One of the topics up for discussion at the national meeting of the Presbyterian Church (USA) this year is the suggestion that the Boy Scouts institute polices that allow membership and leadership in the organization regardless of gender and sexual orientation.
Q: Is this a denomination trying to speak truth to social injustice or making a paternalistic statement telling others how they should live their lives?
I believe that the Presbyterian Church, the denomination out of which my denomination, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) has sprung, places the highest priority on the safety of children. Children must never be in danger being led and facilitated by any who would have any other motive than the children's best interest as their foremost objective.
The American Psychological Assn. has said in a recent report to the Southern Poverty Law Center that there is no evidence of a higher molestation rate of children by LGBT adults. Therefore adults of all orientations should be equally extensively vetted before being allowed to lead children. Again, children learn and prosper when they know they are safe.
In addition, children of all sexual orientations need well-meaning clear-headed compassionate adults who are not put off by the child's differences to guide that child to a productive adulthood. As a pastor I have worked with children whose parents have taken me aside and asked me if I thought their child was gay. I have always told those parents I am not concerned with your child's orientation. I am more concerned with how well they flourish under my leadership.
All denominations are struggling to catch up with a world that more and more understands that sexual orientation is not a sin or a virtue; it is simply a part of who each individual is. How can the Boy Scouts or a church, or any organization prepare children for a world of diversity if it refuses to accept and respect the entire varied world in which the child already lives?
The Rev. Dr. William Thomas Jr.
Little White Chapel
First of all, let me say that as a past youth-pastor of a PCA church, it was my understanding that the PCUSA denomination was contrarily liberal and didn't care at all what, or who, wanted to do anything, because the Bible did not apparently, decisively, inform any of their decisions. That this is an issue finds me intrigued, but having read the preliminary document to this question, I see that they are kvetching about Boy Scout leadership.
May I say from the outset, I do not despise homosexuals, though I do not agree with their lifestyle. I believe it's condemned by God, so I have no choice except to condemn it myself, even though I have homosexual acquaintances and even some who are relatives. But I have a son. And I do not want a grown man of homosexual identification leading my boy in the ways of life, despite what the PCUSA apparently thinks is just fine. Obviously, the normal human experience is male and female, not male on male or girl kiss girl, so let me entrust my son's tutelage to a heterosexual man of "straight" sensibilities, the same as outlined in the Scouting handbook that has each Scout affirm, "On my honor I will keep myself morally straight." "Morally straight" has been variously understood, but if homosexuality is a question of morality, then it would fail under this rubric, and that is a biblical rubric as well.
Denominations do tell people how to live; they boil down biblical truth for the man in the pew, and they promulgate that understanding as an expectation. If people do not agree with a denomination, they need to extricate from said affiliation and join with those of like-mind; those of biblical affinity and allegiance. My church is just such a one. Come this Easter Sunday!
The Rev. Bryan Griem
Montrose Community Church
This is a denomination that has abandoned God's word as its authority and as a result can do nothing but conform to and promote the secular system of which it has become a part. That may sound harsh, but it's true. What Jesus said about the Pharisees and scribes is true of the PCUSA leadership: "in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men." (Matthew 15:9). The Bible's condemnation of homosexual behavior is clearly stated in passages such as 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10. God-honoring churches encourage people to leave sin, not to love it. The true message of the church is to repent of sin instead of trying to redefine it.
Because the PCUSA has closed its eyes to the Bible, it has in fact rendered itself spiritually blind and incapable of offering wise direction to anyone else, including the Boy Scouts. As Jesus said, "A blind man cannot guide a blind man, can he? Will they not both fall into a pit?" (Luke 6:39). The Boy Scouts are an independent, effective and time-tested organization who deserve freedom from outside pseudo-religious harassment and attempts to redefine their identity and their mission.
