From the Worldwide Faith News archives


Date 05 May 1996 13:00:58


                      BETWEEN HOPE AND PAIN 
                          by Alexa Smith 
BALTIMORE, Md.--How to work for ordination of gays and lesbians in the 
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and be sensitive to the worries, fears and 
arguments of those who oppose it was a recurring theme at the More Light 
Conference here April 28-30 -- a conference that drew more than double its 
usual attendance. 
     The More Light Network is an alliance of 67 PC(USA) churches that 
openly ordain gays and lesbians, defying -- and causing debate as to the 
authority of -- this particular denominational policy. 
     "There's incredible uncertainty [about] what's going to happen next, 
and we are really trying to listen to what the Spirit is leading us to do," 
the Rev. Laurene Lafontaine, a parish associate and gay rights activist in 
Denver, told the Presbyterian New Service. 
     "We're asking: How do we bring folks to the table and be at the table 
together? ... That is a very hopeful thing, with a lot of pain," she said, 
characterizing the "radical right" as often fencing from the table those 
who do not share their point of view. 
     And models for coping with fear and conflict in the midst of very 
tense debate about homosexuality, scripture and polity emerged over and 
over again in workshops and worships as participants sought  how to balance 
pain and hope in congregational life. 
     "It's really learning to live together," conference coordinator Dick 
Hasbany of Eugene, Ore., told the Presbyterian News Service, insisting 
congregations do not have to have uniformity of opinion on how to stay 
together.  "Like in a tough marriage ... in More Light churches there are 
people who would not have voted to be More Light." 
     Hasbany believes the denomination already has models for coping with 
this kind of congregational tension in its More Light churches.  "No one," 
he said, "is to be shut out.  Not even the people who would shut us out. 
     "I hope the denomination does not see an exodus on either side.  I 
think the Spirit moves toward our living together," said Hasbany firmly. 
"That's the harder thing." 
     In workshops on preparing congregations for change, the Rev. Alice 
Anderson of Washington, D.C., focused on how to achieve lasting change. 
She said  that the process requires even those who are pushing for change 
to be open to change themselves and to cease seeing those who disagree as 
     "You have something to teach and they [those who disagree] have 
something to teach you," she explained, adding that this principle is 
especially true for Christians who profess that all are made in the image 
of God. 
     Anderson said resistance to change has to be respected because it is 
often rooted in previous painful experience.  "There's something behind all 
that emotion ... and you have to figure out what it is," Anderson said, 
saying resistance often is rooted in pain or fear. 
     Pinpointing the current strong emotion in the denomination is how 
Moderator Robert W. Bohl moved into his remarks about pain in the PC(USA) 
-- and its hopes for future reconciliation.  "The blend of the human and 
the Holy Spirit is a unique blend.  The cost of hate is more expensive each 
day. ... 
     "Is there any hope for reconciliation?  There is.  But it is not 
someone else's job," said Bohl, the first standing moderator to address the 
     Bohl said scripture says vengeance belongs to God alone.  "Thank God," 
he said, and summed up his remarks by saying,  "When all your wishes and 
desires will come -- only God knows that. 
     "Justice takes a long time to come." 
     The Rev. Nancy Wilson, pastor of the Metropolitan Community Church of 
Los Angeles, contrasted the hope and pain of the gay and lesbian community 
with that of the imprisoned but still singing Paul and Silas in Acts 16, an 
irony that led to the conversion of their jailer. 
     "Sing for joy in your chains, even in the midst of the prison of 
homophobia.  Sing for joy because you know the truth has made you free. 
Sing loud enough so the other prisoners can hear you," said Wilson, 
attesting that such witness to the power of God's love may even free 
jailers from "ignorance and fear." 
     Wilson said the source of real heartbreak for mainline gays and 
lesbians, however, is not "our vicious enemies ... but our cowardly 
friends."  She said credible scriptural scholars refute arguments that the 
Bible condemns homosexuality, but the church refuses to teach what it 
     "Your job," she told More Light conference attendees, "is to help make 
the suffering visible ...  and then make it stop.  And this is a costly 
     Hasbany said many unnecessarily fear that ordaining gays and lesbians 
simply "open[s] the floodgates" for acceptance of all kinds of behavior. 
But that is contradicted, he said, by the experience of actual More Light 
congregations who adhere to standards of behavior for leadership. 
     "Talk with some people who are not gays and lesbians ... and [some who 
are] gays and lesbians" in More Light congregations, he said.  Membership 
is rooted in a profession of faith in Jesus Christ, and conduct is governed 
by the "Book of Order," Hasbany said.  "It's not  anything goes' at all. 
     "If people want to see the reality, there are models in the 
denomination," he said.  "They're just congregations.  Some work real well. 
Some not so well." 
     But, Hasbany said, they have enough faith in their strength as 
congregations to deal with uncomfortable issues -- not just sexuality. 
"They made themselves vulnerable to conflict, felt it was essential in 
their life."  

For more information contact Presbyterian News Service
  Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Louisville, KY 40202
  phone 502-569-5504            fax 502-569-8073  
  E-mail   Web page: 


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