About Michael Leslie

The Reverend Michael Leslie is an advocate for the rights and well-being of sexual and gender minority Christians. Michael earned a Master of Divinity degree from Memphis Theological Seminary and received ordination in 1997 by the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. As a former Cumberland Presbyterian minister, he collaborated with Cumberland Presbyterian clergy to establish Welcoming Cumberland Presbyterians, a grassroots movement with a mission to support the LGBTQ+ community by fostering dialogue, understanding, and advocacy.

Rev. Dr. George Estes Opposes Amendments

As follows is a letter from Honorably Retired Minister, Rev. Dr. George R. Estes, expressing opposition to proposed amendments to the Church Constitution. These amendments intend to remove persons in same-sex relationships from church leadership: In a church fight, the first casualty is the gospel. Those whom our Lord especially charged to love one another find themselves harboring feelings of suspicion, anger and competitiveness toward brothers and sisters in Christ. Half-truths and exaggerations mark the tense dialog that often accompanies such disputes. When sharp differences of opinion arise in the church, it is incumbent upon us to reassess our commitment to the way of Christ as we make our way through the difficulties. The proposed amendment(s) to the Constitution that General Assembly has sent to the presbyteries for deliberation and action is a matter eliciting strong emotions on all sides. Supporters of the amendment typically think of themselves as faithful to Scripture while its opponents argue the same from their perspective. Some self-styled “orthodox” Cumberland Presbyterians have sought to disengage from those they perceive to be “progressive” Cumberland Presbyterians. The antipathy of the latter group is less organized but no less dedicated to their vision of the Church. There has been a tendency on the part of supporters of the amendment to regard its opponents as Constitutional Cumberlands as distinct from Confessional Cumberlands, i.e., themselves. There is no such line of demarcation. In the history of our Church the vows of church membership and of ordination have seen no ideological division between the Confession and the Constitution. The Cumberland Presbyterian Church came into existence in response to a legalistic predestinarianism and elitist requirements for clergy. Faith and constitution were involved. They still are. The actions and attitudes of those fostering the amendment have been demonstrably schismatic. The Church is at

By |2024-02-27T03:22:42-06:00January 18th, 2024|Comments Off on Rev. Dr. George Estes Opposes Amendments

From Welcome to Mission: A Pastor’s Transformative Response to the AIDS Crisis

Rev. Betty Youngman by Rev. Betty Youngman My first pastorate was with the Meadowbrook Church in Fort Worth, Texas. It was a small congregation located in what was called “a transitional” neighborhood… elderly folk were moving out and mostly African-American families were moving in. I frequently preached that we should welcome whoever came to our door, and the congregation affirmed this goal. Among those we welcomed was a very nice gay couple. Their return for the second Sunday was a signal to me that it was time for a pastoral visit. What I learned on that visit changed the direction of my life. The guys had just moved into our neighborhood to be near friends of theirs who needed their help. While I visited, they asked, would I please make a hospital visit to a close friend who had AIDS. This was during the early days of the AIDS epidemic and fear was pervasive. Scientists had determined that the disease was transmitted through the exchange of bodily fluids…probably. But when I arrived at the hospital I found the patient in strict isolation, and visitors were required to gown up, head to toe. My path from the door of his room to his bedside took forever. My mantra “you can’t get this from touch” seemed as much a prayer for God’s guidance as a wish to be anywhere else but in this hospital. What I learned from that very young and very ill gentleman changed the course of the Meadowbrook congregation. He was one of five living in a one-room apartment…four of whom had AIDS. All had been separated from their families of origin. The fifth person was employed, trying simultaneously to pay rent and to provide food and nursing care to his friends. This apartment was located no

By |2023-12-20T18:52:41-06:00December 1st, 2023|Comments Off on From Welcome to Mission: A Pastor’s Transformative Response to the AIDS Crisis

