The Church of Holy Chaos: LGBTQ Equality at Presbyterian General Assembly

Evenings with Covenant Network and More Light Presbyterians

By Patrick David Heery
Bishop Gene Robinson addressing More Light Presbyterians
Bishop Gene Robinson addressing More Light Presbyterians

Two nights have passed since the opening of the 220th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) – and both were spent celebrating LGBTQQI identities.

At this point, many of us young adults are saying: Wait, these are Christians, church people? This picture of Christian allies is startling when you’ve seen the church inflict so much hurt on anyone who deviates from the “norms” of gender and sexual identity. That exclusion has led many young people to wonder whether the church is worth saving when it cannot even accept the wideness of the love of its own God.

Yet, on both nights, love was palpable. Not in spite of their Christian faith, but because of it.

To those of us embedded in the equality movement within the church, this comes as no surprise. But to all those who were shut out of the church as a teenager, who left and never looked back, this is a different kind of church than they might remember.

Covenant Network: Is there a Presbyterian pastor who will marry us?
On Friday, Covenant Network – a Presbyterian organization devoted to “furthering the inclusion of LGBTQ persons” and to “working for the unity of the church” – held its Commissioners Convocation Dinner. Barely a seat was empty in the crowded Westin hotel ballroom. It was a time for sharing stories, for looking back. Two years prior, the same General Assembly voted to remove wording that prohibited the ordination of LGBTQ individuals active in same-gender relationships. It was through the organizing of groups like Covenant Network that “Amendment 10-A” passed. In fact, I was one of the many people who called Presbyterians across the country asking to talk with them about the issues.

It was also a time for looking ahead. At this Assembly, elected voting members face overtures seeking to reverse the decision of 10-A. They also, however, have the opportunity to support marriage equality, either by approving same-gender marriage altogether or by empowering pastors, who reside in states that have legalized same-gender marriage, to perform marriage ceremonies. Covenant Network emphasized the need for advocacy to be couched in a context of deep conversation, respect, and love for all parties, even, perhaps especially, those with whom we disagree.

The highlight of the night for me was when a pastor related a recent experience in which a gay couple attending her church asked her: “If we were to go to a state that has legalized gay marriage, is there a Presbyterian pastor in that state who would marry us?”

Without a moment’s hesitation, hands shot into the air – and then more hands went up – each a pastor, on the first night of General Assembly, saying, “I will marry them.”

More Light Presbyterians: Bishop Gene Robinson on holy chaos
On Saturday, More Light Presbyterians – working for the “full participation of LGBT people of faith in the life, ministry, and witness” of the church – gathered for their National Celebration Dinner. I got to sit at a table reserved for members or alumni of BGLASS, Princeton Theological Seminary’s LGBTQQI and allies student organization, and the recipient of this year’s National More Light Chapter Award.

As I sat there, surrounded by friends, I realized that, despite the transitions and mobility so common to our generation, we take our communities with us. BGLASS was always more than an organization for me. It was family. And like family, the people of BGLASS helped me know my own identity and my calling. In 2009-10, I had the privilege of co-moderating BGLASS. That year, we decided we weren’t going to be on the defensive anymore; we were going to celebrate and to advocate.

Those two words, celebration and advocacy, set the tone for the More Light gathering.

Just like the night before, this was a time for sharing stories, honoring allies and LGBTQ leaders, and reviewing the General Assembly opportunities and challenges to equality. More Light particularly honored Michael Adee, founding MLP Executive Director and Organizer, who will soon begin work leading the Global LGBT Faith Project and whose love for people is unmistakable.

Later in the evening, the room became suddenly quiet, expectant, as Gene Robinson, the first openly gay Anglican bishop, took the podium to deliver his keynote address. When he opened by saying that we have done an amazing job, we were all expecting that sentence to end with something like, “of making the church a more inclusive and welcoming place.” Instead, he said, “You have done an amazing job of… creating confusion in the church.” He referred to this confusion as the “holy chaos” of people beginning to question what they once held certain.

Chaos is of course not always popular among the “decently and in order” Presbyterians, but this was a night for a new kind of church.

That new church, though, needs to own up to its past before it can move forward. Bishop Robinson was frank: 95% (a statistic he admits to making up) of the hate, discrimination, and homophobia has been caused by religious people. “We,” he said, “taught them to hate.” And so it’s up to religious people to turn the tide.

More Light Presbyterians rallied at the call to take back the Bible. The Bible, Bishop Robinson said, was originally given to African Americans in order to keep them docile and quiet. The problem was that they actually read it! They read a Bible of freedom and dignity, of liberation and covenant. “And we gay people,” he added, “are reading our Bibles too.”

So, friends, welcome to the church of holy chaos, the church of bold love and even bolder grace, the church you might not remember, but the church we were always meant to be.

The change is not complete; there is still much work to be done. But, to borrow an image from Bishop Robinson, we are dancing to the center of the church, where we have known we always belonged.

Learn more and get involved with the Covenant Network

Learn more and get involved with More Light Presbyterians


Patrick Heery
Rev. Patrick David Heery is an ordained Teaching Elder in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and is the Managing Editor of Unbound. Patrick earned his Master of Divinity degree at Princeton Theological Seminary, where he co-moderated BGLASS, an LGBT and allied student organization. On Patrick’s door, you will always find a safe space sign: all are welcome.
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