“I’m So Sorry”

Marin Foundation photo of signs at Chicago Pride parade

I’m a pastor. But there are days when I wonder whether I belong in the Christian Church, whether I’m really a Christian. Ever wonder that about yourself? Or have you left the church as a matter of dissent, embarrassment, or protest?

Take the last two weeks. President Obama shares his faith at a National Prayer Breakfast. He declares that we are “our brother’s keeper”. I feel proud. The comments on CNN run heavily against him. Ayn Rand’s “the virtue of selfishness” – not the story of Cain and Abel or the teaching of Jesus – has won the hearts of the people. Rick Santorum tells an Ohio audience that Obama’s agenda is based on “some phony theology, not a theology based on the Bible.” I feel sad…and angry. I read the story about the church court case of the Rev. Jane Spahr, a lesbian Presbyterian minister rebuked for officiating at same-gender marriages, one of them the wedding of Lisa Bove. Lisa was an ordained student elder at the church I served at The College of Wooster. She went on to seminary and was ordained a Minister of Word and Sacrament. I feel proud of Janie and Lisa, their tenacity, their courage, their strong and gentle spirits, their deep faith. I feel sad that the church still doesn’t get it.

I’m embarrassed by how ridiculous the church debate is and how absurd this church family feud looks to the world. I want to withdraw, pull the covers over my head, go to sleep, take a sedative maybe. But I’m also angry. I want to fight. I want to weigh in on the debate. Yet to do so will only continue the polarization, the disrespect for others, the tendency on all sides of a church argument to proclaim with Little Jack Horner, “What a good boy am I!” If I stick my thumb in the pie, I’ll just continue the ludicrous display of Christian arrogance. What to do? To keep silence feels like abdication of conscience. To speak adds my voice to the appearance of the church’s absurdity. But I’m give fan of the Theater of the Absurd and Albert Camus, as well as Jesus.

I decide to stick my thumb in the story. My comment is the first thumb in a hot pie:

“I know Jane Spahr and Lisa Bove as colleagues and love them both. Lisa was a student leader at the Westminste­r Presbyteri­an Church at The College of Wooster where I served as Pastor. Jane is that rare minister of the gospel who has managed to remain gentle and bold, acting in conscience and ecclesiast­ical disobedien­ce without becoming hard or cynical. Lisa is the same. When you’ve been working for GLBT full inclusion as long as Jane and Lisa, that’s a testimony to their soulfulnes­s. For Jane, Lisa, and so many of us, the Bible calls disciples of Jesus to live in love and to be advocates for justice. The Presbyteri­an Church (USA) last year restored an older principle of church order that removes the restrictio­n against ordaining GLBT members. The issue of marriage remains contentiou­s in the church, as it is in the society as a whole. Some pastors have declared that until church and civil law permit them to officiate at same-sex marriages, they will not marry anyone as a witness to justice. Jane and Lisa are sweet, sweet spirits whose lives bear witness to justice, love and peace, working from that inner light of courage, conscience and consolation that keeps them sane and strong.”

Three replies come quickly:

1) “You are a faithful and honest servant of God.  It has taken a long time, but every year there are more like you” (i.e., “What a good boy am I Good boy!”); and

2) “Pastors should know and preach the truth of God’s word. Please read: 1 Tim: 3:1-7 and Titus 1: 5-9  When folks go against the truth of God’s word, then they are following deceit and you should know who the great deceiver is”  (“Bad boy! Bad boy!”)

3) “Let’s hope this church sees the light and retracts the rebuke.  And perhaps even apologizes­.”

Then this morning a classmate sends me this story about an apology: “Christian Group Shows Up to Chicago Gay Pride Holding Apologetic Signs“.

Marin Foundation photo of signs at Chicago Pride parade

I wish I’d been there to hold one of these signs.

I’ve experienced the forgiving hugs of gay and lesbian church members like the guy in the underwear. And when I write comment or a commentary like this one, I hear a little voice inside myself: “Good boy! Good boy!” Then, as soon as I feel the relief, I know I’ve fallen into the very self-righteousness I despise in others. “Bad boy! Bad boy!” and I’m back where I started: “God help us ALL!”