Our Stories: God Has Called Me To Serve

Faithful servants of God and the church are facing a profound challenge as they await a decision on the amendments being deliberated in the presbyteries. These are their stories... God Has Called Me To Serve Anonymous Cumberland Presbyterian Minister In the rural area where I grew up, we assumed that everyone was alike. The reality, as I came to understand, is that everyone is different in their own way. I just did not realize it when I was young. When I entered college, I had an awakening and discovered that there were a lot of things I had not experienced. For example, two of my female classmates (one black and one white) were known as a couple. I make a point of their different races because, at the time, such commingling was considered heresy. But then, to make matters worse, they were a couple… Well, as far as I knew--based on the culture in which I grew up--they were hell-bound! This was how I was raised. People of different races didn’t date. And still, for many people today, people of same gender…well, to many, that is still considered a bridge too far. Imagine my own personal struggles when I went to Seminary; and for the first time, because of people I met, had classes with, and walked beside in faith, I wrestled with these social issues. It was quite the Jacob moment. It was during this time that I came to terms with who God created me to be. After all, how does one tackle the issues of faith and ultimately not come to know oneself even better? It is only through God’s grace and the special intervention by some very near and dear people that I am able to tell this story. You see, when I was entrapped by

By |2023-09-25T01:16:07-05:00September 23rd, 2023|Comments Off on Our Stories: God Has Called Me To Serve

Our Stories: Our Lives Have Callings on Them

As presbyteries deliberate upon proposed amendments that intend to exclude a whole class of persons, let us bear in mind the gravity of these changes. They will profoundly impact the lives of individuals already faithfully serving within our denomination, especially those who identify as LGBTQ+, their families, and their congregations. For personal insight into these issues, we share a story from an anonymous Cumberland Presbyterian minister. Their story serves to illustrate the experience of a person of faith, a Cumberland Presbyterian minister, who has both answered God's call and also identifies as a member of the LGBTQ+ community. In a spirit of love, compassion, and our commitment to following Christ's example, let us recognize that God calls who God wills, and it is our shared responsibility to ensure that all members of our church family hearing God's call are given the opportunity to answer and serve within our denominations. As individuals open up and share their testimonies, let it be our prayer that the love of Christ unite us. May we practice forbearance, making room for one another, becoming a church that reflects God's boundless love and grace for all. Our Lives Have Callings on Them anonymous Cumberland Presbyterian minister As a child born into the Cumberland Presbyterian church, a member of a family who loves the Lord and a person who obeyed God’s call to serve in the ministry, my life has been unreservedly impacted by the church for the entirety of my existence in flesh. As an infant, I was dedicated to the Lord to be raised in the church and my church family took great pride in being the community that raised me. At 7 years old, my father led me to know Christ. By the time I was 13 years old, I realized that I was

By |2024-01-29T00:43:01-06:00September 15th, 2023|Comments Off on Our Stories: Our Lives Have Callings on Them

Proposed Constitutional Amendments (2023)

Presented below are the proposed constitutional amendments taken from the "Summary of Actions" provided by Michael Sharpe, Stated Clerk of the Assembly. These amendments were deliberated upon during the 192nd General Assembly of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, which convened in Denton, Texas, from June 19 to 23, 2023, where they narrowly passed with a one-vote margin. The next step involves presbyteries voting. However, they cannot be incorporated into the church constitution without three-quarters of the presbyteries approving them. The amendments have been criticized as unnecessary, as each presbytery and session already possesses the rightful authority to ordain individuals they deem suitable, raising concerns about potential infringement upon that right. They aim to disqualify both existing and potential leaders of the church, raising serious concerns about disruption to the unity of the church and intrusion into people's private lives. They target individuals in sexual relationships outside of marriage, encompassing divorced persons, engaged couples, disabled couples at risk of losing benefits upon marriage, same-sex couples, or any couple not yet married or opting not to marry for personal reasons, disqualifying them from a call to serve as an Elder or Minister. The full text of the amendments follow: JOINT COMMITTEE ON AMENDMENTS Approved sending the following proposed changes to the Constitution to the Presbyteries for vote: 1. That the Constitution be amended by adding the following Paragraph 2.92 and renumbering subsequent sections as appropriate: 2.92 When a person is in a sexual relationship that is outside the boundaries of marriage as described in the Confession of Faith 6.17, then such a situation makes that person ineligible to be ordained to the office of elder. 2. That the Constitution be amended by adding the following sentence at the end of the current Paragraph 2.73: When a person is in a sexual relationship that

By |2024-02-27T03:04:55-06:00September 5th, 2023|Comments Off on Proposed Constitutional Amendments (2023)

