The Association of
At present, the Association of Reconciling Christians and Congregations meets in Auckland, Hamilton, Christchurch and Dunedin. To introduce you to our Dunedin group we offer material that was prepared as a submission to the Presbyterian Commission on Diversity. The Dunedin group usually meets on the last Friday of the month. For further information contact Euan Thomson at firstname.lastname@example.org or write to P.O. Box 5266, Dunedin.
We are a group of gays, lesbians and straight people. Some of us are clergy, the others lay people. We comprise Presbyterian, Methodists, Church of Christ, Catholics and Baptists. The ecumenical aspect of the group is a great help. Some of us have gay children, some have gay friends or former spouses. None of us feel very radical, but all of us offer unconditional love to those who happen to be homosexual, especially, in this context, those who happen to be homosexual and Christian - a combination which causes more grief than joy most of the time at present. Since the 1996 General Assembly, the Dunedin ARCC group has decided to spend its time more on positive discussion rather than on negative, energy-sapping arguments and defences of their position on homosexuals in leadership.
Our new positive approach has resulted in our working to set up an organisation locally for parents of gays and lesbians (PFLAG), watching a video of the reactions of the father of a young British gay man who committed suicide, and telling each other our stories about how we have changed our minds on the subject of homosexuality. This was an attempt to reclaim the word 'evangelical' for ourselves as well as for others who seemed to be claiming they were the only ones who were evangelical.
We listened to a report recently on the 1998 Assembly. The gay members of our group found the concept of a rahui difficult. (For a period of one year all debate, and discussion on the issue of homosexuality and leadership is suspended throughout the Presbyterian Church. During this time no practising homosexuals shall be licensed, ordained or inducted into positions of leadership.) They felt there had been enough silencing of their point of view already. They also wondered who it was who needed the rest from argument and politicising, if not the dominant, heterosexual group for whom exclusion from leadership in the church had never been a danger.
When the question of synods or streams was mentioned, some in the group expressed their dilemma as to which 'group' they would naturally belong. If they found themselves to be at times evangelical, and charismatic, at other times pentecostal and on other occasions liberal in their views and practice - what stream of the church could accommodate them satisfactorily? Needless to say, these views were expressed by heterosexuals, because, as one gay member pointed out, he did not have the luxury of such choice, as some streams would never accept him in their midst. Once again the use of the word evangelical by a particular group in the church was a problem. Several felt they could be evangelical and still have liberal views on different issues, especially social issues - but were well aware that this view of 'evangelical' did not fit with others' ideas of the same term.
A recent meeting of our group therefore focused on definitions of terms used in the debate such as 'inclusive', 'leadership', 'tolerance', and 'diversity'. As the evening wore on, though this had not been our aim, we found the definitions expressing more and more our ambivalence about the way such terms are used in the church. As one member said, we would not say "In the name of Christ I tolerate you!" - 'tolerate' seemed such a mean word for Christians to be using. We found it poignant that one member's word-find for the word 'inclusive' included words such as "integrity", "holistic", "universal", "unity", "entity", "sharing" - words which seemed so at variance with our experience in the church because they seemed too generous. When leadership was discussed, we found it difficult to delineate where leadership began and ended - so from what parts of the church would some be excluded - all parts?
Euan's contribution summed up much of the underlying feelings for the group especially when he read out "An inclusive church would not seek ways to enable a sector or synod to hold and promote these exclusive views." It suddenly seemed obvious that strands or streams which allowed people to be heterosexist were as wrong as streams which would allow part of our church to be sexist or racist. As a group we asked Euan if he would read his piece to the Presbyterian Commission on Diversity as our submission on the pitfalls of diversity.
Euan's contribution follows.
On the 5th of August two of our ARCC members attended an "emergency evangelical meeting" at East Taieri church sponsored by AFFIRM and Renewal Ministries. I was interested to hear in their report back to us that they "felt strange to feel outsiders at a church meeting". I relate to that feeling. That is how I feel almost everywhere in society. In fact I know that almost everywhere I am indeed 'an outsider'. My life is spent evaluating what other people might think of me. You might think that my sexuality is no one's business, but it's not as simple as that. My sexuality (and yours) has a major influence on our lives. Perhaps you are married, with a family. So when you get into even the most casual of conversations you might talk about these aspects of your life. It's probable that you will be asked leading questions to which you have no hesitation replying. But for a gay person even the most innocent of questions start off this process of evaluating the consequences of our response. Do I say "I've just been on a holiday" or "we've just been on a holiday"? They are both correct but the second suggests a partner. That soon leads on to a comment about "your wife or your family" and then suddenly I'm confronted with a situation where I have to decide whether to lie or to tell the truth. And if I tell the truth what will be the other person's response. Will it matter? In my job I'm invited to social occasions - the Knox College Winter Ball was the last occasion. Malcolm was invited as my partner! Great! But can you imagine the response of 200 teenagers if we had got up and danced together? For any straight couple it would have been the most normal occurrence. For us it would have been a major decision, even if those 200 teenagers hadn't noticed.
When I was in my late teens, Bible Class dances were the centre of teenage social life. I loved dancing, but really these events were not about dancing. They were a place for girls and boys to meet and fall in love, marry and have more children. Where did I fit in to that scene? After I met Malcolm we regularly attended Knox Church together. Those were the days of Rev. Doug Storkey, a wonderful preacher who filled the church with eager young people morning and night. But each Sunday at the end of his sermon I would find myself crying out within my mind "Yes, that's right. But what about us? What about gay people? Where do we fit in?" Because, Sunday after Sunday, we were studiously ignored. The silence of the church about our situation said everything. I know little about "inclusion". I know lots about exclusion. Inclusion doesn't mean throwing open the church doors on Sunday and saying, "Come in. Welcome. But don't say anything about being gay or lesbian (or any other aspect of your life which we might find distasteful)." Inclusion doesn't mean inviting me to your weddings and christenings but saying "Sorry, your relationship can't be celebrated in our church". Inclusion isn't calling us 'self avowed, practising homosexuals' and talking about 'loving the sinner but hating the sin.' Inclusion certainly doesn't mean saying "Yes, you are welcome into our community. Give us your money, your time and your talents but don't ask to be made leaders or ministers. That might cause division among us. And after all you should be glad we're not like other churches who preach that you are an abomination in the sight of God!" Inclusion would be wonderful. It would mean an end to constant vigil and pretence. It would be like being among friends.
An inclusive church would not seek ways to enable a sector or synod to hold and promote these exclusive views. They are damaging and dangerous and sabotage the message of inclusion of the rest of the church. In my opinion exclusive views are in total opposition to those espoused by Jesus and are therefore not Christian. Either we are Christian or we are not. We cannot follow Christ and be racist, sexist or heterosexist.
It is said by this exclusive minority that they must be free to interpret the Bible as "the inerrant word of God". The reality is that they seek justification for their prejudice in selected passages. Those passages are well known. They have been called by gay christians "the texts of terror". They are not the good news of the gospels. I am dismayed when I read that Assembly has instructed the Commission on Diversity to bring specific proposals for new structures in the Church to the next Assembly in July. The Church of the late 20th century would never seek ways to encompass groups who railed against Maori, Jews, beneficiaries, the disabled. Why is it seeking to accommodate the views of people who hate gays and lesbians?