View Full Version : Excommunication
Just thought I'd throw this out there and see if anyone had wisdom in what I should do in this matter...
I grew up in a conservative Christian home. My father is the pastor of the reformed presbyterian church I went to for 24 years. My parents found out that I was gay about two years ago and since then have sent a barage of e-mails, letters and calls my way voicing their concern for my ultimate perish in hell for the life I was living. Most recently I've been getting letters from my father's church, where I am an inactive member due to the fact that I haven't been there for over two years, seeped in pat responses concerning my choice of lifestyle. Before these letters began to come my father told me that if I didn't turn from my gay lifestyle I would be excommunicated from the church.
Once I began getting these letters, I looked up the church bylaws online and according to those, the church is on the first steps of excommunicating me. I couldn't find any ways that I could remove myself from the church without them having to place a black mark next to my name. I haven't responded to these letters despite the church's request for me to. I wouldn't know what to say and feel like everything I would say would fall on deaf ears since I've already mentioned my arguments to my father who is the leader of the sending of these letters.
Not sure what to do, so I thought I'd throw this predicament out on the forum and get words of wisdom from the people on soulforce.
12-25-2005, 10:52 PM
It sounds like the choice is to "repent" and renounce your homosexuality or to let your church take whatever action it pleases.
I'm not Presbyterian, so I don't know how that church government works. But can't you just transfer your letter to another church? I think it's really just a formality, and I doubt that an inclusive church would care whether your former church places a "black mark" next to your name.
That's what I did, to ensure my former pastor had no presumed authority over me, and to ensure that he didn't try to visit me or get me to "repent". I'm sure he knows why I left the church, but I made a point of avoiding the topic in our exchange when I left the church. And to his credit, he had a sense of propriety that kept him from bringing it up.
Of course, my pastor wasn't my father. Can't advise you on that, because I haven't told my father that I'm gay.
12-25-2005, 11:03 PM
Sam, for what it's worth, here is my two cents.
First, being gay is not a "lifestyle". One may live an extravagant lifestyle or maybe even a self-destructive lifestyle. But there is no such thing as a "Gay Lifestyle". That is just a term made up by right wingers to dehumanize us. They use the word "lifestyle" to imply that we do not live "lives".
Secondly, you are a grown man I presume. I don't see where it is any church's business (Or your father's business for that matter, assuming you are a grown man,right?) how you live your life. Do you really need to belong to a church that condemns you for your identity? I can't speak for you, but I can honestly say it would not be good for my mental health to be influenced by these type of people. Life is to short. I would just have to put them out of my life and move on to more positive things.
I don't know if my thoughts are helpful. Good luck with whatever you decide to do!
12-26-2005, 10:05 AM
If you haven't been there in over 2 years, then how does the church even know what your "Lifestyle" has become? In that case, they are engaging in rumor and gossip, which we all know is sin. So you might point that out to them, perhaps in a letter. In that letter, you might include some refutations to the clobber passages that they are using in their "pat responses." For instance, any use of the Leviticus scriptures can be refuted by pointing out that many christians eat shrimp and lobster, or that nearly all christians wear fabric that is some kind of blend, both of which are forbidden by the Levitical laws. Conservative christians have a habit of picking and choosing which laws they wish to enforce. In this letter, you might ask them to remove you from their membership. You may have an emotional tie to the church, but they have already rejected you. Why fight to be a part of a group that doesn't want you, and refuses to listen to reason? Your membership in a church doesn't guarantee your entrance into heaven anymore than walking into a garage would make you a car.
Do you really need to keep this membership? Why would it be so awful to be removed?
I guess it's not so much the staying with the church anymore. I mainly want them to stop from writing me letters and bow out gracefully from being in the holds of the church. I need to write a letter and other than using things that keltic63 said, I'm sure how to go about saying what I want to say.
12-26-2005, 05:58 PM
The only way to remove yourself from the authority of an evangelical church is to withdraw your membership or join another church. It also seems the only way to short-circuit their process of excommunication.
