“I love Sally and her wife,” a colleague in ministry once said in a small group we were in, “but I don’t believe in homosexuality.” At first I responded with nothing. I felt all the air had been sucked out of the room. My other colleagues all looked to me hoping I would say something. But I couldn’t. There were no words.

Eventually, I responded, “How can you claim you love me and ignore a large part of my personhood?” “How is sexuality a part of your personhood?” the conversation continued.

I recently read an article about one of the largest churches in Houston deciding whether or not to leave the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). The church is in the same area in which I prepared for the ministry. Mike Toleson, a journalist for the Houston Chronicle, describes members of the church articulating the fight being about many things including “narrow-mindedness and being told what to think instead of a shared journey marked by thoughtful inquiry.” Toleson accurately understands not only the issues at First Presbyterian Church, Houston, Texas, he also gets the dynamics in the larger Presbyterian Church.

First Presbyterian Church

Who are we? What do we stand for? What do we believe?  Do we believe in “relativism”, “inclusion” and “modernity”? Or do we believe in “blind allegiance to orthodoxy”?

The PC(USA) will miss something valuable, do I dare say holy – with each church leaving for A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians, or ECO. We will miss what Toleson calls “…a shared journey marked by thoughtful inquiry…”

In the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), our laws are changed. We can now ordain openly out Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer pastors. But our work is not done. Our work has just started, even though this conversation is over 3 decades old by now.

Over the past 30 years in the PC(USA), there have been numerous, committees, studies, books, work groups, bible studies, etc examining how homosexuality fits into theology, biblical interpretation and polity. And the churches who have left for the ECO were in those conversations.

As churches leave, they leave silent places in the conversation. Both sides miss out on an opportunity for true conversation – vulnerable conversations. Where we let ourselves be known to others and where we begin to know others – holy conversations.

I can’t say the conversation I had with my colleague was easy. It included anger, tears, snot, sadness, a hug, pain, laughter – and God was present. My goal was not to change my colleague’s mind. My colleague was not asking to change mine. But, we did covenant to stay in conversation with each other – to share in the journey together – and to work to see each other as human, as made by God – and that is holy.

UPDATE: I first wrote this article on 2/16/14. Since then, First Presbyterian Church, Houston, Texas has voted to not leave the denomination. Maybe it is a sign that we will continue in this “journey marked by thoughtful inquiry” together?

Rev. Sally S. Wright serves on the MLP Editorial Board and is ordained in Presbyterian Church (USA) to the validated ministry of chaplaincy. She received her Masters of Divinity from Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary in 2012 and currently serves as a hospice chaplain in Kansas City, MO. Sally has worked with another non-profit for the past two years and is excited to begin working with More Light as well. She and her wife have recently celebrated their first year of legal marriage and have a Yorkshire Terrier named Tilly.

8 Comments, RSS

  • Thomas Coates

    I think of all the LGBTQ youth growing up in churches that leave the PC(USA) for ECO and similar groups, and my heart aches, conversation and holy conferencing is so important.

    • Rev. Sally Wright

      Thomas, yes. I agree. Conversations, conferences, education is so important for the LGBTQ youth. Thanks for your comment.

  • Madeleine Mysko

    I’m grateful for this post, because it makes me see that conversations ending with one or both sides saying “We believe [fill in the blank]” or “The Bible says” [fill in the blank] are the very conversations that end too soon–or worse, that end in a parting of the ways. When one side figures it cannot change the mind of the other, why bother trying? You have reminded me that it isn’t about changing minds but about being fully present to the “others,” in the presence of God. It is there that I will find my most difficult conversations are holy–and open to grace. Thank you for this excellent reflection.

    • Rev. Sally Wright

      Holy and hard conversations – God can be in them. I am starting to wonder how to cultivate more “full presence” in conversations so that we can be open to God in these tough conversations.

  • Paul Detterman

    As a theological conservative committed to staying with the PC(USA), I am frequently in rich conversations with brothers and sisters in the LGBTQ community, and I want to answer your title question, “Yes!” This is a holy conversation, and it is a conversation that must happen in many diverse corners of the church if the Body of Christ, irrespective of theological orientation, is going to embody the gospel with credibility and with love. As a part of this conversation, there are two things I’d mention: first, in my understanding of the term, “relativism” is as unhelpful to fostering a genuine conversation as “blind allegiance to orthodoxy.” Neither extreme is genuinely hospitable to the views and perspective of someone holding a different opinion. In my experience a holy conversation happens when we take each other seriously, present our own perspectives clearly, and allow the Holy Spirit to show us the places of genuine convergence and community that can emerge. Second, please be careful with your treatment of ECO. These are God’s children too, and the issues and concerns that have prompted the formation of a new sister denomination are complex. I actually would encourage you to extend the possibility of this holy conversation to our brothers and sisters in ECO. You might be pleasantly surprised at the results.

    • Rev. Sally Wright

      Thank you for your comment. I appreciate your insight. I hope that the PC(USA) denomination will stay in conversation with our Brothers and Sisters in Christ in the ECO.

  • Marie E. Gibson

    I, and all my church family at the Downtown United Presbyterian Church in Rochester, are so very proud of you and your ministry. Come visit us sometime… after the 12 inches of snow goes away and the tulips bloom again.

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