Last Weekend Marked the Return of the Mainline Presbyterian
In churches across the country we sing together, “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world.”
However, the reality is that for the last 35 years, in my denomination — the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) — and in other mainline denominations, we haven’t lived up to this beautiful affirmation of love for all. Instead of welcoming all the children to our churches, we often exclude those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. It has made our promise that Jesus loves all the little children of the world a false one.
It’s no wonder why so many of our children have walked away from faith. The last 35 years have marked a decline of membership and vitality for the mainline churches, prompting many to ring the death knell on the mainline strand of American Protestant Christian tradition. In 1976, my presbytery in Pittsburgh was home to 144,000 Presbyterians. Today there are 35,000.
Many continue to seek remedies to this situation. Will this great ship that is the Mainline continue to head to the edge? Will it fall over into oblivion? What wind is needed to turn our sails around?
Watch with me now as this great ship turns toward life, Spirit, energy, vitality. Last weekend marked the moment for my church.
Saturday was the midpoint in the ratification of Amendment 10A, a revision of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A) constitution that will open the way for LGBT Presbyterians to be ordained to church office. For the first time, the Yes’s are ahead of the No’s at this point. Some are certain it will pass — may it be so!
Like the United Church of Christ, the Episcopal Church USA, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, the work to open ordination to LGBT candidates in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is reminding us all what exactly the Gospel of Christ is and what it means for our lives.
Jesus’ message was assurance that God is love and that we are made in God’s image. To follow Jesus is to love God and to love our neighbor. Not only is our neighbor every person we meet. Jesus’ pointed story of the Good Samaritan in the gospel of John teaches that our neighbor is definitely the outcast like our LGBT friends, family, and colleagues to whom the church has done immeasurable harm.
The way in which these mainline denominations do this Gospel work of LGBT inclusion is also the same: conversation. In the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) the advocates for passing Amendment 10A are engaged in church-wide phone calling to engage in a wide conversation about the place of LGBT people in the church and Presbyterian tradition. This is a conversation that has eluded us these last thirty-five years but is absolutely necessary for our spiritual health and wholeness. These same kinds of conversations — tailored to each particular tradition — are going on [e2]in all the mainline denominations.
When we embrace LGBT people, we reclaim the Gospel truth that Jesus loves us, everyone. Yes, that is everyone. As Jesus said, “When I am lifted up, I shall draw all people to myself.”
In these conversations, one by one, we are finding our voice again by reclaiming the Gospel of God’s love and sharing it with others. And through these conversations the Holy Spirit is filling our sails to turn us toward life.
When we get it right about LGBT equality in the church, the return of the Mainline takes shape. It is happening before our eyes in this vote in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and in the other denominations as we bring the Gospel truth of God’s eternal love in Christ into every congregation.
Watch this history being made, and then raise your voice for the Gospel, too. Together, we will return the Mainline to life, to love, to Gospel joy. We will bring truth to the promise that Jesus really does love all the little children, all the children of the world.