If you join another church, you don't need to write a letter. Your new church will do it for you.
12-26-2005, 07:40 PM
I am so sorry to hear of the backlash and harsh judgment you have received from people who say they love you. In no way have they shown you Christ's love or acceptance, which by the way I might add is a commandment Christ himself gave us. I agree we don't have a lifestyle anymore than straight people have one. We live our lives like everyone else does. We just do it authentically and honestly, most of us who have come out. I suggest you go to Jamie McDaniel's website and look at his coming out letter and model yours after his, if you find it helpful. Then get away from that harmful church. Find a good MCC or UCC church to go and enjoy fellowship with others like yourself. You will find acceptance and love and the most important of anything is GRACE. That is one thing I find most churches these days sorely lacking and the one thing that Jesus dispensed for us on the cross. The church that is going to excommunicate you apparently only pays lip service to grace and doesn't practice it. Most people who spew out hatred of gays and lesbians don't practice the concept of grace. I urge you to as much as you can practice forgiveness and love these people despite their blatant rejection of you. Don't give into the divisive spirit that has grabbed hold of their hearts. Jesus intends for us to be like-minded and the divisiveness with which these churches operate is straight from hell itself. That is not what Jesus is all about and certainly He does not receive glory from the rejection you have experienced at the hands of these people. At any rate, I hope that someday you find the strength to come out to your father and I hope that you can live an authentic gay Christian life. Bless you.:)
12-26-2005, 08:00 PM
I need to write a letter and other than using things that keltic63 said, I'm (not) sure how to go about saying what I want to say.
Sam, you could simply share your story and have it end with something like, "And so that is how I came to understand God's love and acceptance of me. It is my hope that my brothers and sisters at (church name) will honor my place at God's table -- even if you do not understand everything about homosexual persons such as myself."
By saying something like that, you reframe the debate. Their action to excommunicate you is now seen in the negative light of fellow invitees to God's table asking another invitee to leave that table.
You might also consider pointing out that you are not the lone ranger on this, that there are many biblical scholars and noteworthy Presbyterians who feel called to proclaim God's acceptance of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and trangender people. That might resonate with some members of the church. Too often we view anti-gay churches as monoliths, forgetting that there is likely a nice gray-haired lady who knows the pastor hasn't spoken right on issues in the past and who thinks fondly of that nice gay nurse who was so friendly during her husband's last days in the hosptal. Or some young couple who attends the church but also views themselves as "more on the liberal side of things."
If you felt especially daring and had access to a friend with the latest church directory, you could even send your letter to everyone in the church.
12-27-2005, 09:27 AM
I was recently on a radio show with Rev. Jim Rigby, pastor of St. Andrew's Presbyterian in Austin, Tx (http://www.staopen.com). He is currently being brought up church charges as a result of his ordination of a gay deacon. He is an AWESOME guy. His contact info as at the end of his statement. Feel free to ask him for help!
"Our Unbroken Vows"
In defense of clergy who show the full grace of Jesus Christ to homosexual persons:
Like so many of my peers, I now face a crisis in my ministry. We are accused of violating our ordination vows by participating in the ordination and marriage of homosexual persons. The complaint against me asserts that I have acted in "willful and deliberate" violation of my ordination vows and that I participated in the ordination of an "unrepentant homosexual."
In this brief document I speak in defense of my actions and, hopefully, in defense of those who face similar accusations.
On the charge that we are defiant:
Our accusers claim that we have violated our ordination vows by defying a ban on the ordination and marriage of homosexual persons. The truth is, in our first ordination vow, we promised to place Jesus Christ over every other authority, including the church.
The Confession of 67 says: "Obedience to Jesus Christ alone identifies the one universal church and supplies the continuity of its tradition. This obedience is the ground of the churchís duty and freedom to reform itself in life and doctrine as new occasions, in Godís providence may demand."
