out of our denomination by the actions of fearful presbytery committees. About all it takes to meet an administrative commission in some presbyteries is a letter to your congregation saying you disagree with a General Assembly action. I hope you recognize that the excersize of power for the sake of peace, unity, and purity is cutting both ways. I suspect that part of the fear motivating the judicial actions stems from fear that a presbytery will remove a pastor, take a church, or form an administrative commission.

One other thing, when you use the term “Reformed”, please remember that the Reformed family extends very far beyond the boundaries of the PC(USA). Rightward, it includes charismatics, evangelicals, and yes, even fundamentalists. I even met a Reformed Dispensationalist from Brasil. Talk about an interesting conversation.

Comment by Jesse Alexander




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