An Open Letter to the Theology and Worship Office of the PCUSA in Response to the Nashville Statement
September 5, 2017
Dear Office of Theology and Worship,
“In a broken and fearful world the Spirit gives us courage... to unmask idolatries in Church and culture” (Brief Statement of Faith). In a time in the world when we must make ourselves bold and clear in our theology--trusting in the liberating power of our God whom we know in the world through Jesus Christ-- your response to the Nashville statement was tepid and ambiguous. (The full text of the response is available here.) We understand that your response is an accurate representation of our polity, but we are appalled by the lack of pastoral sensitivity exhibited in the framing and phrasing (despite claiming to have taken a “pastoral stand on all issues around sexuality”).
It drags up the pain of a battle for inclusivity of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex people in the Presbyterian Church (USA). It suggests that the fight for our place in the church is not over-- that the denomination is saying to our part of the body, “We have no need of you” (1 Corinthians 12:21). Saying about the Presbyterian Church (USA) that “we have become agnostic around issues of homosexuality” communicates that while so many of us in the LGBTQI+ community have put our heart and faith and call into the Presbyterian Church (USA), the church does not have faith in us. It is an insult to suggest that the ambiguity of our denomination’s theological response to the lives and call by God of people of faith is a “more challenging way.” Instead it is a way that allows the denomination to make no statement at all.
It is an insult to our siblings who are non-binary to say “the PC(USA) has resisted this binary alternative with respect to sexual ethics, particularly concerning ordination and marriage” and then to only use binary language for gender in its response to the Nashville statement. With all due respect to the authors, rejecting binaries is exactly the ideological stance of feminist and queer studies that have informed religion and have helped reform our always reforming faith. To co-opt our language and use it against us is an injury to our identity as recipients of God’s expansive and all encompassing love.
Ending the letter quoting the Denver Statement on sin in our lives suggests that the Office of Theology and Worship still thinks about people in the LGBTQI+ community in the context of sin. We are all of us people who sin, accountable to the saving grace of God. But lifting up this particular section-- using the language of sin which has so often been used as a weapon against us-- especially after expressing the church’s agnosticism about us: that is a painful and unfair use of the Gospel.
And finally, the response to the Nashville statement makes a stunning error when it refers to the “racism since Charlottesville.” Such a short-sighted description of the sin of racism in our country and in our denomination makes light of the pain of systemic oppression that has plagued our world for generations. Its thoughtless phrasing-- from a denomination that is a majority white-- does much to defeat the antiracism work our denomination has sought to do in the last two years. If we want to be taken seriously as a body of Christ committed to repenting of our complicity in racism, we must be bold in our lament and honest in our cry.
In the words of the Sarasota Statement, “We grieve the ways our silence indulges cowardice, justifies irresponsibility, and promotes fear in the face of injustice. Such silence leaves room for falsehood and complacency to choke out truth and compassion. As those being made new, we partner with Christ in bringing the Kingdom to earth as it is in heaven. We insist on the truth and we strive against systemic injustice. We follow Jesus who stands with and for those who are unjustly marginalized and oppressed and calls us to do the same without hesitation. We decry any attempt to co-opt the gospel for purposes of excluding those whom Jesus sought, welcomed, and made his own.” And so, in the words of Martin Luther King Jr., "in the end we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence (and agnosticsm) of our friends.”
Faithfully reformed and always being reformed according to the Word of God, we, the undersigned, write in the name of the God of Rahab and Ruth, Zaccheus and Mary Magdalene, Cornelius and the Ethiopian eunuch, all pushed to the fringes by God's people but persistently brought to the center of the biblical narrative by the liberating power of the triune God.