To affirm Christ is head of the church means that our theology and polity must resemble the humble and nonjudgmental Jesus. There is nothing clearer in the teaching of Jesus than that we should not judge one other. While we must be selective as we choose our leaders, such decisions must be based on inner qualities of character not on external factors like race, gender or sexual orientation.
We cannot serve two masters. We cannot submit to a loving Christ and surrender our conscience to a mechanical political process. No Christian has the right to become a cog in a machine. We must answer directly to Christ for how we treat each person. In ethical dilemmas, the first question a Protestant asks is not "what does the church teach?", but "what does Christ require of us?" We who offer the full rights of membership to all people do not wish to be defiant. We simply do not know how to respond to the contention that something Jesus did not even mention is central to his teachings.
On the charge that we have violated the clear teaching of scripture:
When we took our second vow to accept scripture as Godís word, it was understood that we meant a Reformed view of scripture not a Fundamentalist one. When our vow mentions the role of the Spirit in biblical interpretation, it eliminates literalism as an option. When we accepted scripture as Godís word to "the church universal", we made a vow to multiculturalism.
To claim that there is one cultural model for marriage in scripture is simply not truthful. We find many models of marriage in the Bible. The patriarchs had multiple wives. We find slaves used as surrogate parents. Ruth had pre-marital sex with Boaz and then sealed the deal with a shoe. When Mary and Joseph checked into the Christmas Motel they were engaged but not yet married. In other places, unmarried celibacy seems to be the ideal. To remain Presbyterian must we pretend that we do not see this diversity? Can anyone imagine Luther taking a vow to ignore the complexity of scripture?
It is true that the Levitical Code of the Hebrew Testament seems to condemn homosexual behavior, but it is also clear from the creeds and the teaching of Paul that this code has been overturned in the new covenant. Some claim that Paul calls us to condemn homosexuality in the first chapter of Romans. This interpretation is made impossible by the conclusion of his argument in Romans 2:1 which says that no one has a right to judge another.
A growing number of scholars believe that the churchís condemnation of homosexuality stems more from culture than from scripture itself. A recent statement signed by a majority of biblical professors at Presbyterian seminaries reads: "We would encourage the church at this time to interpret particular passages of the Bible in light of the whole Bible, and in the recognition that Jesus Christ, the Redeemer, is the living Word of God. It is the gospel of Jesus that invites gay and lesbian brothers and sisters to full communion in the church."
On the charge that we permit acts that the Confessions call "sin":
In our third ordination vow we promised to be instructed by the confessions. By calling the confessions, "expositions of scripture" the third vow makes clear that we should not lift human doctrines to the level of scripture. In other words, a doctrine does not become scriptural just because some council writes a creed to "clarify" what the Bible says.
Westminster Confession states clearly that scripture stands alone as our primary guide for living. "All synods or councils since the apostlesí times, whether general or particular, may err, and many have erred; therefore they are not to be made the rule of faith or practice, but to be used as a help in both."
At ordination we took an oath to be guided and instructed by the confessions. The reason the vow affirms the "essential" tenets rather than the "fundamental" ones is pivotal to our whole system. The confessions specify over two hundred and fifty sins. If literally enforced, the confessions would empty the church overnight.
The reformers taught that every human being is a sinner justified not by works of the flesh, but by grace working through faith. In Seminary, I was taught that one of the great banners of the reformation was "Faith Alone". Am I now a heretic for believing it?
On the charge that we disobey the Book of Order
The fourth great pillar of the Reformation was "Grace Alone". When we talk about our Christian vocation we must remember that we are called to a ministry of grace not legalism. When ministers claim that others are unworthy to serve God, they secretly imply that they are worthy to serve. This belief is not only cruel, it is heretical.
When the Reformers spoke of the "priesthood of all believers" they affirmed that Christ had built a temple out of the stones the builders had rejected. They understood scriptureís edict to "call no one unclean."
The Confessions of 1967 warns against a polity without grace: "The church thus orders its life as an institution with a constitution, government, officers, and administrative rules. These are instruments of mission, not ends in themselves. Different orders have served the gospel, and none can claim exclusive validity."