An Open Letter from 13 Former Moderators

We are grateful to share an open letter from thirteen of nineteen former living General Assembly moderators who stand united in opposition to the proposed exclusionary constitutional amendments. These individuals, representing various theological perspectives, have come together out of their deep love for our denomination and shared hope for its vibrant future. They wisely implore us to consider the harmful implications of these amendments, urging thoughtful discernment and reflection. We encourage you to read their concerns, as we echo their call for grace and unity. We earnestly pray that the church’s presbyteries will reject these divisive amendments and remember that we are one body in Christ Jesus. As we navigate our journey ahead, may we all do so with an abundance of grace, love and understanding. August 31, 2023 Dear Cumberland Presbyterian Family, The former Moderators of the General Assembly (GA) of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church (CPC) signed below have profound reservations concerning the proposed Constitutional Amendments that are currently placed before our presbyteries. Like our church, we all stand at different theological perspectives on many issues except for our common love for our denomination. Our hope for its vibrant future compels us to pen this plea for preserving the foundational spirit of Cumberland Presbyterianism which is threatened by the proposed Constitutional Amendments. We pray that you take time for discernment before the impending vote to consider underlying concerns that cause us to stand united in opposition to its passage. Here are a few of the reasons why we are opposed to these Amendments: -Will weaken the authority and power of lower judicatories (Synod, Presbytery, Session). The 1894 General Assembly endorsed Louisa Woosley as a lay evangelist. While many were not individually receptive to women in ministry, they recognized the power of the presbytery to ordain. The authority for the

By |2024-02-27T03:03:38-06:00September 5th, 2023|Comments Off on An Open Letter from 13 Former Moderators

Recommendation to Reject the Proposed Amendments to The Cumberland Presbyterian Church Constitution

Ed Adair This article highlights how the proposed amendments present multiple issues relative to their interpretation, implementation, application, and enforcement. Originally published as a Letter to the Editor in the Cumberland Presbyterian magazine, it has been reprinted here with some edits. The author, Edward H. Adair, holds a law degree from the University of Kentucky College of Law, class of 1985, and has served in roles such as Federal Law Clerk and Special Assistant United States Attorney for the Department of the Interior. Currently, he is a Licentiate under the care of the Presbytery of East Tennessee and fulfills the role of Privacy and Regulatory Specialist at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. To Whom It May Concern, I am writing to share my reflections and deliberations concerning the proposed amendments to the Cumberland Presbyterian Church's (CPC) Constitution. I respectfully submit that I do not favor the proposed amendments. In my view, excluding individuals from serving as Elders, Ministers, or in other positions of leadership within the CPC based on their identification as members of the LGBTQIA+ community is not aligned with the teachings of the Holy Scriptures when we consider the historical, cultural, and linguistic contexts in which the scriptures were written. Furthermore, such exclusion is inconsistent with the love, compassion, and inclusive nature of the Kingdom of God as proclaimed, preached, and embodied by Christ. Notwithstanding this conviction, I have approached my reading, interpretation, analysis, and commentary on the proposed amendments as objectively as possible. I understand that not everyone shares the same viewpoint on this issue, and I acknowledge that convictions and emotions run deep. This document aims to promote dialogue and discernment, driven by the conviction that a variety of perspectives enriches the depth and breadth of our process. At our core, we are members

By |2024-02-27T03:07:33-06:00August 7th, 2023|Comments Off on Recommendation to Reject the Proposed Amendments to The Cumberland Presbyterian Church Constitution

Reasons to Deny Proposed Amendments (2023)

