About Mark J Davis

Mark is an ordained elder in the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, from West Tennessee Presbytery. He is recently retired, and anticipates using a much greater share of his time working for peace, justice, and inclusiveness in the Church and in the world in which it ministers.

Mark J. Davis: Call for Tolerance & Compromise

In his Letter to the Editor of the Cumberland Presbyterian magazine, Mark J Davis critiques a faction's insistence on excluding LGBTQ Christians from leadership roles, despite the constitutional rejection of such measures by presbyteries. Davis advocates for a return to the denomination's tradition of tolerance and compromise, urging a focus on real ministry rather than internal power struggles. To the editor: “Let it go to Presbyteries. It is their right to decide on our direction and future.” This was the demand from a group of Cumberland Presbyterians who, unsatisfied with a Statement on Homosexuality approved by the 165th General Assembly (although they apparently subscribe to most of the text), nevertheless consider exclusion of LGBTQ Christians from leadership positions in the denomination one of their highest priorities in ministry. One can only assume that their exhilaration at having successfully fomented the split of one of our presbyteries over the issue now leads them to their efforts to extend what they surely know will be further discord and ugliness wrought by that split to the entire denomination. But we are, after all, Presbyterian in our government, so we did. We did let the question of whether or not we would be a denomination known for codifying exclusion in our foundational documents go to our presbyteries, “to decide on our direction and future.” And despite what by many accounts was a very aggressive (and, I would argue, unseemly) effort at lobbying on behalf of exclusion, the presbyteries responded to that constitutional question by saying, NO. But now, I understand that having failed in that effort, that same group of Cumberland Presbyterians has apparently decided that the only way to get their way—to indulge their preoccupation with the sexual orientation of others whom they rarely know personally, or with whatever sexual activity may or

By |2024-06-05T04:03:55-05:00May 13th, 2024|Comments Off on Mark J. Davis: Call for Tolerance & Compromise

Statement on Ending Conversion “Therapy”

A grassroots call to support the wellness of LGBTQ+ individuals by ending efforts to change their sexual orientation and gender identity or expression. Sign Statement! Sexual orientation and gender identity or expression change efforts (SOGIECE) including conversion “therapy” (sometimes referred to as “reparative therapy,” “reintegrative therapy,” “therapy for those experiencing same-sex attraction [SSA],”) refers to a range of dangerous and discredited practices that aim to change, deny, or suppress one’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. Rather than cherishing the sacred gift of an LGBTQ+ individual as a person created in God's image, such practices force them into a fabricated existence, depriving them of the blessing of an authentic life. Regardless of the labels used to identify conversion “therapy” practices (CTP), they are neither legitimate therapy nor productive exercises in dealing with young people and/or those in the process of recognizing their sexual or gender identity. These interventions have been discredited by countless medical professionals and organizations and exposed as “dangerous”, “harmful”, and “lacking efficacy”.  Because of the higher rates of suicide within this demographic, at least 20 U.S. states and hundreds of municipalities have already banned conversion “therapy” by licensed mental health practitioners for minors completely, while 5 U.S. states and 1 U.S. territory have instituted partial bans. Globally, at least 14 countries have some form of a national ban on conversion “therapy” practices, and many other states, cities, and provinces have introduced legislation to protect their citizens from such abuse. As Christians, we recognize that any practice such as conversion “therapy”—involving as it does the exercise of mental and/or physical abuse, shaming, and manipulation of another—is sinful, and specifically at odds with the teachings of Christ. Study after study has shown that young people who are exposed to such practices are significantly more likely to suffer

By |2024-03-13T23:45:30-05:00February 4th, 2023|Comments Off on Statement on Ending Conversion “Therapy”

In Christ, We Stand Against Exclusion & Oppression

Statement from a grassroots body of concerned Cumberland Presbyterians who take seriously our Call to love and minister in partnership with our siblings in Christ without regard for race, gender identity, or sexual orientation toward the realization of the Kingdom of God: In anticipation of our 191st General Assembly held in June 2022, many Cumberland Presbyterians were aware that Commissioners to that Assembly would be considering at least two exclusionary memorials, the submission of which represented the culmination of an extended campaign by a group of self-styled “traditionalists”, ultimately, to force adoption of their own legalistic, self-righteous, and hypocritical interpretation of scripture—that God could not possibly call members of the LGBTQ+ community to Christian service and ministry—as the will of our entire denomination. Regardless of one’s stance on the issues the memorials raised, there is little doubt that if fully implemented (or carried out), they would bring untold bitterness and division to the denomination.  While fomenting such bitterness and division may have been one of the goals of the memorials, reason and concerns for our unity prevailed within the Committee assigned the task of making recommendations on them. After thoughtful consideration and prayer, the Committee recommended denial in both cases.  Unfortunately, the body chose to reject the wisdom of the Committee and instead to slander the LGBTQ+ community and sanction the inevitable turmoil and pain that surely the memorials’ authors knew would result. It was an action that not only puts our denomination squarely on the wrong side of history, but also leaves us teetering tragically outside the foundations of our own faith.  At issue in this debate was the simple question, “will we divide the church by refusing to recognize and accept members of the LGBTQ+ community whom God calls and has already planted into the full faith, fellowship,