At first glance, the fourth ordination vow seems to be a duplication of the first three. Instead, it establishes the order which allows grace to blossom into humane church law. Our first allegiance is to a loving Christ, then to scripture as a witness to Christ, then to the confessions as expositions of what scripture would have us believe and do, and finally to the churchís polity. A fundamentalist begins at the other end of the process. By beginning with the Book of Order and trying to move back to Christ, a fundamentalist unwittingly lifts human rules over scripture and Christ. If we begin with Christ, we will seek out the rules of righteousness by which to live, but if we begin with some human idea of righteousness, we may never find our way back to the merciful Christ.
In our fourth vow we affirmed the process of the church. When we were ordained, the Book of Order was a manual of operations not an inquisitorís handbook. To long for too much clarity in law is to long for chains. Christ died in part to save us from the curse of the human law. What does the freedom of Christ mean if slavery to the Book of Order replaces slavery to Old Testament law? Are we to submit to new chains just because they are cast by Presbyterian hands? To quote Paul, "God forbid!"
On the charge that we have renounced the polity of the church
The Book of Order calls us to uphold the "essentials" of church polity. This means that the polity does not consist merely in the rules imposed by the dominant group, but more essentially in the principles that make democracy possible in the first place. Our system of organization cannot be understood solely in terms of power. It is helpful to think of elements of polity not as cogs in a machine, but sinews in a body.
One central purpose of a constitution is to protect the minority from the tyranny of the majority. The constitution establishes separations of power, as well as inalienable rights. Inalienable rights cannot be put up to a vote just because a certain group is unpopular.
Examples of such protected rights are the right of every member to hold office (G.5.0102e), and the right of every church to choose its own leaders (G.6.0107). These ancient safeguards protect us from each other. They allow us to disagree, and yet, still serve Christ together. The Presbyterian system makes no sense if we are all supposed to be the same or to surrender to the herd.
At our ordination, we promised to submit to one another, but that submission is "subject to the ordering of Godís word and spirit." We submit to majority rule whenever possible, but an assault on the inalienable rights of a minority is an attack on the very heart tissue of our polity and must be opposed.
On the claim that we are hurting the churchís mission
It has been said that Christians in other countries disapprove of homosexuality and so we should not bring up the subject because it hurts the churchís mission. But what is the churchís mission? According to our fifth vow, it is to work for the reconciliation of the world.
The church often quotes the verse in Second Corinthians where Paul talks about Christís work of reconciliation and how we are called to be ambassadors of this message. It is interesting that many references to this passage leave out the part where Christ was: "not counting their sins against them". To say that some people cannot lead the church because they are sinners is to miss the whole point of the Gospel.
The Confession of 67 gets it right when it says: "In spite of their sin, Christ gives them power to become representatives of Jesus Christ and (the) Gospel of reconciliation to all human beings." Bishop Tutu captured this spirit of reconciliation with his words: "In Godís family, there are no outsiders. All are insiders. Black and white, rich and poor, gay and straight, Jew and Arab, Palestinian and Israeli, Roman Catholic and Protestant, Serb and Albanian, Hutu and Tutsi, Muslim and Christian, Buddhist and Hindu, Pakistani and Indian -all belong."
If homosexual persons are sinners it is not because they are homosexual, but because they are human. Spreading the message that our holy God works through human sinners is not a threat to the mission of the church. It is our mission.
On the charge that we are violating the peace, unity, purity of the church,
We also stand accused of violating the peace unity and purity of the church. But by "purity" our accusers do not mean the purity of sanctification. Their "purity" consists of obedience to laws governing the flesh. This is the same heresy condemned by Paul in Galatians.
By "unity" our accusers do not mean a dynamic polity where people can disagree in the spirit of Peter and Paul and yet still serve God in our differences. To them, "unity" means conformity to one point of view -theirs.
