PresbyMEME: Why I am voting yes on Amendment 10a

Questions for the PresbyMEME:

As you know, I’m a Minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA), and we have been debating the role and inclusion of LGBTQ persons since the early 1970’s.  Unfortunately, while this conversation has centered around who get’s to serve as leaders in the church, we have not had deep conversations about human sexuality, the diversity of sexual orientations (both historically and today), gender identity, gender expression, and those who are born with ambiguous genitalia, (who, a generation ago were just assigned a gender, but who, today are given more and more freedom to choose their gender identity).

I was fortunate enough to explore these questions in the safety of a seminary education and a diverse congregation whose loved ones stand up to include them.  I feel blessed to be better prepared to offer pastoral care that is more informed having learned from my LGBTQ siblings about their lives, hopes and dreams, their chosen families, and the blessing it is to be able to claim one’s identity for themselves.  If our church has any hope of living into our calling to be the Beloved Community, we have a long way to go.  My hope, as a husband, as a father, as a pastor, as a board member of More Light Presbyterians, is that we Presbyterians could be the family we say we are.  I have yet to see it, though I work and pray for such a kin-dom.

Thanks to Bruce Reyes-Chow for the invitation to participate in this meme.  You can see other, better responses at:

1. Name, City, State:
Rev. Will McGarvey, Pittsburg, CA

2. Twitter and Facebook profiles: Twitter @willymac4

3. Presbytery and 10a voting date: Presbytery of San Francisco votes April 12, 2011.

4. Reason ONE that you are voting “yes” on 10a is… Honesty. The current language targets sexual minorities under the cloak of fidelity and a particular view of the confessions. By interpreting chastity as celibacy, arguments in support of G-6.0106b read the confessions without the polemic against clerical celibacy which is found throughout the Reformation era confessions. By limiting fidelity to opposite gender couples, one not only has to ignore the vast amount of cultural polygamy (specifically patriarchal polygyny), which is the biblical norm in both the Hebrew scriptures and the Christian scriptures, but one must also impose a European model of monogamy on the scriptures. The scriptural texts that criticize same-sex acts do so in the context of temple prostitution in the neighboring countries (even Romans 1). Nowhere in the scripture is there a positive depiction of a same-gender loving couple because it was always linked with foreign conceptions of idolatry. The Confession of 1967 urges us to read the Bible in its historical and cultural context. We need to be honest with the scriptures and confessions, including recognizing that a strict reading of G-6.0106b would preclude any one of us from ordination since the confessions have a lot to say about usury, war, idolatry, alleviation of poverty, failing to love enemies, etc. Our current system sets up a circumstance where candidates who feel God’s calling to ministry as deacons, elders or ministers must either be fully honest about who they are and risk rejection, or to minister from the closet. This is not the full human flourishing that is called for in our scriptures or constitution.

5. Reason TWO that you are voting “yes” on 10a is… Return to our historic Presbyterian polity. Like the Adopting Act of 1729, this change returns us to a polity that allows us to offer mutual forbearance to those who hold differing cultural and theological positions. What is happening in some circles of the church looks much like the “subscriptionism” to the Westminster Confession of the Scot-Irish stream of early Presbyterianism. Some contemporary Presbyteries have gone so far as to publish what they consider to be the “Essentials of the Reformed faith.” This doesn’t allow them to consider the whole candidate based on their life and faith if they differ from the declared positions. The beginning chapters of our Book of Order point out that freedom of conscience, an expressed desire for theological diversity in the church, and mutual forbearance are the hallmarks of Presbyterian polity. During the modernist controversy the fundamentalists sought to enforce the five fundamentals. The way forward for the church was The Auburn Affirmation ( which elevated liberty and unity, within the bounds of evangelical thought. Those who left the church over this conflict went on to create the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Since the church has adopted the Confession of 1967, we now have a view of scripture that recognizes that there are multiple ways of interpreting the scripture, including diverse models for explaining atonement theories. There is no one way to interpret the scripture, including those scriptures that divide us the most.

6. Reason THREE that you are voting “yes” on 10a is… Grace. Our theology of grace extends to all people who trust in God through the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. How we follow his ways matters. One only has to read the Sermon on the Mount to understand that Jesus’ teachings demand a high level of ethical and moral living that cares for the least of all. Paul points out that grace is the central impulse of the good news, and that we are made whole by the justice and righteousness of Jesus’ life and ways, not through our own actions or statements of faith. If we really believe that we are saved by grace, then why does this not apply to LGBTQ people also made in God’s image, though different in their sexual orientation or gender identity? Again and again in the scriptures, there is a minority report – a voice that includes all people based on faithful lives of trust and obedience. Isaiah 56 welcomes back the priests who were eunuch bureaucrats in Babylon, based on keeping the Sabbath and the faithful worship of Yahweh. Acts 8 recounts the story of the baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch, where Phillip’s test of faith was whether or not to baptize one whom the Spirit had so clearly fallen upon. St. Peter’s mind was changed about the kosher laws and who he could eat with. Paul saw the message of Jesus as applying to all nations, not just the Israelites. What does it say about our theology of baptism and grace that the official policy of the church attempts to exclude a whole category of baptized members from service in the world?

7. What are your greatest hopes for the 10a debate that will take place on the floor of your Presbytery? We need to move beyond hoping for civility toward allowing all a place at the table. What if we included those now being excluded from our conversations? Sounds like the gospel to me.

8. How would you respond to those that say that if we pass 10a individuals and congregations will leave the PC (USA)? I have to wonder how many of them are committed to mutual forbearance within diversity unless they can enforce their own theological positions.

9. What should the Presbyterian Church focus on after Amendment 10a passes? Mission. Evangelism. Transforming our congregations into the Beloved Community. We have spent enough energy on excluding people. We need to become outward looking Christians ready to serve our neighborhoods.

10. How does your understanding of Scripture frame your position on 10a? I became a Presbyterian after reading the Confession of 1967. As I’ve shown above, we must interpret the scripture in its context with the best tools that we have. If we do not do so, we are doomed to be trapped by the cultural norms of various locales of the Levant over the last 3,000 years as if those cultural norms are the eternal words of God. Aquinas once said, “If you make a mistake about creation, you will make a mistake about God.” We have recognized that this is true for our understanding of human evolution, but we have not been self-aware enough to explore the implications for understanding the diversity within human sexuality and gender identity. We have mistaken the diversity of the human family for far too long. If we don’t understand that a certain part of the human family is born with varying degrees of attraction for those of their own gender, or feel trapped in the body of the opposite gender, or were born with ambiguous genitalia, then we will never be able to fully worship the God who made us all.


Shall G-6.0106b be amended by striking the current text and inserting new text in its place as follows:

STRIKING: “Those who are called to office in the church are to lead a life in obedience to Scripture and in conformity to the historic confessional standards of the church. Among these standards is the requirement to live either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman (W-4.9001), or chastity in singleness. Persons refusing to repent of any self-acknowledged practice which the confessions call sin shall not be ordained and/or installed as deacons, elders, or ministers of the Word and Sacrament.

AND INSERTING: Standards for ordained service reflect the church’s desire to submit joyfully to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in all aspects of life (G-1.0000). The governing body responsible for ordination and/or installation (G.14.0240; G-14.0450) shall examine each candidate’s calling, gifts, preparation, and suitability for the responsibilities of office. The examination shall include, but not be limited to, a determination of the candidate’s ability and commitment to fulfill all requirements as expressed in the constitutional questions for ordination and installation (W-4.4003). Governing bodies shall be guided by Scripture and the confessions in applying standards to individual candidates.”

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