By |2023-01-02T20:50:30-06:00October 30th, 2022|Comments Off on In Christ, We Stand Against Exclusion & Oppression

Resolution to Not Divide West Tennessee Presbytery

West Tennessee Presbytery met Saturday, March 5, 2022 in Memphis, Tennessee. Presbytery approved petitioning the Synod of Great Rivers to divide West Tennessee Presbytery along “orthodox” and “progressive” theological lines. As Welcoming Cumberland Presbyterians envisions a reconciled church, we grieve this proposed division and ask each reader to join in prayer for the unity of the whole church and for the people of West Tennessee presbytery including all our vulnerable and marginalized LGBTQ+ folks. Presbytery also added a (constitutionally questionable) standing rule allowing congregations to leave the presbytery and retain their property if they disagree with the body over issues of “conscience.” Presbytery rescinded previously elected delegates to the Synod of Great Rivers and elected a new slate in order to eliminate opposition to the proposal. Presbytery received the following memorial calling for unity despite theological differences. The memorial failed to pass. Resolution to Not to Divide the Presbytery Resolution to the March 5, 2022, meeting of West Tennessee Presbytery We live in a time of great division. Reports in news media, as well as experiences in many of our lives, speak of hostility prompted by differing political and religious views. No doubt aggravated by pressures accompanying a world wide pandemic, many people are angry. Those who work in professions that serve the public (such as servers in restaurants, flight attendants, and even nurses and doctors) relate stories of angry and sometimes even physically hostile patrons. Unfortunately Cumberland Presbyterians of West Tennessee Presbytery are not immune to such division. In fact, if there is one reality about our presbytery with which most of us agree it is that we are divided. But not about the centrality of our faith in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. Rather we are divided about how we are to live out that faith,

By |2023-04-07T16:54:44-05:00March 30th, 2022|Comments Off on Resolution to Not Divide West Tennessee Presbytery

On Respecting the Blessing of Conscience

When I was an adolescent, I pictured my conscience as being God’s way of speaking to me—reminding me, when faced with a choice of two paths to take, that there was generally a right path and a wrong path, and helping me to choose the right one. Or if I chose the wrong path—as I sometimes did, despite the urging of my conscience—that the guilt I subsequently felt was the result of having tuned my conscience out; or to my child-like way of thinking—of having disobeyed, and thus disappointed God. Like most children, the choices with which I found myself faced were pretty much binary in nature—left or right, black or white, truth or falsehood, love or hate. Because I was reared in a caring community of faith—the Cumberland Presbyterian Church—my conscience was lovingly nurtured into a mature process for discerning the will of God in even complex choices through the encouragement of my Sunday School teachers, Youth Group Leaders, Pastors, and spiritual mentors. I was taught to study the foundations of my faith, encouraged to question them freely in my efforts to understand, to compare scripture with scripture, to pray and be open for the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to employ critical thinking in using the intellect with which I’d been blessed, and ultimately, to think for myself—hand in hand with the Lord of our conscience. In 1991, the 161st General Assembly of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church issued a Statement on the Sanctity of Persons as a means of coming to grips with the vast array of passionately-held opinions on abortion that were threatening to rip both the church and our society apart. In the end, that body proclaimed that “since Cumberland Presbyterians affirm a variety of views on abortion, it is not appropriate for the General Assembly

By |2022-06-22T16:45:51-05:00June 28th, 2021|Comments Off on On Respecting the Blessing of Conscience

Welcome is the essence of Cumberland Presbyterianism

I’ve been thinking a lot about fear recently. I suspect I haven’t been alone. In the last couple of years especially, we’ve had ample reasons not only to think about and observe its insidious and repressive power to subvert what is right and good, but for too many of us, to actually *experience* it as a part of daily life. Prominent elected officials at every level of government have become adept at weaponizing fear, conjuring imaginary threats to our health, safety, and privileged status from people—“others”—who simply wish to live *without* fear, and to be treated with the same respect and dignity that each of us cherish—and often take for granted. Their actions have divided us as a society perhaps more than ever—certainly more so than many of us can remember. Fear of people who don’t look, speak, worship, or love as we do (“we”, as in white, English-speaking, Christian, heterosexuals more often than not) has led to policies—both real and proposed—that seek to intentionally dehumanize and exclude “others” as a societal norm. From the perspective of a people who have traditionally (and constitutionally) opened their arms to the oppressed, hurting, and marginalized of the world, to characterize this trend as a tragedy would surely be an understatement of incredible proportion. The truly tragic thing, however, is that we have also seen the ravages of fear-mongering make their way into the institutional church. Fear of other faiths, fear that we are somehow being deprived of our right to pray and worship in our own faith as we feel led, and again, fear of siblings in the family of God who do not look, act, interpret scripture, or experience their sexuality in the same way we do seems to be driving us inexorably toward such decidedly un-Christian activities as wall-building and

By |2021-06-21T14:15:05-05:00June 21st, 2021|Comments Off on Welcome is the essence of Cumberland Presbyterianism