When our accusers speak of "peace", they seek a false peace where Presbyterians no longer bring up controversial issues. They long for a day when we will have settled hard questions once and for all. They seek a day, in other words, where the Reformation is dead and buried.
The Theological Task Force on Peace, Unity, and Purity of the Church has written a preliminary report which reads: "There is rich diversity in the Body of Christ and there are deep disagreements among its members. The unity we seek cannot be reduced to either uniformity or unanimity. In particular, unity cannot be attained if the voices of some members of the body are ignored."
On the claim that we are assaulting the traditional biblical meaning of marriage
One will seek in vain to find in our vows where we promised to pluck out our eyes so that we would not notice new truths that challenged our traditional understandings. On the contrary, when we vowed to "serve the people with intelligence" it meant we would keep an open mind to new discoveries about the human condition. When we vowed to serve the people "with imagination" it meant we would be flexible in adapting religion to human need.
One motto of the Reformation was "always reforming". When many of us joined the Presbyterian Church, we believed our faith could be allowed to grow as we learned new truths about the world. We believed "semper reformanda" meant we would never be asked to lie about scientific discoveries the way Galileo was asked to lie about helio-centrism.
It is true that the ancients believed human beings are created either male or female, but we also know that their genetics is obsolete. We now know every human fetus begins between the genders. We now know that sexuality is a continuum and that every day children are born between the genders and are surgically altered to fit our two categories. If "God is not the author of sin" as Westminster teaches, who are we to say that in blessing male and female, God does not bless the whole continuum in between?
Human councils can no more remove the ambiguities of biology by making rules than ancient popes could ban eclipses by religious decree. If it is an act of relic worship to carry the thighbones of the saints, is it not worse idolatry try to see our world through their dead eyes? Is not the very essence of faith openness to Godís new word?
It can be argued that the basic "plan" for human reproduction is heterosexual coitus, and yet maintain that God still has a plan for those who do not fit that norm, such as people with disabilities, aged couples, and homosexual persons. Because humans are more than genitalia, it is possible that God still offers us spiritual fullness of life even if our relationships do not fit the biological reproductive norm.
Perhaps marriage, while not a sacrament, can be understood sacramentally as a gift of Godís grace. This would make sense of the statement in the Book of Order that "Marriage is a gift God has given to all humankind for the well being of the entire human family." Christ calls us to a new humanity beyond conditions of slave or free, Jew or Greek, male or female. Christian ethics are not based on these conditions of the flesh but on the fruits of the spirit In Christ, every person is offered the possibility of fullness of life.
On the claim that we should be patient and work within the system
We hope to work within the system wherever we can, but our last vow was to show the love and justice of Jesus Christ to all persons. Jesus Christ was the author of human rights when he said that the Sabbath was made for humans not humans for the Sabbath. Our last vow means we are not free to violate human rights even if ordered to do so by our peers.
In 1959 our denomination signed on to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 12 of that document states: "No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his (or her) privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his (or her) honor and reputation."
In the spirit of human rights, in1977, the PCUS General Assembly expressed, "Öthe need for the Church to stand for just treatment of homosexual persons in our society in regard to their civil liberties, equal rights, and protection under the law from social and economic discrimination which is due all citizens." It would be a pitiful thing if the standard for human rights were higher outside the church, than in.
When the Book of Worship says that marriage is a "civil contract" we must remember that the church renounces any civil power (G9.0102). If marriage is a civil contract, then it is a question not of church polity, but of civil rights.
Our last vow calls us to justice and reminds us that any doctrine is heresy in an unloving heart.
Conclusion: Our vows compel us to offer the full grace of Jesus Christ to all persons.
It is ironic that those who stand with Christ over and against the prejudices of culture are accused of pandering to that culture. The claim by some Christians that homosexuals have been popular in our culture is simply not honest. On the contrary, gay and lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons have been cultural targets- scapegoats. They live under the threat of being beaten, fired, or having their children taken away.