Read the story. Ponder it. Then stick your finger in the pie with a comment here on the blog.

About Gordon C. Stewart

Writer and radio commentator published by Minnesota Public Radio and "All things Considered," Star Tribune, MinnPost.com, Presbyterian Outlook, Sojourners' Blog with Jim Wallis and Friends, Chaska Herald. Host of Views from the Edge. Retired Pastor of Shepherd of the Hill Presbyterian Church in Chaska, MN. Co-founder www.requiem2020.org. Former Executive Director, Legal Rights Center, Inc. (Minneapolis public defense corporation). Eat, drink and sleep theology and the news. Walking the trails of Jonathan Association in Chaska with Kay and our friend Barclay, the soccer playing Cavalier King Charles Spaniel who loves to please.
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30 Responses to “I’m So Sorry”

  1. Jim Spahr says:

    Tis a wonder that more within our denomination don’t see the cruelty and absurdity of these proceedings. Thank you for your words of encouragement. Yes, if we did so, it would be time to start the canonization of Jane, Lisa, David, Chris and all the pioneers who began the process.

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    • Jim, I grieve over this, over the sins of commission and of omission along the way of my own life, the vast confusion in the church, the misinformation and ill-informed use of the Bible, and the cruelty – both unintend and intended. I weep as I watch the church once again splitting, as it did during the Civil War over plantation slavery. But the tears drive me to work for defeat of the proposed marriage amendment that would write an exclusive definition of marriage into the Minnesota Constitution. Thank you for sharing. Are you Janies’ brother, perhaps?

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      • Jim Spahr says:

        I am Jane’s husband emeritus & brother-by-love.

        The opponents of gay anything in PC(USA) have been tellling us for years: “please don’t leave the church”. Then when there is a positive turn toward us, the conservatives want to bail. I hope we make them leave all their marbles here & they can then begin again to build their church based upon ignorance & bigotry from the ground up.

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      • Jim, Glad to know who you are. i think others who read your comments here will be glad to know, too, Thank you for sharing. The haunting question that won’t go away is how to deal with ignorance and bigotry. I don’t have the answer. I do remember, however, how Will Campbell became a kind of chaplain to the KKK after the passage of the Civil Rights Act for which he had committed his life. That kind of ministry to people beset by bigotry and ignorance is one that only a few can perform. Somewhere in the ranks there is someone or a few someones whose ministry will be to those whose fears and prejudice has wounded GLBT folks, their families, loved ones and supporters. Thanks for sharing, Jim.

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  2. Janice says:

    thank you from those of us who have been blessed to have Janie be with us on our journey!

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  3. Chris W. says:

    Gordon: I sought out your blog after seeing your post on MinnPost.com. Thank you. It is Christians like you who make me wonder if I could be one again. Keep up the good work.

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  4. Karin Noren says:

    I seem to remember when you first posted this on the church website. I believe I made a comment to the fact that God did not kill Cain for murdering his brother, but marked him, so no one else would either. What does that say to our justice system and search for vengeance? Love all these comments made. Especially those from John and Susan as I had not had the opportunity to hear much from them before. Welcome to both of you….

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  5. gwen says:

    Several thoughts..when I look around my church on any given Sunday and see several openly gay couples, I wonder..what is the problem? These people are here for the same reason I am…we are looking for something greater than ourselves, for answers in our daily lives. I am proud of my church here in Greensboro for being inclusive. Then I here the candidates declaring who is Christian and who isn’t. When did Christian come to mean “holier than thou” and santimonious? who gave them the right to decide what we are to believe? As ws mentioned above…how can there be less government when they are in the bedroom? And last thought..when did being good stewards of our earth mean use it up, never mind the fall out? Thank you Gordon for putting a voice to our frustrations.

