Bless the LORD, O My Soul

June 2000

Let me add a few personal thoughts to my participation in the Soulforce counter-worship service at the General Assembly. I had and have read criticism of Soulforce’s civil disobedience tactics from friends as well as from The Christian Century magazine. It was described there as cheap "street theater." One gifted clergy remarked "what a joke" such tactics are in the name of King and Gandhi. Another wonderful friend thought we ought to read King’s "Letter From the Birmingham Jail," to show how pitiful Soulforce’s actions are in comparison. And there were many such comments which gave us all pause.

Such comments were inevitable and we all need to be forthright. I agree with Barbara Wheeler, the President of Auburn Theological Seminary, that all of us should declare what "we deeply believe to be true…The peace of Christ is not a sentimental blanket in which we hide and smother our differences." And Soulforce’s tactics aside, we do need to be clear about what we surely believe. The present policy and theological understanding of the Presbyterian Church regarding homosexuality is anathema. It is sinful. It is heresy. Jesus, within his deepest being, would have challenged it as the idolatry it is. And primarily, ecclesiastical disobedience is the option we must not only consider but pursue. It is time to be more Presbyterian than less!

Nevertheless, I certainly had my doubts about being a part of the particular disobedience called for by the Soulforce demonstration. But before I submitted to being a part of it, I did weigh the opinions of allies, I did re-read King’s message, and I did review everything on Soulforce’s excellent web page. And since I was asked to be one of the seven speakers, I did go to Soulforce’s thorough pre-training event before making up my mind about being arrested. Let me share my reasoning.

First, what was convincing was the integrity of Soulforce’s message. This was evident in what Yolanda King said of her participation of Soulforce’s arrest in Cleveland. She spoke of her Father’s message from jail that its main message was about the "white churches" refusal to do justice for racial minorities and now how white and black churches refuse to do justice for sexual minorities. That is why she needed to be there among those who would choose civil disobedience as a public protest.

Second, even if being arrested was a rather tame event in Long Beach, and it was, there were no assurances it would be. Many Soulforce members stayed two days in jail in Orlando at the Southern Baptist Convention. Being arrested is never to be taken lightly. You give yourselves over to the police and freedom is certainly lost. A gentle slap on the wrist is not guaranteed. Surely being arrested at Long Beech was a mild measured step but it was a step.

Third, although I never really want to be foolish, we sometimes will risk what Paul knew that "we are fools for Christ’s sake." As it turned out, I was the only strait pastor to speak although there were also two straight Elders who also spoke and with much wisdom. We felt it to be very much an honor to identify with those who were GLBT – the most ill treated members in our churches. Even as they were willing and able to stand alone, they welcomed our presence. I also found it meaningful to be handcuffed with William Thompson, from 1966 – 1984, the Stated Clerk of our denomination, who, as he said, had changed his mind and sought to repent of his homophobia. What a courageous confession and person of faith!

Fourth, it was good to give witness outside of the main concurrent worship service at the General Assembly because, at that service, there was not a place set at the table for everyone. And, yes, I appreciated the former moderator of the Assembly, the Rev. Douglas Oldenburg, saying. "I can’t help but believe that most Presbyterians are appreciative and grateful for the silent witness of the Soulforce people and are turned off by the more strident and arrogant witness of those who oppose them."

Fifth, although there were many non-Presbyterians there, especially from the good army of Soulforce folks, the service was all Presbyterians. After working with Soulforce’s founder, Mel White, I found I was pleased by his pastoral skills and his deliberate efforts to stay in the background. Besides, he and the others were not interlopers but persons of the Body of Christ. They had every reason to protest the policy of the Presbyterian Church, as do we.

I believe that the worship service and the arrests made a positive witness. We should give thanks for its occurrence and the many that made it possible. There were many fine words spoken, much better than my own. Still, I offer my own remarks for those not there.

"I speak as a Pastor in my 40th year in the Presbyterian Church – most recently as a pastor of a church, Mount Auburn Presbyterian Church in Cincinnati, Ohio. This congregation has over 250 member who are straight and 100 members who are homosexual persons. The first person we ordained who was openly gay and unrepentant of his sexuality was Michael Adee, the extraordinarily gifted person of faith who is now the National Field Director of the More Light movement. Thank you, Michael.

I have blessed gay and lesbian marriages, baptized their children, counselled and heard their confessions, been with them in their deaths and bereavements. They have blessed us with their strong gifts of faith and brought joy and delight and incredible growth to our congregation – making possible a deeper sense of the Gospel than we have ever known.

1. So we say enough! We need no new studies, theological or scientific, to tell us what we know that GLBT persons are not intrinsically different from us straight folks. But we do know that justice delayed is justice denied and already this Assembly has voted for delay.

2. We say enough! What the Presbyterian Church calls sin for GLBT persons, the psychological, medical and scientific professions call "natural affections." And we Presbyterians are supposed to be a church where faith is exposed to reason and reason enlarged by faith!

3. We say enough! We here admit to our own failings but we charge our own church with a double standard!

  • We ask GLBT persons to bear burdens we ourselves refuse to bear. Jesus rightly called that "hypocrisy."
  • Our church asks the world to treat the GLBT persons with justice and equality but we do not offer equality or justice to them in the church.
  • We have made an idol out of heterosexuality.
  • We have become a fundamentalist church taken over by reactionaries who are trapped in the culture of homophobia.
  • We Presbyterians seek to embrace GLBT persons but with only one arm.

4. We say enough!

  • Jesus said love your neighbor and he didn’t say first check out their sexual orientation.
  • We have replaced Jesus with Biblical texts which are out of context from the Bible’s overall message of equity and compassion for all.
  • Sadly, our church has become a stumbling block, limiting the grace of God and the universal Good News of Jesus.

So we declare that we will not abide by any institution, including the Church we love, or the false God of Privilege, that demeans homosexual persons. We excommunicate ourselves from such policies in our beloved church. We say No to such abuse and Yes to God’s full embrace of them and all persons.

Hal Porter
Pastor Emeritus
Mt. Auburn Presbyterian Church
Cincinnati, Ohio