Pastor Jon Barta
Valley Baptist Church
In my opinion, the Presbyterian Church is trying to speak to a social injustice. I grew up in a Presbyterian church in Indiana, and even then I thought we Presbyterians were liberal or progressive. (The reason I am ordained in the United Church of Christ, which I also consider liberal or progressive, is that I went to a UCC seminary — and when I decided to get ordained, it was easier to jump through the UCC hoops as opposed to the Presbyterian hoops. So while I am quite satisfied being in the UCC, I certainly have a soft spot in my heart for my former church.)
But that is a good question: is the church "making a paternalistic statement telling others how they should live their lives?" I suppose all of us need to question our motives, and not just once, but every time we feel moved to speak out on something or take an issue on a controversial topic.
I personally like the saying, "What would Jesus do?" While he never said anything one way or the other about homosexuality, he certainly identified with the marginalized in his society — and right now the homosexual community in America is fighting not to be marginalized. The whole question of the rightness or wrongness of being gay is being wrestled with throughout the country, and in our churches as well.
Nobody can predict the future, but my own feeling is that in 50 years or so, being gay will not be so big a deal, in church or out. Look how far our country has come in the last 50 years with regard to race. These days it is impossible for some of our young people to realize that once upon a time, blacks and whites, in some parts of the country, had to use different doors and different bathrooms in public places. As those young people ask incredulously, "Really? Was there really segregation like that?", future Americans will look back and say, "I can't believe what we Americans did to the homosexual community back then."
So, way to go, Presbyterian Church: You're doing the Lord's work because you're reaching out to the marginalized.
The Rev. Skip Lindeman
La Cañada Congregational Church
La Cañada Flintridge
I think that the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) would be well advised to take these words from Christ's Sermon on the Mount to heart: "Judge not, that you be not judged. How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when there is a log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye." (Matthew 5:1, 3–5)
Jesus indicates that we need to put our own house in order before we meddle in the affairs of anyone else. An article entitled "Who's Joining the Exodus?" posted September 20, 2013, in the news and announcements section of the PC (USA) website discusses the accelerating exodus of congregations from that body.
For example, in 2012, 110 congregations left the denomination. This was a loss of 102,000 members or 5% of the general membership, the largest loss in the past 50 years. Currently the denomination has 1.84 million members, less than one half its peak membership of 4.25 million in 1965.
Congregations are leaving over differences regarding sexual orientation issues, women's role in the church, the authority of Scripture and the identity and work of Jesus Christ. Some of these are the very issues the General Assembly would presume to address in the Boy Scouts. I think the Presbyterian Church needs to turn its attention to its own divided house, consult the Scriptures about how to approach these issues and not try to exert spiritual authority over any outside organization.
Pastor Ché Ahn
I am gratified to hear that at least some Presbyterians in our country are encouraging, but not demanding, that the Boy Scouts become more inclusive of people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. According to the information I have seen, their General Assembly is simply making an overture to the Boy Scouts to seriously consider their policy of banning GLBTQ leaders from their organization. In fact, the Boy Scouts have already made a change in their policies for members. Why should there be a double standard for leaders?
As a longtime Girl Scout, I am not sure what the reason for including girls in the Boy Scouts would be since there is already a comparable program for girls. And there is already an Explorer Scout program in the Boy Scouts where teen boys and girls are in the same post. But I have no serious objection to girls being included in the regular Boy Scout program if they feel it is better suited to their interests and skills.
The basic issue in these cases is the discrimination by the Boy Scouts against individuals on the basis of sexual orientation or gender expression. As a member of the clergy in a centuries-old religious tradition that supports the "inherent worth and dignity of every person," I see no justification for excluding anyone on the basis of stereotypes rather than on rational grounds.
I am proud to say that the religious community I serve has been recognized by our national association as a Welcoming Congregation, one that invites all people to join with us in shared values. So I congratulate the Presbyterians for their courageous action in challenging the Boy Scouts to live up to the high ideals they profess to support. Hopefully, more religious groups will take similar public stances.
The Rev. Dr. Betty Stapleford
Unitarian Universalist Church of the Verdugo Hills