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    • Okay…I have to be straightorward here. Gwen is a Mainiac. My first cousin from Maine who now lives in Greensboro in the South. I love you, Gwen. Gwen’s mother, Gertrude, was my favorite aunt whose memorial service we celebrated in October (99 years old and strong until the last). Gwen’s father, my Uncle Bob, was a Judge. He would have “recused” himself from commenting on my blog because of conflict of interest, although he was the organist at the First Congregatonal Church of South Paris, ME for 38 years. Gwen, glad you didn’t recuse yourself from commenting on the piece. Love your comment. Keep ‘em coming.

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    • J. R. Lince-Hopkins says:

      Bravo, Bravo!!

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  6. David Annett says:

    So excited to find your blog Gordon and to hear your thoughts. From early childhood I can remember being moved by your words and challenged by your charges. You have had a significant impact on who I am today, and I treasure the idea of continuing to hear your words now through this blog.

    I am constantly saddened by how so many in the church approach this topic. Working with youth, I am often taken with how silly they think we “adults” are about the whole thing. If you are looking for a model of love and acceptance, a model that Jesus would be proud of, I give you the youth of the church. They teach me more every day than I could ever teach them, and I can’t help but think when they are in the leadership roles in the future, this will not even be an issue. It will be similar to how my generation looks at the civil rights movement of the 60s and 70s and thinks, “How could anyone have actually been against equality and love for all people.”

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    • David, what a joy to hear from you! Your comments on the wisdom of the youth gives hope for the future. I wonder sometimes how they manage to put up with old fogies. I cheer your work there at Knox in Cincinnati from afar, but I’m cheering loudly.

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  7. Gloria Lindberg says:

    Gordon, you continue to support, as in the words of an old hymn, “Open my eyes that I may see, visions of truth Thou hast for me”. Thank you! For this I am most appreciative, especially with this new venue for sharing with like-minded souls; A place to leave the prevalent, persistent and perverse chatter behind, and, in the words of Abdu’l-Baha (from my Baha’i Faith):

    “They must endeavour to consort in a friendly spirit with everyone, must follow moderation in their conduct, must have respect and consideration one for another and show loving-kindness and tender regard to all the peoples of the world.”

    I’m looking forward to consulting on how we all, together, can improve the discourse and the world community. Thank you, thank you.

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  8. Christina says:

    What a great topic and what wonderful contributions. I was thinking that the very people that argue that the government is too big and too controlling are usually the ones saying that what happens in the bedroom can and should be controlled by the government. I believe that if two loving, consenting adult persons want to unite in marriage, that what kind of body they have is their business – not ours and surely not the government’s.

    I also think it is interesting that the same persons who quote the forefathers on many subjects, seem to have forgotten that the forefathers of this country believed religion should be separate from government. If they remembered this fact, they would not try to pass laws that are based purely on their interpretation of the Bible.

    It is sad and painful that such a topic even has to be discussed – two consenting adults want to get married and we want the government to keep that from happening?

    I think it is wonderful that you are so open with your views – perhaps people are only blindly following a few vocal persons, and if enough of us non-vocal persons speak out, we can help those others to think. I know I am doing my duty to bring up these particular arguments in the favor of same-sex marriages whenever I get the chance.

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    • Each of us has two ears, one breain, and one mouth. We are not spectators or bystanders. We are responsible to participate in the private and public discussions of such matters, listening carefully and speaking clearly our own points of view. “The Historic Principles of Church Order (1789) – eight short principles articulated when the Presbyterian Church (USA) was founded – has these lines. “God alone is Lord of the conscience….” and “there are forms and truths with respect to which men (sic) of good characters and principles may differ. And in all these w think it the duty both of private Christians and societies to excercise mutual forbearance toward each other.” That’s where we are today. And, as for the founding fathers, they were horrified by the terrorism of religious orthodoxy in the Massachusetts Bay Colony – the trial and banishment of Mrs. Ann Hutchinson, the hanging of Quaker Mary Dyer, and the subequent Salem witch trials – and sought to keep the power of government out of the hands of any one religious institution.

