Guest Blogger

The Church Is Here Somewhere

Filed By Guest Blogger | March 22, 2009 7:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Living
Tags: church trial, homophobic behavior, lesbian minister, Lisa Larges, Presbyterian Church

Editors' Note: Guest blogger Lisa Larges is the Minister Director of That All May Freely Serve (TAMFS) a grassroots organization that advocates for all who are disenfranchised in the Presbyterian church, especially lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons. Larges, who is open about her sexual orientation has been seeking ordination to ministry in the Presbyterian Church (PCU.S.A.) for the last 23 years. This is the second time her case has gone before a Presbyterian judicial proceeding.

LisaLarges.jpgOn Friday I sat all day in a completely generic hotel conference room observing the proceedings in a Presbyterian Church trial on whether I could be moved forward in the Ordination process as an out lesbian woman. A trial in the Presbyterian church has most of the same elements of a civil trial - lawyers, witnesses, a panel of Commissioners who hear the case and give a verdict, arguments, objections, legal strategy, and tedium. The question I kept asking myself in the midst of all that was "Where is the church?"

Ok, if you had sat in on the trial you would have learned some things about the Presbyterian method of decision making (a way that strives to be fair, orderly, and thorough), you would have picked up some tidbits about church history, and you would have enriched your vocabulary with a word from colonial American church fights: "scrupulocity" - referring to overly strict adherence to rules. But would you have found much that looked or sounded like the church founder, Jesus, or felt the presence of God in that conference room any more than at a strip mall? Would it compel you to run down the street to join the nearest Presbyterian Church? Would you have heard anything during those court proceedings about the churches mandate to serve the poor, and the vulnerable and the marginalized? Probably not, probably not, doubtful, and no.

So let me just say up front that I couldn't hold on in this 23 year struggle for ordination without my constant companions, irony and sarcasm. Mocking the church's many and obvious failings has always seemed the better option to heartbreak and regular disappointment. Some of what went on on Friday made me just shake my head in disbelief. And over and over I kept wondering where was the God part in all of this. But just at the point where my sarcasm was about to roll over to snark, signs of the Church, the Jesus-love-justice-liberation kind of church would suddenly pop up.

While the trial droned on in officialdom, not so far away was a group of students and other beautiful beings who were twittering, and blogging, and also praying. Beyond them, out on the "internets" were more praying beautiful people. When I needed strength, I could draw on their power. It was as though the power of who we are as queer community was there to fill all of us up.

God was around too, hovering, brooding, shaking God's head. And I'll even go out on a limb here (caution, earnestness ahead) and say that even in the trial itself there were little tiny tender shoots of church springing up.

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Congratulations on the good fight of so many years. Whether it be in religion or politics we as U.S. citizens hopefully are governed by the U.S. Constitution. We are created equal and have the same rights. Should the Episcopal Church and the Presbyterian Church continue to survive and spread homophobic venom with all we know about modern psychology ? Probably not.

Lisa, as a former Catholic I am not sure where I fall within Christianity. But your example keeps me in the fold. Thank you for your persistence in fighting for God's will.

Rick Elliott | March 23, 2009 4:19 AM

Lisa, I met you sometime ago in the early part of your work with TAMFS. What's sad to me in this whole gut-wrenching battle that's been going on is this: WE'RE FIGHTING THE WRONG FIGHT. I'm a historian in background as well s an ordained
PC(USA) minister hanging on by a thread. The substance of the battle is over selective literalism. Our opponents haul out their quotes and feel that the Bible is on their side. The weakness is why have they picked these passages to take literally and not others--like the kosher laws or the uncleanliness laws, the words to the rich young man,"Go, liquidate your assets and follow me," and the words from Acts of the Apostles 4 where we're told that the followers of Christ took all their assets, put them in one pot, and the assets were distributed according to need.
One of the theological buzz-words of the last decade or so is--THEOLOGY MATTERS.
Here's what we ought to be debating: BY WHAT THEOLOGICAL RATIONALE DO WE CHOOSE WHAT WE TAKE LITERALLY AND WHAT WE DON'T TAKE LITERALLY. This would be a substantive debate that would get at the fault-line in our denomination that occasionally shakes to the core. The Scofield heresy of dispensationalism, the Machen furor and the heresy trial of E.T. Thompson over
Darwinianism, the ordination of women--the list goes on and on. I believe that if the opposition to our ordination would be toothless if challenged to provide a theological rationale for their choices of literalism. The they would be exposed as the ecclesiastical bigots they are who're attempting to play on hate and fear to take over the denomination.
Lisa, I couldn't serve a parish anymore--even though I was ordained before the litmus testing took place--because I couldn't stand to live a double life anymore. The toll that took has left me in constant physical pain, having difficulty buttoning my clergy shirt, possibly being forced to cease driving.
I did what I could in "outing" myself as part of the debates. I wanted them to put a face to those who've served well but would now be rejected.
They have a damning heresy to face down: limiting the sovereignty of God by claiming that God couldn't bestow the gifts of ministry on GLBT folks like you and me.
God bless you!

Good luck with the trial, Lisa. As a Presbyterian that's mostly left the church over the anti-gay attitudes, it breaks my heart to see you on trial to be a minister. That's so pathetic that it literally hurts.

There's a reason why I've left. Cases like yours are a big part of that.

Robin Gorsline | March 23, 2009 3:39 PM

Lisa, thank you for the integrity of your struggle and your endurance and courage.
I am struck by your comments about the glimpses of the Jesus reminds me of what Carter Heyward told me some years ago when I was moving south to pastor MCC Richmond, VA. She said, "In every southern town, large and small, there are people who push against the norms, who defy the Chamber of Commerce ethos of normality, who are progressive, even radical, and uppity, and very open to difference." I have found it to be true, and try never to lose sight of it. Most of the time it is enough to keep going; there are times, of course, when it doesn't feel like enough. So far, I have found it again. God is still speaking, as our UCC siblings like to say. The shame is that so many deny that. But God IS still speaking, no matter what others say.

Bil, change is in the wind. There is a Presbyterian church in your city that is just beginning its journey to becoming open and affirming. I'd love to get your input. You can read about it here.

Sigh. It always seems like the Presbyterians are teetering between crazy Protestant fundie-land and sects that are more in line with the modern world. I hope they find the right side in this case.

Change comes slowly for the Frozen Chosen. But this is a change whose time has come. While some will never agree, most people I talk to start by saying, "I didn't know that." We must educate people, many of whom have simply not considered the cost of their silence and inaction. One of my earliest resources has been Bilerico—I met Bil and Jerame at the very first function I ever attended, OutSpoken—and I continue to read and learn from your contributors. I wonder if you know how many straight allies you have as readers here.