"Living into Truth"

by William P. Lytle, Former Moderator (1978)

Statement before Mission Presbytery

March 7, 1997


My name is Bill Lytle, Pastor Emeritus of Madison Square Presbyterian Church in San Antonio. I rise to speak against Amendment B.

I am deeply grateful, along with the rest of you, for the serious thought and reflection that Tom Currie and Laura Mendenhall [Moderator's note: speakers for and against the amendment, respectively] took upon themselves on our behalf. I am especially grateful for the respect that they have shown for each other, a respect growing out of their acknowledgment that those of equal commitment to Jesus Christ may differ on the issues involved in this amendment.

I don't like win/lose situations such as we are in this afternoon. I believe the General Assembly acted prematurely in trying to shut the door on the on-going debate on the ordination of practicing homosexual persons.

My understanding of God's will in this matter has changed with time. In my years of pastoral experience, I have come to know some gay and lesbian persons whose love for Jesus Christ and his church is deep and abiding. A number of these persons have had partners. I know nothing about their sexual practice nor do I care to know, any more than I know or care to know about the sexual practice of my heterosexual friends. But their witness to having the fruits of the indwelling Christ in their lives - love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness and self-control, together with my reading of the scriptures in the light of Jesus Christ have led me to feel strongly that these brothers and sisters in Christ are as worthy as I to hold office in the church of which they are an integral part.

So this Amendment goes against my conscience, against that which God has led me to believe. It would seek to set the Confessions in concrete and make me subject to them rather than to Jesus Christ as witnessed to by Scripture. Were I the only one to feel this way, or among only a few, I would wonder if I were on the wrong track or in the wrong church. But there are thousands of us Presbyterians who feel this way,and freedom of conscience has been a hallmark of our Presbyterian tradition; freedom to discern the leading of Spirit; "reformed and always reforming"; freedom to differ in matters of truthes and forms.

The preamble to this proposed amendment states that, "there appears to be even greater need for speaking clearly and finally on this issue that has caused so much distress in the church..."

But this amendment would not speak finally to this issue. It was my privilege to serve as moderator of the assembly in San Diego in 1978 when the action was taken that has been the 'definitive guidance' for the church since then. The sermon that I preached at that assembly was entitled, "Living Without Answers." I said then, "At this Assembly, we're going to come up with some answers. Indeed, we're called upon to come up with answers...Yet we should not think that we're going to come up with the final answer."

God alone has final answers. Ultimate truth lies in Jesus Christ who said, "I have many things to tell you that you cannot bear now. The Holy Spirit when he comes will lead you into all truth." To be a follower of Jesus Christ is to always be living into truth. That is a perilous freedom.

We need to have the courage to live with our distress. It must have been a distressing time for the early church when they found themselves called upon to welcome Gentiles into their fellowship. It was distressing for our church to work through the ordination of divorced persons and again the ordination of women. And it has been a distressing time to deal with the question of ordaining practicing homosexual persons.

We Presbyterians have not yet determined the mind of the Spirit in this matter. We need to have the courage to live with our distress and to continue to love each other in the process.

 

[Moderator's Note: Mission Presbytery voted against Overture/Amendment B by a margin of 219-163.]


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