Adam Patterson’s relationship with the Presbyterian church he grew up in ended abruptly at a Christmas Eve service where the pastor equated homosexuality with bestiality. “My son lives on the west coast because he does not feel welcome here,” wrote Deborah Patterson to the church session. “When he returns home for a visit, he waits outside the church on Sunday mornings so he can say hello to some of the folks that he treasures from his childhood in the church. Does that sound like someone who feels welcomed?”

Since the passage of Amendment 10-A, the congregation that nurtured and raised Adam in the Christian faith has taken a hard-line position against welcoming LGBTQ people. After their church voted to leave the Presbyterian Church (USA) to join another denomination, Deborah Patterson wrote the following letter to the session to end her membership.

“This story is an important reminder that even conservative congregations have not only our grandparents, parents, and friends in the pews, but also LGBTQ people. The tide is turning – most young evangelicals support us, but we must still work for the day when every church is a safe place for all of God’s beloved children.” ~Patrick Evans, Interim Executive Director of More Light Presbyterians

From PQ Monthly:

Spring Hill Presbyterian Church Session
Staunton, VA 24401

Deborah P. Patterson

March, 18, 2013

Dear Session:

I have been a member of Spring Hill Presbyterian Church since 1981. Bill and I have raised our children in this church. They were baptized as infants and took confirmation classes in this church. I have served as a Sunday School Teacher, Children’s Choir Director, Bible School Director, Youth Group Advisor, initiated the forerunner to the Mission Outreach Team which was Mountain Top Missions for Youth, and financially supported Spring Hill and its ministries to the best of my abilities.

As many of you know, I spoke against the decision to leave Shenandoah Presbytery. While I said that I would never have chosen the journey to be a parent of a gay son, it has also been a great gift for me to see the world through the eyes of others. I am proud to be Adam’s Mom and proud of the adult he has become.

I have thought a lot about what Dave Zeiner asked, “How do we decide which sins prohibit one from becoming a minister?” I thought Pastor Charlie made “light” of the situation when he said, “Charlie, we accept your drinking habits, come on down Friday night and we’ll have a drink and pray.” Each person has his or her own walk with Christ and to me “sin” hurts other people. I don’t believe that gay people hurt other people.

The Bible says, “Thou shall not kill.” It does not say that thou shall not kill except in the case of war or criminal cases. What I was trying to say yesterday and now, is that the world has changed since Biblical times and continues to change. God gives us the abilities to make the world a better place and discrimination does not make the world a better place. Did discrimination of women voting make the world a better place? Did slavery make the world a better place? What about cultures today where females are not educated, does that make the world a better place? All of these can be traced back to some religious reference and discrimination.

I am deeply disappointed in the congregational vote on Sunday, March 17, 2013 and disappointed in Charlie’s leadership of what was once my church. Several members said everyone is welcome at Spring Hill. What I heard was, you are welcome if you believe what we believe. My son lives on the west coast, because he does not feel welcome here. When he returns home for a visit, he waits outside the church on Sunday mornings so he can say hello to some of the folks that he treasures from his childhood in the church. Does that sound like someone who feels welcomed?

My God gave me a brain to question what happens in the world and how I can make it a better place. He did not give me a brain to blindly follow what others say without careful consideration and prayer.

When the expansion project began, I was disappointed in the leadership that led us to that point. At that time, I thought, “OK, I can deal with this. I’ll just continue to give, but to the projects that I believe in.” Bill and I had many discussions about the business aspect of this move. We knew that we could not run our household this way, especially if we could not even meet our monthly bills. At the time, I questioned the leadership of Charlie at Spring Hill. But it seemed that I was in the minority, and as Richard Homes said, “The church is not the minister, but the people.”

The expansion project is not a moral issue for me, but the vote on Sunday in favor or discrimination is a moral issue. I have carefully and prayerfully thought about whether all this is just about Adam; it is not. I have gay friends and as I examined my feelings, I realized that my dad’s two best friends when I was a little girl were gay. I just didn’t realize it. As a teacher of Kindergarten children, I consistently talk with my students about discrimination, about doing the right thing even when no one is looking, and about the importance of standing up for what you believe. What kind of role model am I, if I don’t take a stand?

With the recent decisions and the direction Spring Hill has chosen, I respectfully ask that I be removed from your membership roll, and that I no longer be considered a member of Spring Hill Presbyterian Church.

Your prompt attention to this request will be greatly appreciated.


Deborah P. Patterson

Read the full story at PQ Monthly.

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2 Comments, RSS

  • Anne

    Amen, sister. You feel and speak the word of God as we strive to love one another as Christ loves us. Blessings to you and your beautiful family.

  • Madeleine Mysko

    Thank you for sharing this heartfelt, well-argued, and important letter. It is sad that such a letter was necessary. I want to believe (though it is very hard to) that Holy Spirit will continue to work in congregations like the one you have had to leave all these years of belonging. I want believe that healing and growth will come to the church.

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