I was recently on a radio show with Rev. Jim Rigby, pastor of St. Andrew's Presbyterian in Austin, Tx
. 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,