Today at the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa NZ, 65% of commissioners voted in favour of a motion that bans from leadership anyone “in a relationship outside of a faithful marriage between a man and a woman.”
I thought I was ready for this. I knew, at least the rational part of my brain knew, that this legislation would probably come through. I was expecting this result. I believed I was prepared for it.
When the numbers were announced though, I felt like something tore open inside me. The tears spilled over so quickly, as though my body was ready and waiting for grief. Something inside me, not rational, not pragmatic, part of me kept hoping right until the numbers were read. I knew not everyone would support us, but that part of me still hoped, maybe, just maybe... 59%, that was all I hoped for. And today that part of me was broken.
The first wave of shock came when the moderator read the numbers, and all I heard was “65% in favour.” But then, later, I was shocked again, to hear the media say that only 35% opposed the motion. Only 35%. Only just over a third.
I spent half the day crying (as some of you already know, from my blubbering on the news). It was so strange to go back in, and listen to people talk about financial and administrative matters, and a rousing speech about our church’s mission. Everyone just carried on, as if no-one had been hurt, as though nothing had been broken.
Some of you are wondering how I can stick with such an organisation, but I am, I will, I must. Yes, they have said I cannot train for ministry, I cannot become an elder, or a minister... they have taken that possibility away from me. But I will not let them take away my faith. I have only just begun to hope for a God who might love me, wholly, unconditionally. I will not let them take away that hope, that promise. And I will not lose my belief our mission, the work of love, peace and justice, the dream that Christ inspires in me. If I let them take away that, they have won more than just a vote.
Amidst the hurt today, I experienced so much loving kindness, sometimes from unexpected quarters. People, some of them friends, some of them strangers, looked out for me, stood by me, reached out to me, reminded me what Christianity is all about. Love.
Of course there were also people who I have no doubt voted for the legislation, who wanted to give me a pat on the back, or a hug, or complement me on the singing. And I found that difficult. Yes, I believe I should treat them with love and respect. They have their own stories, their own reasons for the decisions they have made. But today... today is my time to be hurt. Yes, Christ calls me to love them. But today… it was like they wanted to make amends without acknowledging that they had caused me pain. Today I just wanted to cry with friends.
I guess I should get some sleep, there’s more work to do tomorrow. Assembly meets from 8:30 am till 9:30pm, so I need to try and put on a brave face again.
I’m including the speech I gave, not that it helped, but at least I had the chance to say it.
“Tena koe Moderator,
“My concern is that this legislation will be a barrier, preventing people from coming to know Christ.
“We must be aware of how this legislation will be heard, by those in the church, and by those in the wider community. And it will sound like discrimination. Many people will be put off the church before they even get a foot in the door. Some already have been.
“We must be mindful of how this ruling will feel, not just to those called into leadership, but to everyone who is in a defacto or same-sex relationship. We are saying “your relationship is unacceptable in our eyes.” And it will feel like a rejection of individual people, because of who they love.
“Gay and lesbian youth are already seven times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers. Think for a moment what Jesus would have us say to them. They don’t need another organisation telling them that their experience of love is unacceptable.
“This ruling will cause pain to many of God’s children, especially gay and lesbian people, but also their mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, children, friends and all who love and support them.
“There are two things we cannot choose. We don’t choose who we fall in love with. And we don’t choose to become leaders in the Church. God calls us. Let’s leave our lives in God’s capable hands.”
Nga mihi nui, nga mihi aroha,
This week’s Illustration Friday topic is “farm”. Yeah, I know, I’m always a bit slow off the mark. Anyway, my wee farm was inspired by this poem by Russell Edson.
A scientist has a test tube full of sheep. He wonders if he should try to shrink a pasture for them.
They are like grains of rice.
He wonders if it is possible to shrink something out of existence.
He wonders if the sheep are aware of their tininess, if they have any sense of scale. Perhaps they just think the test tube is a glass barn...
He wonders what he should do with them; they certainly have less meat and wool than ordinary sheep. Has he reduced their commercial value?
He wonders if they could be used as a substitute for rise, a sort of woolly rice...
He wonders if he just shouldn’t rub them into a red paste between his fingers.
He wonders if they are breeding, or if any of them have died.
He puts them under a microscope and falls asleep counting them...
Speaking of farms, at St Andrew’s last week we had a visit from two people who work for CEPAD, a Protestant NGO in Nicaragua. It was fun hearing them speak, as the part of Costa Rica I lived in was just over the border from Nicaragua, and there were lots of Nicaraguans living there. My host family had a Nicaraguan maid. A lot of Costa Ricans in my town were quite racist against the “Nicas”, saying tat they were all thieves, liars, etc.
Anyway, CEPAD is based on a philosophy of self-determination and empowerment. They work with (not for) the poorest of the poor, providing skills training and resources. A lot of the work they do is teaching people about sustainable agriculture (hence the “farm” link).
One of the speakers mentioned that, though there are dairy farms in Nicaragua, most people buy powdered milk from NZ. It’s cheaper. The local farmers, working in third world conditions, can’t compete with our high tech industry.
