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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