As many of you know, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) General Assembly in 2008 created a "Special Committee to Study Issues of Civil Union and Christian Marriage." This Committee has now issued a preliminary report and requested commentary and feedback from the wider church. The draft report can be downloaded (here). Based on the feedback from the denomination, the Committee is expected to issue a revised report and a series of recommendations to be considered at the 2010 General Assembly in June. This is my response to the draft report as submitted to the committee:
To: The Special Committee to Study Issues of Civil Union and Christian MarriageI have participated in 35 General Assemblies and served on three special committees of the assembly. I understand the dynamics within a committee and the desire for unity. However, staying together as a committee is not, in itself, a sufficient goal. Rather, it is a means to the end of proposing a resolution to a dispute.
Re: A Response to the Draft Report
Date: November 14, 2009
From: Jack Rogers, Moderator of the 213th General Assembly
Unfortunately, the draft report, in its current form, has significant inaccuracies, omits relevant biblical and scientific information, and displays a general bias toward the status quo. Let me note several instances.
On page 5 the draft report states "Jesus seems to indicate a preference for celibacy in his comment about eunuchs in Matt. 19:10-12." In fact, Jesus identifies three different types of eunuchs in the passage. In the biblical world, a eunuch was anyone who did not participate in reproduction. But the term eunuch did not always imply celibacy. The first of Jesus’ categories, "eunuchs who have been so from birth," is the closest biblical term we have for someone who today we refer to as homosexual.
In ancient Israel, eunuchs, anyone who did not reproduce, were cursed and cut off from full participation in worship. But Isaiah 56: 4-5 presents God as saying: "For thus says the Lord: To the eunuchs who …hold fast my covenant, …I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off." In Matthew 19:10-12 Jesus is affirming Isaiah's prophecy and showing that Jesus acknowledges and accepts people who are sexual minorities. To ignore Jesus' insight and God’s good news is to cut off a vital element of the discussion.
There is a vast literature available on eunuchs. The proceedings of an international conference in Stockholm in 2003 on same-gender partnerships and same-gender marriages indicate that there are 48 different eunuchs in the Bible. See for example, Ragnhild Schanke, "Rituals and Same-Sex Unions."
The report of the draft committee also treats other biblical passages in a superficial manner. On page 10, the report incorrectly states that Genesis 1 and 2, Matthew 19, Romans 1, and I Corinthians 6 "challenge our acceptance of persons in same-gender relationships." Nowhere in the report is there any acknowledgment of the significant body of contemporary scholarship that understands these texts in their ancient context and shows that they have no relevance to 21st century Christian people of same-gender orientation.
Scientific evidence is similarly glossed over or dismissed in the apparent attempt not to upset those who oppose LGBT equality. On page 28, the draft report states: "we acknowledge that there is no consensus within either the scientific community or the Christian community about the roots of homosexual orientation." That statement is false regarding the scientific data. The overwhelming preponderance of scientific research has shown that sexual orientation is not chosen, and that attempts to change it are ineffective and unnecessary. Every major organization of health professionals in the United States has come to that conclusion.
The Reformed tradition, embodied in our confessions, rejected the medieval demand for clerical celibacy. Instead, the Reformed tradition emphasized marriage as the best alternative to sexual sin, and encouraged mutual love and support of the couple. Our present experience of people who are LGBT in the Presbyterian Church has shown that same-gender couples are just as able as opposite-gender couples to fulfill these goals.
The call for "mutual forbearance" rings hollow. There can be no genuine mutuality until all Presbyterians are allowed to obey their own consciences informed by the best biblical and scientific understanding.
In addition to correcting these errors, the final report needs to be in harmony with the recent actions of our closest theological allies — the Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America — which have both affirmed full LGBT equality in their denominations.
The full text of the recent resolution of the Episcopal Church affirming ordination of people in same-gender relationships can be viewed (here).
The full text approved by the 76th Episcopal General Convention calling on the church to develop liturgical resources to bless same-gender marriages can be found (here).
The full text of "Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust" A Social Statement of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, adopted August 19, 2009, can be downloaded (here).
And the ELCA implementing resolutions can be downloaded (here).
In closing, I understand the desire for unanimity on the committee, I really do. Unfortunately, the draft report achieves unanimity by ignoring the latest biblical research and most scientific evidence. What is more, the draft report risks causing a serious rift with our allies in the Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America which have both affirmed full LGBT equality in their denominations.
For more on the biblical case for LGBT equality please see Jesus, the Bible, and Homosexuality: Explode the Myths, Heal the Church (Revised and Expanded Edition).