A couple of weeks ago I organised a “sustainability challenge” for our regular church lunch. People were encouraged to think about different areas, such as chemical use, human impact, packaging, and food miles (how far the food has travelled). One member of the congregation is very opposed to the idea of food miles, and at the lunch he pointed out that if food miles were important we couldn’t have any coffee, or chocolate, or various other foods that we import. I felt a bit stink, because I felt like the whole thing became a joke, not just the food miles issue, but the other issues as well. Of course we’re not going to buy everything local, but I think it’s one of many factors to bear in mind. If there are two identical products and one is local, one not, I try to go for the local one. And if there’s a fair trade option, I try to buy that, if I can. Of course price and all sorts of other things come into it as well. But I believe it’s important to stop and think about these things from time to time.
Anyway, my mini sheep are all locally bred :)
The first time I heard the expression I was 13. It sounded so simple, so reasonable, the way the pastor said it.
Love the sinner, hate the sin.
What could be more simple than that?
I tried to put it into practice right away. Love the sinner, hate the sin. I didn’t know any others, so I practiced on myself:
Love the sinner, hate the way my heart beats faster when she walks past me.
Love the sinner, hate that I can’t help noticing how gracefully she moves her hands.
Love the sinner, hate the excitement I feel when we get the internet, and I find out I’m not alone.
Love the sinner, hate the relief I feel when I tell someone for the first time.
Love the sinner, hate the poems that dance through my head.
Love the sinner, hate the hurt I feel every time I hear words like “abomination”.
Love the sinner, hate the first time I reach for her hand.
Love the sinner, hate the kiss that falls gently, like a blessing, on my lips.
Love the sinner, hate the confusion that tugs at me.
Love the sinner, hate the pleasure that keeps leaping inside me.
Love the sinner, hate the sin, just the sin...
It sounded so easy when he said it.
“Hate the sin.”
Don’t we all? Hate sin? Isn’t that what it’s about?
At thirteen years old, I can’t seem to keep it all separate.
Sinner and sin.
Person and practice.
Lover and love.
Hater and hate.
Love the sinner, hate the sin...
Somehow I always ended up
Someone sent out these bumper stickers to most of the commissioners who will be going to General Assembly.
My non-church-going friends keep asking me why I would want to be involved in the church, and on days like today it seems like a very good question.
So, sometimes, I have to remind myself.
I have no trouble remembering why I want to be part of St Andrew’s. I love this church, and its people. I love that I am free to wonder and question. I love the teaching, and the discussions. I love the work we do, for peace, for justice, for the planet. I love the worship, which is creative, inclusive, beautiful and poetic. I chose to be baptised into the Church because at St Andrew’s I felt accepted and loved.
But... St Andrew’s is part of the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand.
I could, of course, keep going to St Andrew’s but say that I’m not part of the wider church. But that option doesn’t sit quite right with my conscience. So I’m trying to remind myself, again, why on earth I would want to be Presbyterian.
1. Well, it is part of my heritage. My Scottish ancestors arrived here early in 1840, and it’s likely they were at the first Presbyterian service held on the shore of Petone.
2. If I left, the balance of the Presbyterian Church would change and tilt just that little bit further to the right.
3. If St Andrew’s left the national church, we would lose a lot of our resources, including our buildings.
4. Children have no choice which church their parents drag them to. If I can help to change PCANZ for the better, it will be a nicer place for future generations.
5. I subscribe to the reformist idea “that each man can be his own priest”.
6. We have a system of representational democracy.
I think that’s all I can come up with tonight.
I won’t write a list of reasons not to belong to the Church. It might turn out longer.
Instead I’ll give you some of the results of a Google search for “Why I am a Presbyterian”.
Just the other day I was invited to give a talk on "Why I Am a Presbyterian." I told them I couldn't possibly, because I don't know why I'm a Presbyterian.
- Frederick Buechner
My rebellion from Presbyterianism lasted all of about six hours, in college, where, after skipping church one Sunday morning, a fierce combination of guilt and habit and honest affection drew me back.
- John Wilkinson
There are exactly seven reasons to be a Presbyterian – no more, no less…
- Rev. William A. Evertsberg
And then I found the Presbyterians Today magazine issue, which has mini essays by lots of people talking about why they are proud to be Presbyterian (in the USA).
Some answers are repeated often: because the PC is “connectional”... because it is democratic... because it values education... because it’s “In my blood/genes”... because women can be ministers... because we are allowed to ask questions.
Here are some snippets of the other reasons that tickled my fancy:
Because of the doughnuts.
- Erin Dunigan
…because I enjoy meetings… We believe the Truth is not in you or me, but between us.
- Wayne McLaughlin
- Hearing an exegetical explanation for fish-shaped crackers used in Communion
…because we do things decently and in order; therefore when a Presbyterian goes to another Presbyterian church, he knows what to expect.
- Ruth Ann Folsom
I love the ever-growing number of children who dance in the aisles on their way to the "Word for Children."
- Mary Anne McDonald
Presbyterians see the many hues and shades of God.
- Glyndon Morris
The right to a fair trial in a Presbyterian court if accused of ecclesiastical wrongdoing.
- Steven J. Voris
Being a Presbyterian means "Welcome to our church—you can start thinking now."
- Michael Perrotta