Sunday, February 3, 2008

The Sounds of Silence

“I have never heard a sermon that offered wisdom as to how a gay man should live his life in a faithful Christian manner. All I have heard is silence, or when there was something other than silence, the words have been condemning" ~ Rev. Paul Capetz.

Presbyterian News Service for Jan. 28 carries an interesting article by Duane Sweep, entitled "Twin Cities' Presbytery Restores Capetz' Ordination (

The story concerns a Presbyterian (PC USA) minister Paul Capetz, who renounced his ordination in 2000 after the PC USA added to its Book of Discipline a 1997 statement requiring ordained ministers to practice “fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and woman or chastity in singleness.”

As many commentators noted at the time the policy was implemented, it was primarily aimed at lesbian and gay ministers living with partners--that is, lesbian-gay ministers who potentially might reveal their sexual orientation to the public, rather than living silent, closeted lives. Commentators in the Presbyterian church and other churches that have adopted similar policies note that they tend to be used almost exclusively to weed out openly gay-lesbian ministers. Straight (or straight-identifying) ministers who are unmarried are not normally subjected to such stringent scrutiny re: their "celibacy" as are lesbian-gay ones.

Capetz recently decided to ask for reinstatement to ordination, on the ground that the implied "vow of celibacy" that the PC USA requires of non-married clergy represents a theology of "works righteousness" antithetical to Reformed theology. His appeal was upheld on Jan. 26 by the presbytery of Minneapolis-St. Paul.

What strikes me in Capetz's testimony to the presbytery, as reported in the article cited above, is the pronounced theme of calling and witness running through it. Capetz reports that it was the church which, from childhood forward, nurtured his life of faith. It was within the church that, as a young man, he discovered a strong sense of vocation, a calling to follow in Jesus's footsteps and minister to his flock.

And it was the same church--the church that had nurtured him and provided a context within which he heard the calling to ministry--that then attacked him when he sought to integrate the experience of being gay with his vocation. It was that church that told him to live in silence about his very personhood, or incur penalties.

It is out of this painful exclusion that Capetz addresses his experience (and that of other openly gay-lesbian believers) in the church: either silence or condemnation; either the injunction (tacit or spoken) to remain hidden, defined the shameful member of the family who is never spoken of, or direct assaults on his personhood, from the very community that nurtured his faith and vocation.

Capetz's testimony strikes me powerfully, because his story could be mine. It is also the story of countless other LGBT members of Christian communities around the world, whose entire experience of grace and vocation is framed by our natures, by who we are, by what we have experienced as LGBT children of God. We experience the divine as LGBT persons. We cannot experience God in any other way. To ask us to deny our natures or pretend to be who we are not is to ask us to forfeit the experience of a God who comes to each person just as that person is....We experience God through the mediating structures of our own personhood, of our personalities, predispositions, our unique way of being in the world.

The ultimate cruelty of the churches' assault on us as LGBT persons--specifically and precisely because we are LGBT--is the churches' denial that we lead graced lives. In telling us that our nature is malformed, or that our love is inauthentic, the churches tell us that we have no witness of grace to offer the Christian community.

Yet the powerful testimony of LGBT Christians everywhere--there is a veritable cloud of witnesses--repudiates the validity of the church's judgment of us. Not only can we live lives of grace, vocational lives within the Christian community, we do live such lives.

To their shame, the churches are unable to recognize this. The loss is surely the churches' loss. In behaving so savagely, by excluding LGBT members who refuse to live in quiet shame, not only do churches undercut their claims to be church: the family of God in which everyone is welcome. In behaving thus, the churches also diminish the significance of their many ministries to heal, make whole, right the wrongs of society.

The churches cannot stand to claim for love, inclusion, healing, and justice, when they conspicuously deny those ideals by their shameful treatment of their gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered members.

Silence is never an adequate response to persons in need of love, affirmation, and healing. The Jewish and Christian scriptures show prophets and holy people, as well as Jesus, consistently reaching out to anyone in need, to speak words of healing and consolation. God is forever speaking....

A church that employs silence as a way of avoiding speaking words of healing and blessing to one group of human beings can hardly speak effective words of healing and blessing to others. Silence is an indefensible response on the part of churches to anyone in need.

Between silence and condemnation: this is not a place in which human beings can live and thrive.

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