"The Issue is Inclusiveness"

a brief response to Mr. Julius Poppinga's contribution, "A Positive View of Amendment B"

by Virginia L. Lewis

Hesed Moderator and Elder, St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church, Austin, Texas

First, I would like to thank Mr. Poppinga for his contribution. I am grateful for his respectful and honest - and very thoughtful - response to the Hesed Forum. This is precisely the kind of dialogue Hesed hopes to foster within the church. Soon I hope to have an internet mailing list (hesed-l) set up (it will be announced on the web site) where all of us can, I hope, have some meaningful communication in the spirit of Jesus Christ. Whether or not we in the PC(USA) can agree on the particulars, we will - if we truly listen to one another - most certainly find common ground in the love for Jesus Christ and for his church, which is an integral part of our being. I will leave the more specific response to Mr. Baldwin - and will take this opportunity to remind all of us of the issue around which Amendment B revolves - that of inclusivity.

I am not unsympathetic to more conservative viewpoints than my own. I am a "preacher's kid" - and my father, born as he was in 1890, was a fundamentalist in the most profound sense of the word. He received his training at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago (and was the radio soloist for Moody who preceded George Beverly Shea). I have a yellowed program from the year 1935 of his leading a revival at First Presbyterian Church in Dallas (where I lived for twenty-four years and where I was ordained [Westminster Presbyterian Church]). As a preacher's kid, I also always felt that I had a "better understanding of sin" than others - and I consider myself to be an "experienced practitioner." As a child, I was terrified of the hellfire which my father preached in the tiny church in the small town (Bevier, Missouri - at the time populated by 832 souls) where I grew up. And, of course, I grew up with a very long list of sins (I was not even allowed to go to movies - much less dance!). I also was taught that the Bible was inerrant ­ and that there was a right and a wrong "interpretation" - if, indeed, one could even talk of "interpretation." This all could have ended very badly for a young woman with an inquiring intellect - but, despite all the above, my father showed the genuine compassion which can come only through the Grace of God. And somehow we made it through. We learned to live with one another - and to love one another. And somehow the PC(USA) can do that too! Let's be very clear that Amendment B debate isn't (really) about the "last sentence." It is about inclusiveness - and about overcoming long-held fears and prejudices and superstitions about (homo-)sexuality.

One thing that my father taught me was that our sexuality is something which God gave to us as a (mere) hint of what the wholeness of Christ's kingdom will be like. I have never forgotten that - and I have the profoundest sense of its preciousness and fragility - and of the ways in which we all "fall short" of recognizing and fulfilling its beauty and potential. Faithfulness is a virtue that I hold dear. My father stressed faithfulness in marriage to such a degree that as a young woman I actually at one point thought that adultery was the "unpardonable sin." I also have known - and now know - homosexual couples who show the same faithfulness, devotion, and love for Christ. I had the privilege as a faculty member at Haverford College last year to live across the hall from a lesbian couple (Haverford Quaker Meeting performs "holy unions" for lesbian and gay couples and there were several on the faculty) . I came to know other gay couples as well. And the faithfulness that those couples showed to one another - the Christian devotion - would put 99% of heterosexual couples to shame! One couple had a child ­ and that child was loved - and was well-adjusted - and went to church and Sunday School and sang in children's choir ­ and was confirmed - just like all "good Christian children." I cannot accept that homosexuality - in and of itself - is a sin, any more than I can accept that heterosexuality - in and of itself - is a sin. "We all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God." Period. And should those who wish to judge continue to hurl stones, there are thousands upon thousands of us - devout Christians all - who will put on our baseball gloves and catch the stones in mid-air before they wound our brothers and sisters in Christ - and will pray, "Creator God, forgive them; for they know not what they do." I say this lovingly - but sincerely.

Ultimately our differences come down to differences in interpretation - not authority - of scripture. Biblical revelation (and hence interpretation) must come through the Holy Spirit - and the Holy Spirit works through our lives (i.e., through our experiences). It is a fairly orthodox and ecumenically widespread claim that Scripture, reason, and experience are all legitimate avenues into discerning God's ways. In fact, it is hard to know how to divide them sometimes, if Scripture is understood to be the classic and authoritative record of people struggling to articulate, express and live out their own experiences with God. The key, again, is to keep in mutually critical dialogue with one another. Go to the beginning of Calvin's Institutes, where he says that knowledge of God and knowledge of man [sic] are carefully interwoven.That means, in part, that we learn about God from learning about ourselves. In fact, the very first line reads, "without knowledge of self, there is no knowledge of God."

Certainly the working of the Holy Spirit in my own life - from my fundamentalist roots to my current position - has been complex and wonderful. I hope that all of us can be open to the working of the Holy Spirit in our hearts and minds - and in our lives - as we struggle with what to do with Amendment B. I look back upon my father's and my differences - and twenty-six years after his death, I see also how very much alike we are. So not we Presbyterians?

Finally, perhaps the best headline of all would read something like:


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