Welcoming Cumberland Presbyterians is a grassroots movement of LGBTQIA+ 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 and embrace all people in the life of the church.
We have read and studied the memorials from Arkansas and Grace Presbyteries and find them to be divisive, exclusionary, unnecessary and even dangerous. It is our recommendation that the General Assembly deny these exclusionary memorials because they attempt to usurp the rightful and appropriate authority and discretion of presbytery and session to ordain who they see fit. The following concerns are not an exhaustive list, but we hope it will be a starting place for further conversation with our LGBTQIA+ siblings and their supporters.
- It is essential we recognize that the church consists of those who in good faith come to different interpretative conclusions on the complex issue of sexuality and its members will exercise the prerogative to live according to their conscience. We believe the wisest path forward for the church is to continue to respect the rightful authority of presbytery to ordain who they see fit, respect freedom of conscience on same-sex relationships, and practice tolerance and forbearance towards those they disagree with rather than attempting to force universal conformity.
- It is very concerning that these memorials fail to recognize that LGBTQIA+ people are already faithfully serving the Cumberland Presbyterian Church and have been gifts to the denomination throughout its history. When Scripture declares God will pour out God’s Spirit on all flesh and that God is no respecter of persons this includes LGBTQIA+ people. But these memorials attempt to remove faithful servants of God from leadership and limit how God is moving in the hearts of members of the Cumberland Church and calling them into service.
- These memorials are unnecessary because each presbytery and session already has the rightful authority to ordain who they see fit. Each person called to ministry should be received with openness and have the opportunity to face presbytery or session to determine their fitness and qualifications, without experiencing discrimination. The attempt to create denominational policy that would categorically disqualify an entire minority of people hearkens back to times when African Americans and women were denied even the possibility of ordination, despite their giftedness and calls.
- As unsatisfactory as the 1996 Statement was to all parties, that General Assembly took a middle path that was very Cumberland Presbyterian. It’s stance reflected the majority view on “homosexuality” at the time, however it refused to be too heavy-handed, it refused to make a general rule excluding the possibility of ordination of those God may call and equip for ministry, and it refused to tie the hands of ordaining bodies. But, these memorials disregard the middle path, rejecting freedom of conscience, and marginalizing those who disagree.
- While the 1996 Statement was mistaken about the sinfulness of all “homosexual behavior”, it did not go so far as attempting to PROHIBIT the ordination of LGBTQIA+ people. It recognized the presbytery and session’s right to continue to determine for themselves who was fit for ministry or service. It only said that it “does not condone” and that it was “a theological and social statement and not to be understood as a rule or principle for ordination but never to usurp the authority of presbytery or session to ordain.”
- The language used in the 1996 Statement referring to “homosexual practice” is offensive, outdated, erroneous, and indicates a lack of knowledge or understanding and friendship with members of the LGBTQIA+ community. It has unnecessarily and hypocritically targeted and burdened LGBTQ+ members, and when misused as policy has caused division, loss of leadership and membership, and led to the condemnation and harassment of LGBTQ people in the church. “Homosexuality” is not sinful and not a condition in need of therapy. Expert consensus and scientific evidence demonstrates that same-gender orientation and variations in gender identity and expression are a part of the normal spectrum of human diversity.
- The 1996 Statement on Homosexuality claimed the Bible as the authority for condemning “homosexual practice.” However, if the statement were honest, it would acknowledge disagreement among the faithful on the interpretation of passages commonly used to condemn LGBTQIA+ people and same-sex relationships. The vast majority of scholars agree that the modern concepts of homosexuality and heterosexuality did not exist in ancient times. Same-sex behavior at the time was associated with idolatry and sexual exploitation, and assumed to be a vice of excess that might tempt anyone, such as drunkness. It is unjust to associate ancient notions about same-sex behavior with same-sex relationships today.
- Scripture says that we will know teachings by their fruits, but the fruit of teaching that condemns “homosexuality” is rotten! The results of these teachings have been increased suicide rates, mental health issues, broken families, and a decrease in church participation. Many people of all ages have simply left the Church altogether and cite this particular teaching as the reason. On the other hand, congregations that are welcoming and inclusive of LGTBQIA+ families experience numerical as well as spiritual growth and young people in these congregations are healthier, happier and more likely to remain connected to the Church.
