In Support of Amendment 08-B

This column also ran on UPI’s Religion and Spirituality Forum.

On April 4, 2009 the Presbytery of San José voted 84-81 in favor of “Amendment 08-B,” a bit of ecclesiastical legislation that, if adopted by a majority of the 174 Presbyteries, or regional governing bodies, in the Presbyterian Church (USA), will lift the absolute and universal ban on the ordination of Gays and Lesbians in the largest Presbyterian body in the United States. I was one of sixteen presbyters chosen to speak on the amendment. Each of us had two minutes to speak our minds. Here’s what I said:

It seems to me that the Book of Order’s current focus on homosexuality puts Presbyterians in danger of adhering to a faith that is too hard on some of us and too easy on most of us.

It is too hard on some of us because asking people to choose between the divine, life-giving gifts of Christian vocation and human intimacy is to require them to make an unhealthy choice. Our reformed tradition affirms that humans are created both to serve God and to live in intimate partnerships. To ask a person to choose one over the other is to ask that person to reject a part of his or her created nature. That’s too hard.

At the same time, an unhealthy focus on homosexuality makes faith too easy for most of us, because something like ninety percent of us are straight. All we have to do to be eligible for ordination is what we were planning on doing anyway and we leave unaddressed the much harder requirement that we live lives that are marked by compassion, forgiveness, grace, and love.

As we talk about ordination, we Presbyterians like to obsess about homosexuality, but we never ask harder questions, like should we ordain a person who remains unconcerned for the plight of the poor; we’ll never ask a candidate for ordination if she supported our government’s use of torture at Guantanamo, or if he is committed to caring for the health of God’s creation. Instead, we talk about homosexuality. Most of us are being too easy on ourselves.

We have our disagreements around what the Bible says, but we can agree that millions of children around the world are hungry, that AIDS, cholera, and tuberculosis kill thousands of people every day. Within our own Presbytery we face increased homelessness and growing poverty. We have an influx of refugees, some of whom are orphans, coming in from war-torn countries. We have a lot of work to do on very difficult issues. We need all the help we can get, and I’m not sure how those of us who are straight can, with a good conscience, practice a faith so easy that we’re worrying about sexual orientation when we affirm the call of God in the lives of our sisters and brothers.

7 thoughts on “In Support of Amendment 08-B

  1. A+, Ben. Glad you shared this with us all…. I really appreciated your presentation of this essay at the meeting on Saturday. I especially appreciated you bringing up the idea of ‘serving the poor’ as being as important or more important than one’s orientation.

    Jesus called us to love one another, not to judge, and to care for the least of these. If we are to be the hands and feet of Jesus in this place, we must focus on those issues, not these bedroom issues which He said nothing about.

  2. I agree with you, Ben. Thanks for speaking out. Passage of Amendment 08-B would send the message that socially progressive people are welcome in the Presbyterian Church. Many of these folks are staying home now rather than support an institution whose values they find offensive.

  3. Ben, I think you do a great disservice to the presbytery & your congregation. You are supposed to lead based on biblical truths. The truth is pretty clear, homosexuality is an abomination. We are to be know by the fruits of our labors which all comes from wearing the armor of God. Have you ever noticed that Ephesians first mentions the belt of truth as the first piece of armor. Homosexuality is an absolute abomination (truth) And second is the breastplate of righteousness and homosexuality surely is not righteous (truth). While we love our homosexual brothers & sisters we do not condone any sin that would diminish the Kingdom of God in believers eyes or lead non-believers to think we are hypocrites. As a Pastor (teacher) you should be teaching that all sin is unacceptable to God instead you are wishy-washy and not being clear regarding God’s laws. While we want to receive all sinners we should never lower God’s standards to make them & others think His stand is weak as it is not. God bless.

  4. Thank you Ben for promoting God’s love instead of fear. I don’t know what to say to those who persist in judging folks whose characters and relationships to God they know nothing about. Regardless of their belief in a literal interpretation of the bible, (which clearly is applied in a haphazard manner since there are many conflicting passages,) God is love first and foremost. Love your neighbor as yourself—this is God’s work. And I don’t think that God meant only your heterosexual neighbor who looks, acts, thinks and lives exactly as you do. To call someone else’s love an “abomination” seems to me the opposite of love and therefore the antithesis of God.

    May God grant us all loving hearts, open minds, and the courage to stand up for those who cannot always speak for themselves.

  5. Ben, Congratulations on being chosen to speak on this topic–this is a concise and compelling argument for all of us to rethink our priorities and stop judging the private lives and relationships of others and start worrying about things that really matter to humanity. If one acknowledges that we are all flawed (doesn’t the Bible say something to that effect?), then anyone seeking ordination will be a sinner, regardless of his or her sexual orientation (also regardless of whether or not one thinks that homosexuality is a sin in the first place). It’s encouraging to see that many people agree with you! For those that don’t, all we can do is keep spreading love and acceptance and hope that it will sink in.

  6. Pat, Elizabeth, Caroline, and Anna, thank you for your kind words. The idea that we’re to love rather than judge keeps coming up and I think it is both wise and Christ-like.

    Dennis, first a full disclosure. I think the Bible’s condemnation of homosexuality is a lot like it’s support for slavery. There is no question that the Bible endorses slavery explicitly and forcefully, yet I don’t even feel comfortable eating a cauliflower if I know it may have been harvested by a victim of human trafficking. The simple truth is that the Christian tradition has always left room for Christians to set aside bits of the Bible’s ethical code that go against cultural mores. This is why we no longer practice polygamy, and it’s why a childless widow is no longer required to marry her brother in law; we let women braid their uncovered hair and wear mens’ clothing too. All of these things go against direct Biblical mandates in the Old and New Testaments. You can read more about why, despite a passionate love for Scripture I don’t believe homosexuality is a sin here.

    Nonetheless, even if I did believe homosexuality is sin, I would find little evidence in scripture that it is a very serious one. Depending upon how you interpret various verses, there are no more than half a dozen references to homosexuality in the Bible, while there are hundreds of passages urging care for the poor. In fact, if my memory serves me correctly, Jesus only ever talks of people being in hell twice, once in Matthew 25,in the parable of the sheep and the goats, and once in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. On both occasions the folks are in hell because they did not care for the poor. Jesus’ encounters with sexual sinners, such as the woman and the well and the woman caught in adultery, are moments of pure grace.

    Given Jesus’ concern for the poor, I’m not sure how you can say that my appeal for folks to worry about the less fortunate rather than obsess over sexual orientation is a disservice to my congregation or my denomination. I know that the poor would probably rather we cared less about orientation, and Jesus himself has said that he is present with us in the poor.


  7. Jesus spoke of many things; all important. If he thought
    homosexuality would keep us from God, he would have said so.
    Therefore, it’s not an issue for those commited to his way.
    Love in any preference is where God is. My sorrow over
    homosexuality is the difficult plight they face as a minority.
    All that cruelity! All that waste of time when she should
    strive to help the homeless, hungry, sick, and despised.
    All of us should be careful not to equate OT content with
    Jesus’ teachings; many simply are not Christian nor
    relevant Judeo-Christian ethics. Love is the all.. Shalom

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