After roughly 30 years of debating the GLBT community's place within the Presbyterian Church (USA), GLBT people may finally be able to not only stand completely in the light, but to add to it. During the 218th General Assembly that took place, from June 21st to June 28th, some significant steps were taken towards liberating the participation of GLBT members and leaders, students and faculty, as well as those that love them.
The General Assembly is the highest governing body in the Presbyterian Church (USA). It is a biennial gathering of leaders within the denomination who meet to resolve controversies in the church, discuss matters of common concern, and ensure that their theology and practices are in sync. The Presbyterian Church (USA) has over two million members and more than eleven thousand congregations; it’s a major denomination with a large scope of influence, which is why it is so important to hold them accountable to their desire to be a "witness for truth and justice in (our) community and in the world."
What Are The Issues?
During the General Assembly a wide array of topics are covered, such as human sexuality, peace and justice, requirements of ordination, issues surrounding church growth, etc. The particular issues discussed that have significance for GLBT people and their allies were the 1) ordination of GLBT people and 2) the definition of marriage.
1. Ordination of GLBT People. As it currently stands, only a person who is in a heterosexual marriage, single or celibate may be ordained. Neither heterosexuals nor GLBT people are able to co-habitat with their partner while unwed. If approved, a revision of this standard, known as the “fidelity and chastity” standard, would allow GLBT people to be partnered and ordained, regardless of whether or not they can legally marry. Passing this revision is essential to GLBT people's ability to authentically participate in the Presbyterian Church.
2. The Definition of Marriage. The Presbyterian Church's definition of marriage remained defined as a union between one man and one woman. As a compromise, the Assembly heard a request for and approved civil rights for same-gender couples and the appointment of a special committee to study the issue. While compromises can be commended, as many reverends and scholars would agree, dialogue without action fails to move us forward.
The Presbyterian Church is being called to action, and they have a choice to either deny it or accept it. To deny it would only continue to limit the Church’s ability to be a leader in the 21st century. To accept it would be to acknowledge but not enable people’s comfort, but rather to cultivate people’s ability and willingness to do the right thing. It is time to liberate men and women whose contributions have been oppressed much too long, and whose presence as ministers and leaders would make the Presbyterian Church (USA) a stronger, more dynamic community, not only, for members of the GLBT community, but for everyone.
- Christine Holcomb