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  9. J. R. Lince-Hopkins says:

    Mona’s openness about “ these days” not calling herself a Christian was very freeing for me, as I have only rejoined Gordon’s enlightened and socially conscious church (Shepherd of the Hill) after leaving the Church more than 50 years ago. I fell away from it then because the ecumenical movement even within the Protestant Church was not ecumenical enough. My experience at a World Council of Churches Work Camp in the 1950’s left me disappointed at folks of different denomination being caught up in whose worship rituals were better. If the Protestants had a hard time agreeing on expression of their common faith in those days, its easy to understand how lack of experience with world religions except through traveling, reading, and the word of scholars kept many from expanding their understanding that the sense of God and the goodness of man shines through in many religious practice around the world, and always has. Now, though, with as networked as we are through the media and the Internet, there’s really no excuse for not acknowledging the many forms that faith in God takes, and no excuse for pretending that there’s only one way to exercise one’s faith and behave like a follower of Jesus. Since I, too, am uncomfortable calling myself a Christian I’d like to live up to the label “Practicer of Love and Forgiveness” but will in the meantime call myself a “Thinking Presbyterian”. Thank you Gordon, for bringing the meaning of my spiritual journey back into focus for me. Susan

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  10. Faith Ralston says:

    My finger in the pie…Christ was not mean-spirited. He loved the poor, protected the sick and reached out to the disenfranchised. May we, who call ourselves Christians challenge ourselves to do the same…

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    • There is more in the Bible about “the poor” – and about economic “justice” than any other topics. The message of radical social transformation – the Kingdom of God – the message of the Bible, has been neutered into a harmless thing, a cozy blanket for the individual to wrap herself in against an evil world. That’s not the message of Hebrew Scripture. That’s not the message of Amos, Jeremiah, Isaiah, Daniel, Ezekiel, Job, the Psalms, the Book of Proverbs OR the message of Jesus himself. “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of the needle than it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven” is a call for those who are wealthy to idenitify themselves with the least. Thanks, Faith, for the articulate reminder. Stick your finger in the pie anytime you feel like it! Grace and Peace, Gordon

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  11. I had a chance to read an entire book in a few days while I was away at John C. Campbell Folk School last week — away from the stress of TV and Radio. The book? Phillip Gulley, “If the Church Were Christian: Rediscovering the Values of Jesus.” These days I won’t call myself “Christian.” It’s become a distressingly rigid, hostile political stance. But how I try to follow Jesus! His beautiful and realistic message that’s never been tried. Then I hear Rick Santorum in one of his biting word bytes declare that Obama has declared the earth to be more important than people. The earth — the very breast that gives us life. Without the health of the earth there would be no people life. Environmental concerns? How about the people who are losing their countries, livelihoods, and lives to drought, flood. I rant. I’ll stop. But thanks for starting this, Gordon. Cheers!

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    • Phillip Gulley, as I think you know, Mona, is a “Friend” (“Quaker”) minister and writer who writes for Indiana Public Radio. He’s written several books, the first of which was Front Porch Tales ?. I’m not familiar with this book. But he’s a delightful read on serious matters laced with a rare sense of humor. Thanks for sharing. For myself, I’m not ready or willing to surrender the name “Christian” to those who, in my opinion, throw walks at the real Jesus of Nazareth or the people with whom Jesus chose to hang oiut.

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  12. J. R. Lince-Hopkins says:

    I become aware at times like these, that the life and death and life of Jesus have a much more profound message than the “gospel” as preached by the various permutations of Christendom. Almost NOTHING that the established religion of the time (in Judea) expected of the Messiah actually came to be as God fulfilled his promises! I have a sense that Western Religion, as we know it today, will suffer the same fate. It is good to be outside of the establishment as defined by the Radical Right-wing Religious Republicans, AKA: the RRRR camp; or the absolute surety of the Bishop of Rome….OR ANY OTHER ICONOCLASTIC FUNDAMENTALISM.

    Perhaps, it is now more important to be unsure and to question than to be locked into doctrine and dogma. Doesn’t this time begin to look more like the stranglehold fundamentalists of Jesus day had upon the religious and political systems of his time? If we have studied history, we all know what happened next………!

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