Opinions expressed here are my own and do not represent the views of the congregation I joyfully serve. But my congregation loves me!

Monday, April 04, 2016

Why Barbara Wheeler is WRONG (Again)

Former President of Auburn Theological Seminary, Barbara Wheeler, has written an essay, entitled, "BREACH OF FAITH: Why the Apology Overture is So Wrong."   The LayMAN linked to it as well.

I will comment on her essay.  First, a word about the overture.

Overture 11-05 sent by the Presbytery of New York City with concurrence from the Chicago and Genesee Valley presbyteries recommends that the PC(U.S.A.)
"Admit that the PC(USA) has been wrong in the way it has treated the LGBTQ/Q community" 
and
"Apologize for the teachings and actions that have created marginalization of our sisters and brothers, adding to the erroneous belief that people who identify as LGBTQ/Q should be considered unworthy to serve fully or be honored as family within and without the church."
I think it is long past time for such an overture.   Let us recall what has happened in our denomination.   Until just a few years ago, LGBTQ/Q people were prevented from being ordained as officers in the church due to provisions in our constitution.  Their relationships and marriages were not recognized.  They and their allies were taken to church court for challenging these unjust provisions.  I participated in more than one presbytery meeting in which awful things were said about fellow Presbyterians who are LGBTQ/Q.

Actions, attitudes, and theological opinions against LGBTQ/Q people have damaged not only individuals but the entire PC(U.S.A.)  Those attitudes and actions and theological opinions were wrong.  After a long struggle, the denomination removed those beliefs from our official documents. That was a good thing.  Those beliefs did damage to human beings and continue to do damage.    I am amazed that LGBTQ/Q people show up for church at all.   They owe the church nothing.  The church owes them far more than a belated apology.

I could write pages on this.  But I think you get my point.

So what is up with Barbara Wheeler?   She writes in her essay that an apology to LGBTQ/Q people is a "breach of faith."
"After the ordination and same-gender marriage amendments and associated authoritative interpretations passed in quick succession, some Presbyterian evangelicals voiced their fear of being “Kenyonized”—denied ordination or punished by church courts for convictions at odds with those held by the majority. This measure, which would force many conservative evangelicals to participate in the condemnation of their own deeply-held beliefs, will be seen by many as a step in that direction."
This is the same argument we hear from evangelical Christians about how they are being persecuted and oppressed.  They will be forced to "marry the gays" and on and on.  I can see why they are afraid since they have been so skilled at actually persecuting gays for years.    But this overture is not about them.  It is about the marginalization that has been visited upon LGBTQ/Q people by the church.   It was wrong.   It is still wrong.  It still happens.

The phrase "deeply held beliefs" sounds so pious and sacred.  "These are my deeply held beliefs and no one must offend me for having them."  What are these "deeply held beliefs"?  Here is an example.  This is from the Authoritative Interpretation that darkened our denomination for 30 years:
"...homosexuality is not God’s wish for humanity. This we affirm, despite the fact that some of its forms may be deeply rooted in an individual’s personality structure....”   
“Even where the homosexual orientation has not been consciously sought or chosen, it is neither a gift from God nor a state nor a condition like race; it is a result of our living in a fallen world....”  
“As we examine the whole framework of teaching bearing upon our sexuality from Genesis onward, we find that homosexuality is a contradiction of God’s wise and beautiful pattern for human sexual relationships revealed in Scripture and affirmed in God’s ongoing will for our life in the Spirit of Christ....” 
“…the New Testament declares that all homosexual practice is incompatible with Christian faith and life....”
These are a few of the "deeply held beliefs" that were part of the official interpretation of our constitution.  These "deeply held beliefs" encouraged second-class status in church and in society for LGBTQ/Q people.  These "deeply held beliefs" provided theological justification for spiritual abuse and often violence against LGBTQ/Q people.

Those beliefs, "deeply held" as they might be, are wrong beliefs.   Believe it or not, some beliefs need to be challenged.   Even so, there are church officers who believe all kinds of wrong things.   No one is policing them.  An apology for wrong beliefs and subsequent actions based on those beliefs is not policing either.   People can still hold wrong beliefs, we are all about freedom of conscience, but that doesn't mean we as an institution will not move ahead and redress past wrongs.

She writes that the "Apology Overture
targets, scapegoats and demonizes one group, those who did not prevail in the ordination debate. It breaks our promises to respect their beliefs and actions. It violates the freedom of conscience of the minority. It is a breach of faith."
This is where she fundamentally misses the point.   People can still believe wrong things.  They still will.   It isn't about them.  This overture is about apologizing for the pain caused to LGBTQ/Q people because of wrong beliefs that had been written into our authoritative documents and wrong behavior that came from those beliefs.   The faith was "breached" long ago when this targeting, scapegoating, and demonizing of LGBTQ/Q people was the order of the day.  Now that many in the PC(U.S.A.) are changing their beliefs, those who still hold them want to cry foul and pretend they are being oppressed when they are not.    

I titled this post "Why Barbara Wheeler is WRONG (Again)", because several years ago she wrote a similar post advising the PC(U.S.A.) not to change the constitution and remove barriers to ordination.  Even though she was for changing it in theory she was against it in practice.    I responded with Why Barbara Wheeler Is WRONG.    She was wrong.  She was wrong for the same reason then as she is now.  She doesn't understand privilege.   I wrote then:
It is hard to get a grasp on privilege. Here is a seminary president, a straight person, a well-meaning liberal, bright and articulate, who has been blessed with the privilege to earn the title, elder. I don't know if it is a matter of caving under pressure or fear of success, but it seems at the moment when significant change can happen, liberals get scared. They are scared of losing the institution. Scared that conservatives will leave. Scared that demands for justice do not sound nice. 
Here's the thing.  Just because the PC(U.S.A.) voted for marriage equality and ordination, that doesn't mean that justice is fully realized.   That was only the beginning.   We still have a long way to go.  Apologizing for the pain caused by our theological views is a start.


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