Open Letter for Freedom of Conscience on Human Sexuality

To: The Unified Committee on Theology and Social Concerns From: A grassroots body of concerned Cumberland Presbyterians advocating for the freedom of conscience bequeathed to all of us by our founders, specifically concerning a denominational position on human sexuality Pursuant to the granting of its request (from the 189th General Assembly) for more time to consider the issues surrounding the development of a denominational statement on human sexuality, the Unified Committee of Theology and Social Concerns has solicited input from Cumberland Presbyterians as they consider the task before them. It is no secret that passionate debate on this topic has consumed a significant amount time at meetings of Presbyteries, meetings of Sessions, and in private and public conversation among faithful Cumberland Presbyterians. A concern we wish to highlight with this communication is that in much of the debate, a critical detail concerning an essential element of Cumberland Presbyterianism—a detail that arguably has defined who we are to countless Christians who have come to faith precisely because of the freedom we encourage to be open to new understandings of scripture and growth through the influence of the Holy Spirit—has been neglected. As a reminder, on 4 February 1810, almost 210 years ago, Reverends Samuel McAdow, Finis Ewing, and Samuel King drafted a document organizing a new presbytery within the Presbyterian denomination to which they belonged after that body had failed to address grievances for which they had previously sought relief. Among other precipitating disagreements they had with their denomination was one over the doctrine of predestination, which they viewed as a form of fatalism. In their document establishing Cumberland Presbytery, our founders laid out certain conditions that those who wished to become members of the new body would have to meet. Significantly, one doctrinal condition was that “all candidates for the

By |2022-06-22T16:47:17-05:00June 21st, 2021|Comments Off on Open Letter for Freedom of Conscience on Human Sexuality

Cumberland Presbyterians and Gay Christians, A Forum

Report shared by Rev. Carolyn Smith Goings, PhD, Joint Committee on Theology and Social Concerns, New Hopewell (CPCA) and West TN (CPC) Presbyteries Cumberland Presbyterians gathered on 6 November 2016 and on 22 January 2017 for a two-part forum, “Cumberland Presbyterians and Gay Christians,” held at Bethel University and Memphis Theological Seminary, respectively. The purpose of the forum, hosted by the Joint Committee on Theology and Social Concerns of the West Tennessee Presbytery (CPC) and the New Hopewell Presbytery (CPCA), was to provide two opportunities for listening, learning, and sharing. Rev. Byron Forester welcomed attendees, a variety of interested Cumberland Presbyterians (CPC and CPCA) mostly from the two presbyteries, with one or two from the university and seminary. Rev. Lisa Anderson welcomed the forum speaker, Rev. Dr. Roy Hall, author of God So Loved: A Pastoral Reading of the Cumberland Presbyterian Confession of Faith recently published by the CPC/CPCA Historical Foundation. She introduced Dr. Hall as a theologian and thinker who cherishes “honest and difficult” conversations that “challenge us to really listen and hear each other.” Hall then presented a comparison of critical scholarship on homosexuality and the Church, condensing into the forum’s limited timeframe the two main approaches typically employed in mainline denominations when debating the question of homosexuality and the Church.  Dr. Hall noted that those who consider it a closed question (the traditional view) do so for three reasons. First, marriage of a man and a woman has been tradition in the Church and culture for more than 2000 years. Second, Jesus endorsed male-female marriage. Third, a group of biblical texts are seen as thoroughly negative about same-sex activity. Dr. Hall cited Richard B. Hayes’ defense of the traditional view in The Moral Vision of the New Testament in which Hayes describes the Gospel as entirely disapproving

By |2023-12-20T21:42:01-06:00April 1st, 2017|Comments Off on Cumberland Presbyterians and Gay Christians, A Forum

An Open Letter from a Cumberland Presbyterian Elder on National Coming Out Day

An open letter from Mark J. Davis to those in the Cumberland Presbyterian LGBT community who publicly revealed their orientation on National Coming Out Day, 11 October 2015: First of all, I need to make it clear that in expressing the affirmation, support, and encouragement I will express here, I do not do so as a spokesperson for my denomination--I do so solely on the basis of my own Christian faith. It grieves me deeply to have to start off with that disclaimer, but at this point it is still a sad necessity. Having said that, I want you to know that you are a source of inspiration. There are many of us who admire you--many more than most people in our community of faith imagine. I realize that for some of you, the decision to publicly embrace the person whom God created you to be was not an easy one. I am all too aware of the environment of hostility you may be entering, and indeed, may already have entered. But I want you to know that your courage has not gone unnoticed. I want you to know that there are many of us who affirm you simply as you are, as the person God created you to be--as a beloved and unique child of God. While we are already seeing efforts to deny some of you an opportunity to answer God's call to service, I also want you to know that there are plenty of others who support you in your efforts to answer that call--again, a lot more than you've likely imagined. There are plenty of us who are not afraid of who you are, and in fact see the face and hand of God in your commitment to try to live as Jesus himself lived, feeding

By |2023-11-09T18:53:42-06:00October 21st, 2015|Comments Off on An Open Letter from a Cumberland Presbyterian Elder on National Coming Out Day
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