Welcoming Cumberland Presbyterians is a grassroots ministry within the Cumberland Presbyterian denomination made up of clergy and laity which exists to increase participation in the church by welcoming and fully including people of all sexualities and gender expressions.
We have read and studied the proposed Statement on Human Sexuality submitted to the General Assembly by the Unified Committee of Theology and Social Concerns. The following lines from the proposed statement wisely call for us to accept our differences while affirming our love for one another:
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
However, despite it’s conciliatory parts, we find the statement exclusionary, divisive, contradictory and harmful. Below is a short list of concerns. It is not an exhaustive list, and we hope it will be a starting place for further conversation with LGBTQ+ siblings.
- The Statement fails to recognize that LGBTQ+ people and their faithful service are and have been gifts to the Cumberland Presbyterian Church throughout its history. The language used indicates a lack of understanding of LGBTQ+ Cumberland Presbyterians as well as the consensus science which demonstrates that same-gender sexual orientation (including identity, behavior, and attraction) and variations in gender identity and expression are a part of the normal spectrum of human diversity. We know that the committee received input from this community, but the Statement does not reflect their voices. LGBTQ+ voices need to be incorporated throughout the entire process if General Assembly is going to approve a definitive statement on human sexuality.
- The assumption of the Statement is that the Bible clearly states that homosexuality and transgender identities are sins. Through study of scripture, experience with God’s children, years of scholarly support, and encounters with the Living Jesus, we affirm that same-gender sexual orientation and gender differences are an integral part of God’s diverse and loving design for God’s children. Homosexuality, bisexuality, intersex people and transgender people are a part of God’s good creation and are not mistakes, sins or the result of “the fall.”
- The statement’s repeated emphasis on creation of humanity as “male and female” fails to acknowledge or contextualize the complexity of biblical interpretation around those words and concepts. Just as Genesis’s accounts of night and day do not exclude dawn or dusk from the beauty of creation, biblical usage of the male/female binary should not exclude intersex individuals, transgender people, or those who identify elsewhere or outside of male and female.
- The Statement mentions walking in a redemptive manner with those who question their “created and gendered identities” while ignoring Paul’s vision of a church where sex and gender are not essential and do not divide us. “There is neither male nor female…for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). Evidence regarding the radical inclusion of the early church includes the third-gender eunuch who was among the earliest gentile converts to the faith.
- The Statement appears to suggest that human sexuality was created by God for the purpose of procreation only. We believe there is a wide range of gifts from God through human sexuality which includes persons in same-sex relationships and those unable or unwilling to procreate.
- We acknowledge that within the church faithful Christians come to different interpretative conclusions and we should practice love and forbearance towards one another. But the assumption of the Statement is that there is only one correct interpretation of Holy Scripture where human sexuality and gender is concerned. However, there is a great deal of scholarship to support multiple interpretations of Scripture, including those that are inclusive of LGBTQ+ people.
- The Statement fails to affirm the importance of Christian conscience. For Cumberland Presbyterians, God alone is Lord of the conscience. Rather than setting forth an exclusionary view only, we believe our wisest path would be that the church recognizes it consists of those who in good faith come to different interpretative conclusions and exercise the prerogative to live according to their own conscience.
- As does the proposed Statement, we also reject “shaming and shunning,” but suggesting they are a part of the “Rules of Discipline” is out of order. There is no mechanism in our ”Rules of Discipline” to shame or shun any member of the Church.
- By defining a whole class of humanity as somehow being outside of God’s design, we are very concerned that the Statement as written will cause irreversible harm to LGBTQ+ Cumberland Presbyterians. We fear it will be used to support exclusionary legislation across the church. It is especially worrying in regards to the youth and young adults who are in particular danger of becoming targets of conversion therapy which has been proven to be ineffective, harmful, the source of a myriad of mental health issues, and a cause of suicide.