Moderator's Note: The following is an exchange between myself and Dr. Gordon Fish of Upper Montclair, NJ (the first of the letters is addressed to John Buchanan and I am copied). In the spirit of the last paragraph, I posted that letter on hesed-l and invited response. Is Amendment A a dangerous mistake? Are we inviting this sort of criticism and laying ourselves open to charges of dishonesty and deviousness by seeming to imply in some communications that passage of Amendment A will "merely" bring us back to the status quo and "definitive guidance?" In my judgment, "A" does open the door to setting "definitive guidance" aside; it does open the door to the ordination of gay and lesbian persons by those sessions and Presbyteries which choose to ordain them (See "Open Ordination: the Path to Peace. .."). The "opposition" is right on that point; we should be honest about it - and thus avoid diluting our arguments against the many other very invalid points they make. The NY Times article referenced is from Sunday Nov. 23's "Week in Review" - "Identity Crisis: Gay Culture Weighs Sense and Sexuality." I haven't seen Camille Paglia's chapter on "The Joy of Presbyterian Sex." The exchange is also posted on the "Presbyterian Review" web page. A second letter (from Dr. Fish responding to my letter below) and my response are also available on Hesed.
103 Lorraine Avenue
Upper Montclair, NJ
November 24, 1997
The Rev. Dr. John M. Buchanan
Co-Moderator, Covenant Network of Presbyterians
Fourth Presbyterian Church
126 E. Chestnut St.
Chicago, IL 60611
Dear Dr. Buchanan:
Thank you for your letter of November 12, 1997, replying to mine of November 5.
I now write on a different subject. Two things prompt this: your comment that you were unaware of the Hesed Forum or its website and the enclosed New York Times article of Sunday, November 23, 1997.
Not untypical of Hesed is the following from a posting by one of its frequent contributors, Frank Baldwin, an attorney/elder in the Philadelphia area and sometime legal counsel to the Philadelphia Presbytery. He is a strong supporter of Amendment A:
"The wording of Amendment A clearly leaves more leeway for the ordination of gays and lesbians, as well as persons in unmarried heterosexual relationships who otherwise meet ordination standards."
"Can one sincerely repent, for example, of sexual expression that arises out of love and is in accord with one's nature?"
My questions to you are these. Once the door to ordination is opened to unrepentant, self-affirming, practicing homosexual persons, where will you, where will the church, draw the line? How can it be drawn? Those who assert that "anonymous sex with multiple partners . . .is a cornerstone of liberation" (quoting the Times article) can profess to be called to service and ministry just like anyone else, as will some who agree that "It is an absurd fantasy to expect gaymen to live without a sexual culture when we have almost nothing else that brings us together" (Michael Warner, a founder of Sex Panic, as quoted in the Times). And before concluding that some kind of standard can be erected (commitment, love, etc.) one must read Camille Paglia's chapter on "The Joy of Presbyterian Sex." I assume you are aware of it.
I ask these questions seriously. A number of Amendment A's supporters actively seek to open ordination to persons accepting intimate sexual activity outside marriage and apparently see Amendment A as a way around the existing bar. I believe that as Covenant Network Co-Moderator you must have pondered these issues and have some answers.
By copy of this letter and the enclosure, I ask colleagues in your cause also to respond. Failure to come to grips with these questions strikes me as an abdication of responsibility to our denomination and to our Lord. If Amendment A should prevail, when the unintended consequences begin to close in, it will be too late.
Gordon E. Fish, Ph.D.
cc: Robert W. Bohl, Co-Moderator, Covenant
Laird J. Stuart
Virginia L. Lewis, Moderator, Hesed Forum
December 9, 1997
Dr. Gordon Fish
103 Lorraine Avenue
Upper Montclair, NJ 07043
Dear Dr. Fish:
Thank you for the copy of your letter to John Buchanan. As you probably know, I posted it to the hesed-l mailing list and invited all to respond to it. I hope that a number of our group will do so.
It seems to me that we are hopelessly entangled in false premises when we attempt to leap from a visible, but limited, gay "culture" which sees "anonymous sex with multiple partners" as a "cornerstone of liberation" to a necessary prohibition of ordination of gay and lesbian persons to prevent "an abdication of responsibility to our denomination and to our Lord." There is a much larger segment of heterosexual society which would make the same claim for the liberating aspects of promiscuity. Yet we would not infer from that that we must prohibit ordination of heterosexuals to office in the PC(USA)! The fact is that sexual immorality and amorality do exist in our culture, whether it be heterosexual or homosexual. Furthermore, much immorality and abuse takes place within the institution of marriage. All this is a part of humankind's brokenness - a stark reminder of the presence of sin in the world.
I believe strongly - as do all of Amendment A's supporters - that it is the Church's duty to address immorality and amorality in our society. Amendment A calls all of us to faithfulness, to acknowledgment of our sinfulness - and to repentance. It holds all of us - whether heterosexual or homosexual, married or single - to the same high standards. It asks us to submit ourselves to Jesus Christ first, as well as to affirm the authority of Scripture and to be instructed by our Confessions (these corresponding to the ordination vows). Imagining that any church in the PC(USA) under any circumstances would call to office in the church anyone who characterized anonymous sex with multiple partners as "liberating" is an "absurd fantasy" (to paraphrase Michael Warner). Or as Jack Rogers put it in his "B and Beyond," it's simply "foolishness." And "foolishness" is a sin (to quote Rogers).
The fact is that there are many, many lesbian and gay elders, deacons, and ministers of the Word and Sacrament in the PC(USA). As one retired pastor put it, "I don't think I've ever had a Session that didn't have a gay person on it." What we fear most, I think, is making known publicly what has always been the case. We force many of our respected pastors to live a lie rather than "embarrass" us. And sometimes respected denominational leaders come from their churches, where their sexual orientation must be hidden, to our churches (churches such as mine and many, many others where sexual orientation is not an issue) to weep and to be strengthened. I hope that "definitive guidance" will be set aside in order for us to see these people for the first time and to weep with them openly.
I wish with all my heart that you could visit my church (St. Andrew's in Austin) - and perhaps you will one day. There is a message of love there. Yes, we have lesbian and gay elders - some graduates of Austin Seminary who are unable to live the life (in full) to which God called them. But mostly, we are simply Christ's church. In fact, the most visible component of our membership is probably represented by the young families and children (the children's sermon each Sunday fills the front of the sanctuary). We have young and old, married and single, Black and White, Anglo and Hispanic, rich and poor (those who come to our food pantry often come to church on Sunday) - and, yes, heterosexual and homosexual (though for the most part we don't know who the latter are - it is not an issue for us). I am proud to be there. You are welcome there.
You and I - and others like us - all are struggling to be faithful during difficult times for our society and for our church. That is precisely why we need Amendment A. It sets our priorities right. It focuses our allegiance on Jesus Christ. It allows us to practice forbearance toward one another as we seek to discern God's will. The message of the Reformed Tradition is that sin is radical and universal - but Grace abounds. May Grace abound.
May God's blessings shine upon you,
Virginia L. Lewis
Moderator, Hesed Forum