- The exclusionary memorials and the 1996 Statement question the morality of same-sex relationships. However, it is now widely recongized that same-sex attraction is an involuntary aspect of character fixed at birth or in early childhood. Interpretations that suggest LGBTQIA+ people are condemned simply for being LGBTQIA+ are morally indefensible and undermine the moral authority of the interpreter rather than strengthen the case against homosexuality. People are now recognizing that the critical moral issue actually at stake is the church’s condemnation and rejection of LGBTQ+ people because of the harm it causes.
- These memorials would create a legalistic environment where relationships would be policed, opening the door to misconduct, abuse, lawsuits, and invasion of privacy. How is it to be determined who is in a sexual relationship versus an non-sexual one? Attempts to regulate and enforce will unfairly target an already vulnerable minority who will bear the brunt of this as sexual scapegoats. Outing LGBTQIA+ people puts them at risk of discrimination, hate, violence and harassment. It may marginalize them from their families, the church and the community at large. Outing can put people’s mental health at risk, and has even been linked to suicide.
- The proposed Arkansas amendments reference the “boundaries of marriage” in 6.17 of the Confession of Faith. However, 6.17 includes the phrase “marriage is subject to the appropriate civil law”. In 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in all fifty states in the case Obergefell v. Hodges. The highest court in the United States ruled that marriage equality/same-sex marriage is a fundamental civil right. While this Arkansas amendment intends to limit the boundaries of marriage to heterosexuals, their wording fails because in the U.S. same-sex marriage is a right under civil law. The amendment only lists 6.17 as containing the boundaries of marriage presumably because it includes “man/woman” but fails to include the boundaries of marriage in 6.18 which if read as rigidly as 6.17 would mean that divorced persons would also not be qualified.
- In the 1991 Statement on the Sanctity of Persons, the General Assembly affirmed a church that made space for people to follow their own conscience and have different views and to act upon them. The Statement said it was not appropriate for the assemblies to define any one view of the church, instead they said that the church “affirms this range of views as equally valid interpretations of the Christian faith, equally faithful to scripture and equally open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Recognizing that members of our church will act on their convictions in the public arena and in the church, we affirm their prerogative to act in Christian conscience. Furthermore, the General Assembly calls upon all Cumberland Presbyterians to pray for the peace of the church, to repent of allowing this debate to divide us, to hear the pain of Christian sisters and brothers struggling with this issue, and to be open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit speaking through those who hold opposing points of view.”
- The Cumberland Presbyterian Confession of Faith said it well: “The church is one because her Head and Lord is one, Jesus Christ. Her oneness under her Lord is manifested in the one ministry of word and sacrament, not in any uniformity of covenantal expression, organization, or system of doctrine.” (5.02). Respect for the diversity of the church and forbearance around theological differences are part of our confessional understanding of unity and essential for the peace and unity of the church.
- We conclude with this affirmation from the 2017 General Assemblies: “We acknowledge that within both Cumberland Presbyterian denominations there is a wide range of biblical understanding and interpretation. With that said, we should resolve – first and foremost – to love one another, and as an expression of that love to listen to each other, affirming the even greater common ground we enjoy and embrace as Cumberland Presbyterians. Our goal need not be one hundred percent agreement on biblical interpretation, but rather a mature awareness and consideration of the diversity of theological perspectives that a global and multi-ethnic denomination manifests.” Unified Committee on Theology and Social Concerns Study Paper: A Question of Hermeneutics, Adopted in 2017 by the 187th General Assembly (CPC) and the 145th General Assembly (CPCA)
LGBTQ+ Video Testimonials
LGBTQ+ Cumberland Presbyterians are already faithfully serving the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. We invited a few folks to share their stories in order to help commissioners and youth advisory delegates know a few of those whom their decisions affect most directly. The lives of LGBTQ+ lives are not inherently “incompatible with the Christian lifestyle.” These stories reveal deep faith and commitment to the church but also the damage that comes when people choose intolerance and seek to limit God’s call on the lives of LGBTQ+ people. These stories are an expression of our commitment to God, to the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, and to sharing the truth of our experiences and our faith. We hope they will be a step towards deeper connection and greater unity as we seek to break down any walls that may exist between us. Thanks for watching!
|WCP Stories: Allison & Elicia (elder)
|WCP Stories: Michael
|WCP Stories: Mandy and Jamie (elder)
|WCP Stories: Christi
|WCP Stories: Obed (former worship leader)
|WCP Stories: Michael L