Rev. Mark Chiang (Photo courtesy of the author)

Topics: Spirituality | Opinion

As a gay Presbyterian, we shouldn’t pat ourselves on the back just yet

This minister is frustrated that his church's leaders were so quick to listen to and accommodate those who want to exclude

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The Presbyterian Church in Canada (PCC) voted this week to allow for same-sex marriage and the ordination of LGBTQI people — but it’s not quite the good news that queer and trans Presbyterians like me were hoping for.

At our General Assembly, a Special Committee proposed four options on the way forward: A) maintain traditional teachings on marriage, B) offer full inclusion to LGBTQI people, C) form theologically-based presbyteries, and D) to allow same-sex marriage as a “pastoral exception.” On Tuesday, to everyone’s surprise, the Assembly voted 60/40 in favour of Option B: full inclusion. There were protestations from the “traditional” side, and on Wednesday night, an hour was devoted to listen to them cry about feeling excluded by the church. The next morning, as the Assembly sat for their final session, an amendment was proposed that allowed for the inclusion of LGBTQI people, but also gave special protection to those who opposed. It was meant to be a compromise: the church would now include those who had been historically excluded (i.e. LGBTQI people) while protecting the freedom of others to continue excluding.

A tired and fretful Assembly approved the amendment.

What does this mean? It still has to be approved by Presbyteries and return to the next General Assembly, but if that is carried, it means that Presbyterian churches will be allowed to participate in same-sex marriages and the ordination of LGBTQI teaching and ruling elders in 2020. Clergy, congregations and presbyteries that oppose same-sex relationships will be allowed to maintain their position. The full implications for how those two sides work together, especially with queer and trans clergy in an unaffirming presbytery, is yet unknown. Sue Senior, an elder present at Assembly and a member of the LGBTQI community, fears that it “enshrines current and now ongoing discrimination and stigmatization of LGBTQI persons.”

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It’s better than nothing, but not what we hoped for. My own frustration is that the 100+ stories of homophobia, transphobia and heterosexism collected by Rainbow Communion— a committee listening to stories of harm done in the church — has not yet been heard. Their report won’t be presented until next year. Rainbow Communion marks the first and only time the LGBTQI community has been invited by the PCC to speak to their own experience and faith. Yet in this Assembly, instead of hearing those painful stories of exclusion, special time was given to hear, again, from powerful, straight, cisgender lobbyists who literally shed tears about “not being heard.”

Is this irony? Gaslighting? I lack the words for it. I felt like I was witnessing slave-masters crying about abolition or men in tears about suffrage. My faith calls me to love the oppressor as much as the oppressed, so I do have compassion for the pain they were feeling — how could I not? I have been excluded my whole life. But, this does not mean we enable their oppression.

We’ve taken the first step towards justice, but the journey ahead is long. I still love the PCC, and I do believe I saw the Spirit of God at work in Assembly, as much as us mortals tried to obstruct it. There was a clear message that the majority of our denomination supports the full inclusion of LGBTQI people, and that number will only rise. In the meantime, we live in a very messy middle ground.

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Rev. Mark Chiang is the minister at St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church in Edmonton.

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  • says:

    Back in the day when UCC was looking at whether or not LGBTQI folk could be ordained in the church some folk at General Council were less than gracious with those who opposed the move. Perhaps we Christ followers should be asking the question. How should we, in Christ, be treating one another, especially when we disagree? Of course there is always more room at the table of Christ when there are no barriers between us. May PCC find its way through as we are all called to love as Christ loves us.

  • says:

    Messy? Absolutely! Anything that is genuinely human is messy! And far, far from settled. I heard, clearly, from both “sides” and the middle. Yes the exclusive folks talked, ummm, a great deal? But I heard one fellow say he could no longer reside under the Presbyterian Church “umbrella”. Ironic, no? But I watched people who had been living in the rain for many years simply say “the is room under this umbrella for us all”. I await next steps, but I am now seeing possibilities for us all. We are a long way from where we were last week. Can we walk together?

  • says:

    "My faith calls me to love the oppressor as much as the oppressed, so I do have compassion for the pain they were feeling — how could I not? I have been excluded my whole life. But, this does not mean we enable their oppression."

    By stating this, do you mean you will oppress the oppressor who has a clearly different opinion of marriage and Christian lifestyle? That doesn't sound Christ-like either.

    I'm sure I'm very naive when I ask: "If you cannot work in the denomination that you seek, why not move to another that will accept you, or start your own? Why must you make an issue and have your own way?"
    Should I cause a disturbance within this denomination, because I'm offended by the indoctrination of "pre-trib" theology or Calvinism?

    Replies

    • says:

      This may be equally as naive, but Gary, would you go back to the civil rights movement and ask an African American to just set aside their right to use a fountain/seat/bathroom/school that is meant for people similar to them?

      IMHO, to not allow someone to be fully included in a community (no less a mainline denomination) based on something fundamental about them is taking a narrow-minded, cherry-picked view of the bible and conflating it into something that starts to feel like hate.

      Replies

      • says:

        Even though it's off topic, there is a huge difference between the Afro-American movement and the Gay Rights movement. First and foremost, their social status. African Americans had very few resources for their fight. Are you saying gays are not allowed to eat, drink and be merry in this day and age? You equate it just because a group (majority at that) disagrees with the lifestyle.
        The writer of the article has a choice, but those before the civil rights movement had none.
        Secondly, why would you want to work or be included into a community that is "narrow-minded" and full of "hate"? (your words). This is the point I'm making.

  • says:

    I was a Commisioner to this Assembly. I too am confident that God's will will be done as we walk together along this pathway.