Welcoming Cumberland Presbyterians is an independent grassroots movement of LGBTQ+ Cumberland Presbyterians and clergy, elders and laity who wish to increase participation in the church by living out our confessional calling to seek reconciliation among all groups of people (CoF, 6.32) and embrace all people in the life of the church (CoF, 6.16). The proposed amendments seek to modify the Constitution of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church in such a way as to target individuals in a sexual relationship outside marriage. This could encompass engaged couples, disabled couples at risk of losing benefits upon marriage, same-sex couples, or any couple yet to marry or opting not to marry for personal reasons, disqualifying them from a call to serve as an Elder or Minister. We urge the Church to deny these amendments. We oppose the proposed amendments for being divisive, exclusionary, unnecessary and dangerous. They threaten the rightful and appropriate authority and discretion of our diverse presbyteries and sessions to ordain those whom they deem qualified. The following concerns are not an exhaustive list, but we hope it will be a starting place for further conversation: For the sake of unity, it is crucial we recognize that the church consists of those who, in good faith, come to different interpretative conclusions on the complex issue of sexuality. As "God alone is Lord of the Conscience," members should retain the prerogative to live according to their conscience. The proposed amendments are unnecessary because each presbytery and session already has the rightful authority to ordain those they deem qualified.  We believe the wisest path forward for the church is to continue respecting the rightful authority of our sessions and presbyteries to ordain those they deem qualified, uphold privacy and freedom of conscience for personal relationships, and practice tolerance and forbearance towards those with differing

By |2024-02-27T03:20:46-06:00June 21st, 2023|Comments Off on Reasons to Deny Proposed Amendments (2023)

Hear the Stories of our LGBTQ+ Allies

Welcome to our new series of videos, where Cumberland Presbyterian clergy and laity share their personal journeys of reconciling faith and the Bible with acceptance and support for our LGBTQ siblings. Inspired by the 1984 Confession of Faith, which encourages us to embrace one another (6.16) with the grace of Christ (5.10), share insights, and grow together (1.07), this series aims to foster a spirit of dialogue and understanding. Watch these stories and learn about why these Cumberland Presbyterians have become friends and allies to members of the LGBTQ+ community: Rev. Billy Price, Rev. Dwight Liles, Rev. Chris Warren, Rev. Byron Forester, Rev. Tommy Clark, Pat Pottorff White, Cheryl S, Jeff F, Jordan H In addition, we have extended invitations to several Cumberland Presbyterians who identify as LGBTQ+ to share their personal stories, allowing the church to gain a deeper understanding of the individuals who will be greatly impacted by rulings of General Assembly and church judicatories. Furthermore, we have curated a collection of written stories offering further insight into the experiences and perspectives of members of our church family, available at www.welcomingcps.org/our-stories. We encourage everyone to explore these stories as we navigate this important conversation. We are deeply grateful for each person who has shared (and will share) their personal story of why they are a friend and ally of the LGBTQ+ community. We pray that these stories serve as a source of comfort and hope, especially for those who have faced harmed or felt abandoned by the church. We pray too that God will touch the hearts of all those who view them. Our hope is that through witnessing the love and compassion we aim to convey, these videos will have a transformative impact on the minds and hearts of all who engage with them. If you would like

By |2023-06-17T20:12:25-05:00June 17th, 2023|Comments Off on Hear the Stories of our LGBTQ+ Allies

“Your Call Is a Call to All of Us”

A message from Reverend Lisa Anderson, pastor of Colonial Cumberland Presbyterian Church, Moderator of the 184th General Assembly: Nine years ago a very unexpected thing happened. After saying no four times to people in my presbytery, I agreed to be nominated for Moderator of our General Assembly. About this time on that Monday I began to read all of the texts, messages, emails and listen to voice mail messages from literally hundreds of people congratulating me for being elected. It was absolutely not expected. The emotions were all over the place. Gratitude for the confidence, joy that my completely supportive spouse, family and closest friends were around me, regret that my father missed out on this event that would have been special for him, anxiety that I would get it all wrong, excitement that the year was going to be full of new experiences and most of all awe that even when we do not expect it God opens doors we cannot resist walking through. I said yes to my call to ministry at the Assembly that celebrated the 100th anniversary of the ordination of Louisa Woosley, the first ordination of a woman in the denomination. My call was clarified while listening to the voices of Mary Lin Hudson, Missy DeBerry and Donna Heflin. I said yes again to a call to serve the church as moderator on the 125th anniversary of that ordination and was inspired by the voices of Tiffany McClung, Deborah Matthews and women nearing ordination Whitney Brown, Anna Sweet and Ellen Hudson. One of the messages that night was from a dear seminary friend, he included the usual good thoughts and prayer. But also a challenge. He brought to my attention the young people and many others in the church who are quietly suffering from marginalization

By |2023-09-21T03:16:04-05:00June 17th, 2023|Comments Off on “Your Call Is a Call to All of Us”
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