you are a Presbyterian and a progressive, then this year you’ve
seen some good news and some bad news in both the church and the
First, some good news from the church.
• On January 15, the Presbytery of San Francisco voted 167
to 151 that Lisa Larges, a lesbian who works for That All May
Freely Serve, is ready to seek ordination. Larges registered her
disagreement with the “fidelity and chastity” standard or G.
6.0106b of the
and, in accordance with the recommendation of the Theological
Task Force on Peace, Unity, and Purity, the Presbytery judged
this not to be a barrier to her proceeding with the ordination
• Later that same month, and by a
considerably wider margin, the Presbytery of the Twin Cities
voted to reinstate the ordination of my good friend, Paul E.
Capetz, a Professor of Theology and United Seminary of the Twin
Cities, and an openly gay man. Capetz also scrupled G-6.0106b.
So, there was evidence of progress in the
continuing effort to ordain called and qualified GLBT
But there was also some bad news.
• The vote in San Francisco was close,
certain to be appealed to the Synod of the Pacific, and perhaps
all the way to the General Assembly’s Permanent Judicial
• Before that could happen, however, the GA PJC ruled in
February that a gay or lesbian who is expressing dis-agreement
with the wording or meaning of provisions of the constitution,
but does not permit disobedience to those behavioral standards.”
(Presumably, then, as a married, heterosexual male
might scruple G-6.0106b since, in that instance, I would be
departing only from the
this is a legitimate behavioral standard for ordination.) This,
of course, renders the decisions in San Francisco and the Twin
Cities uncertain and problematic, and (apparently) blocks any
further such actions.
Under these circumstances, many Presbyterian progressives are
trying to decide whether to support overtures to the General
Assembly that would allow presbyteries to consider departures
ordination standards once again, efforts simply to delete
G6.0106b from the
or both. The first option would allow presbyteries to decide
once again what the Presbyteries of San Francisco and the Twin
Cities Area did decide, namely, that gay and lesbian sexual
departures from our ordination standards.
Now for some good national news.
• The popularity among American voters of
George W. Bush and the War in Iraq have plummeted to the point
where both seem likely to present real challenges to the
presumptive Republican nominee for President of the United
• The Democrats managed to come up with a
good, even historic field of candidates for their presidential
nomination, all with generally positive inclinations when it
comes to Iraq, international policy, the economic situation of
poor and middle class Americans, immigration, and more.
But there was bad news on this front as well.
• The leading Democratic candidates have
managed to get caught in a protracted struggle for the party’s
nomination that is not making either of them look good.
• Their struggle is giving John McCain, whose
domestic and international policy preferences seem genuinely
disturbing, some much-needed time to shore-up and sharpen his
In this circumstance, many Presbyterian (and
other) progressives found themselves having to decide between
Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.
So, which particular initiatives regarding
ordination standards in the PC (USA) should we support? Which
Democratic candidate should we support?
answer comes from my short-lived baseball career. Years ago in
northern New Jersey, I played Little League for a team with
forest green caps sponsored by the
I wasn’t very good. (Hey, have
ever tried to get a Brazilian father to play catch?) Anyway, our
coach tried valiantly to teach us how to play the game, and he
must have told us a thousand things, but I only remember one.
“Keep your eye on the ball, kid.” His point was that, in
baseball, where the ball is and what you do with it is almost
always essential. Yes, it’s easy to get distracted by other
things that are going on, e.g., a friend yelling something from
the bench, planes flying overhead. But then you lose sight of
the ball, and that is almost never good. So, straight from Coach
Smith, here is my answer: we should keep our eyes on the ball.
Let me say what I mean.
The Peace, Unity and Purity Report offered a theology of
conversation and discussion for the church in contentious times
plus an argument that Presbyterian polity allows candidates to
depart from ordination standards in ways that Presbyteries deem
nonessential. When the GA adopted its recommendations, in
effect, it asked presbyters to judge whether or not GLBT sexual
relationships represent nonessential departures from the
ordination standards published in the
Please note, however, that any judgment on this question finally
presupposes the same thing that any judgment for or against
deleting G-6.0106b presupposes, namely, a substantive
theological argument or position on human sexual relationships.
But a theological argument or position on the basic substantive
issue at hand is precisely what (for a variety of reasons) the
Task Force did
In this circumstance, a basic task of the left is
not just to decide about the relative merits of attempts to
reinstate the recommendations of the Task Force or of deleting
G-6.0106b. It is to present arguments in favor of the judgment
that committed and mutual gay and lesbian sexual relationships
fall within a theologically normative understanding of human
sexual relationships, and then to press for changes in church
and world that accord with this judgment.
Among other things, this may include “commissioning” some short
and clear outlines of substantive theological arguments in favor
of the judgment that gay and lesbian sexual relationships may
fall within the theologically articulated norm of faithfulness,
and making these outlines available to persons and groups.
it also includes pressing to restore the possibility of
scrupling G-6.0106b, then it should do so
as an interim, ameliorative measure
pressing for what is judged as a matter of theological and
ethical principle to be right and good, namely, the removal of
barriers to the ordination of called and qualified GLBT persons
who are involved in committed and mutual relationships, and the
recognition of same sex unions and marriages.
Next, consider the question, Hillary or Barack? Many of us have
our preferences. (Just before the Pennsylvania primary, a friend
told me he might find it easier to vote for my dog, Sugar, in
the fall than for H.C. In exit polls, a significant minority of
the Pennsylvanians who voted for Clinton said they wouldn’t vote
for Obama in the fall if he turns out to be the nominee. ) Even
so, whether to support one or the other of the remaining
candidates as they fight for the nomination is
the most important question facing Presbyterian (and other)
progressives in this election. (And, remember, Sugar is not at
all likely to be on either major party ticket.) The far more
important thing is to articulate responsible arguments and
positions on the main issues of the day, e.g., Iraq, the
economy, and immigration, support the candidate in the fall who
will best advance those positions and, in the case that this
candidate needs to be pushed further, to go ahead and push him
or her both before and after election day. In short, after eight
years of W. and his many accomplishments, both foreign and
domestic, our chief electoral responsibility seems nicely
summarized by a sticker I saw the other day on another friend’s
car: “Enough is enough. Vote Democratic.”
It really all comes down to this. Those of us who
count ourselves Presbyterian progressives have recently had our
ups and downs. We face a variety of challenges and also a number
of strategic decisions, but if we keep our eyes on the ball, we
will see that there is a continuing and clear role for
Presbyterian left, namely, to frame explicit theological and
ethical arguments about substantive issues of faith and life, to
bring these into public conversations and debates, and to press
church and society to act.