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Presbyterian Churches and homosexuality
Over the years I had hoped that no one would request of me that I solemnise a union between two people of the same sex. This hope remains. In T&T at this time, as in other parts of the world, there is much debate among churches and other groups as to whether or not same-sex marriage should be made legal and whether or not the church should ordain homosexuals.
Some churches have already started to address this issue and others have been invited from various quarters to express a view or take a position. Perhaps soon the Presbyterian Church in T&T will have to take its own position. As we look toward this possibility, one of the entry points for beginning to consider the issue could be to look at the positions other Presbyterian churches have taken and are taking.
The Church of Scotland, which is often referred to as the “mother church” for Presbyterians worldwide, is not immune to division as regards this issue. Over the past few years, members of the Church of Scotland have insisted that homosexual behaviour is not sinful.
The general assembly on May 23, 2009, ratified the appointment of Rev Scott Rennie, who is the Kirk’s first openly practising gay minister. In addition, the general assembly later agreed upon a moratorium on the appointment of “practising” homosexuals until after a special commission has reported on the matter.
And in May, 2011, the general assembly of the Church of Scotland voted to appoint a theological commission to fully investigate the matter. The commission will report to the general assembly in 2013. Meanwhile there will be no public discussion on the issue. In addition, the Presbyterian Church in the US, comprising 173 presbyteries, in May, 2011, took the decision to allow willing presbyteries and governing bodies the freedom to ordain openly gay men and lesbian women as elders, deacons and ministers.
The Presbyterian Church in Canada also has its view on the subject. Some are of the opinion that this is a conservative view in which the church does not approve of same-sex marriage. However, the church is opposed to any attitude of hatred or discrimination directed at homosexual people and it is aware that there are lesbian and gay people holding positions of responsibility in the church.
It is indeed noteworthy that the Rev Darryl McDonald, an openly gay minister of the United Church of Canada, who in 1996 was refused ordination by the Presbyterian Church, can now be a guest speaker in Presbyterian churches in Canada since the ban which prohibited him from speaking from a Presbyterian pulpit is now lifted. (Presbyterian Record, June 8)
The United Church of Canada in 2000 took the position that homosexuality is not a sin. Since 2003, the United Church has supported the full inclusion of all people, including homosexuals, for lay or ordained ministry. The United Church affirms this position when it insists that transgendered identities and lesbian, gay and bisexual orientations are each “a gift from God, part of the marvellous diversity of creation.” Their words of affirmation in describing this inclusivity read:
With open hearts, open minds
there is welcome in this place
there is welcome in this space
there is welcome with embrace
with open hearts
(Mary-Ellen Kish: 2008)
As we in the Presbyterian Church in T&T and other religious communities engage the issue, we would most likely base out argument on scriptural interpretation. Thus we should consider the words of the Rev Bonnie Kelly of the United Church of Canada:
They used the Bible to justify slavery.
They used the Bible to justify the smothering of women’s gifts and talents. They used the Bible to sow seeds of anti-semitism, and then were incredulous that the Nazis could be so cruel. And once again, in our day, people in the church are using the Bible as a “handbook for bigotry.” This time, however, the targets are people of minority sexual orientation and gender identity.
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