To be a friend of outcasts is to become an outcast yourself. So while our critics operate safely within the culture, we are the ones called "traitors" and "heretics". We are the ones brought before church counsels. Our "sin" is that we have tried to treat our cultureís outcastes the same way Jesus treated his.
We take our stand not so we can be defiant, but so we can be Protestant. It is sometimes forgotten that the word "protestant" comes from the word "protest". Our "protest" is only against a tyranny which threatens our Reformed polity and faith. The Reformation did not reject Popes alone, but all forms of ecclesiastical bullying. An allegiance to tradition over principles will insure conformity in the church, but it will also insure that anyone with the spirit of Martin Luther will be driven from our midst.
To be a member of the Reformed faith does not mean to worship at the graves of Calvin and Luther. To be worthy of the Reformation it is not enough to praise the noble dead. We must ourselves become reformers. We must take responsibility for our place and time. The most unreformed thing we can do is to copy the reformers.
From our forebears we gratefully receive the principles of the Reformation, but we cannot, and should not, force their answers upon a different time. We must think with todayís science and act upon todayís necessity. To be worthy of the Reformation we must struggle against all human systems that enslave the mind and spirit. To be worthy of the Reformation we must know that God does not live in some musty past but calls to us from the future. To be worthy of the Reformation we must know that Godís greatest word is yet unsaid
Rev. Jim Rigby,
Pastor St. Andrewís Presbyterian Church,
Thanks, Nathan! That document was very helpful and one of the best articulated defenses against the barbs throw by the church. I plan on printing out your posting and keeping it to refer to when writing to my father and the leaders of the church.
12-28-2005, 07:41 PM
Just remind yourself through the process that it may be hard to leave one church/community but there are many out there that are much more accepting and would love to have you as part of there community.:)
12-29-2005, 01:02 PM
Thanks, Nathan! That document was very helpful and one of the best articulated defenses against the barbs throw by the church. I plan on printing out your posting and keeping it to refer to when writing to my father and the leaders of the church.
That's awesome, Sam. I'll be praying for your peace and strength!
Just an update in the excommunication business with my church - I wrote a letter to my church, which I am going to try to attach (hopefully the link works), and included Rev. Jim Rigby's paper "Our Unbroken Vows." I'll keep you posted on any responses I get from my church. Thanks for all the continued wisdom and prayers!
12-30-2005, 05:43 PM
Great job on the letter!:)
01-04-2006, 02:09 PM
Great letter!!! You stuck it to them girlfriend!!! You laid it on the line and spoke the truth. I am proud of your decision to have your name removed from their roles. Rest assured, your name is in the Book of Life and will remain there and that is the only roll I care about. I hope someone at RPC will read what you have written and respond with love and not judgment. I am reminded of the old song I learned when I was a kid- "They will know we are Christians by our love". They won't know Christians by their exclusion of others, by their judgment and hatred. And you are right, men have used the Bible throughout history to justify their own fears and prejudices. Preach on sister-girl! You did a great job.:)
01-04-2006, 04:06 PM
That song should be used more often... many people seem to forget what love is.
01-04-2006, 08:50 PM
Yes, they should sing that song more often. :)
01-05-2006, 11:29 AM
Can anybody recommend a good Christian church that me as a Gay man could join in and worship at?
I live in the UK and would love to hear from other christians who could recommend a good inclusive church.
First thanks for all the support for my letter! It took me a while to write it and I prayed about it a lot and now it's in God's hands. I really appreciate all the encouraging feedback though and I'll be sure to let you know if I hear anything from the church...
Andy, I don't know of churches that are gay friendly, that's something I've been wondering about too (I live in California). You should post your question as a main thread in the forum - I'm sure you'd get a lot of great/knowledgable responses!
01-05-2006, 02:08 PM
I did some quick searching and found a church in the UK that claims to be "Open and Affirming" (gay-friendly). It is the Grace Old Catholic church. check them out at www.gracecatholic.com (http://www.gracecatholic.com) I can't really make an endorsement, but their website looks interesting. It's certainly worth a look.
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