(Below is a statement that Rev. Paul Corner made at the Covenant Annual Meeting which just concluded in Kansas City. Coming Out Covenant applauds Paul’s stand. We believe that though his vote may be 1, that he speaks for hundreds and even thousands of Covenant members, friends and former members. God bless you Paul for your courage! Paul published this online and we do so here at COC with his permission. If Paul’s words inspire you please share this with others. If you are interested in learning more please see a list of books at the end of the post which could be of help.)
This has been a momentous couple of days with the Supreme Court ruling that marriage equality is constitutional. For me personally, there are mixed emotions. I’m overjoyed for what this ruling means for family members and dear friends. Love truly wins. My heart is also heavy as I consider the fact that there is more work to be done in the church. In the past year, two of my dearest friends and their churches are no longer part of the same denomination as me because they and their churches embraced the full inclusion of LGBT people in all levels of membership and leadership in their church. This led to the severing of their relationships with our denominational home. The injustice of it is simple, but the political and theological nuance is not. In our tradition, we seek to be non-creedal meaning we seek to maintain relationship with one another despite disagreement on matters not central to the Christian faith. In these instances, we failed to live with that Spirit. So, today at our denominational annual meeting, I will be voting ‘no’ on our denomination’s budget as a symbolic act of lament over loss, in solidarity with those who suffer, and with the hope that God can redeem us and continue to bind us together as ‘companions of ALL who fear thee.’ Below is the statement I made.
I stand today to voice my opposition to the budget that has been presented. However, it is not because of what is in it. I am proud of the rich heritage of our church, and the good work we continue to do in Christ’s name. I’m honored by our commitment to being students of the Word of God as well as, in the Spirit of freedom in Christ, the relational emphasis to how we do theology together. I’m humbled by our strong commitment to the whole mission of the church, and I am proud of a tradition that works hard on important moral questions like racial diversity, gender equality, immigration, and holistic development. I am glad to continue to support these things and more that are represented in this budget, and I commend those who have put in the work to steward well the resources God has entrusted to us.
Today, my opposition is not because of what is in it, but rather because of what is excluded from it. I’m speaking specifically about the funding for a new church plant, Christ Church: Portland, who is no longer supported by this denominational family. Pastor Adam Phillips of Christ Church had the funding for his church pulled because he intended to plant a congregation that fully welcomed lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people into its membership and leadership. Similarly, I am also speaking about St. Johns Covenant Church in Portland and their Pastor Andy Goebel, a three year old church plant who was told they wouldn’t likely be approved as a member congregation in the Pacific Northwest Conference and the ECC because of their commitment to full inclusion at all levels of participation, membership, and leadership. I’m troubled by these actions for several reasons.
First, I am troubled by these as acts of injustice. If budgets are theological documents, I cannot stand behind a budget that has made the choice to exclude people and churches from our worshipping community. I believe the Gospel calls on us to err on the side of grace and mercy. I do not understand why congregations cannot be planted in the Covenant family with the same spirit that many others of our churches exist — namely, a commitment to welcome all without theological consensus on a matter that is not central to our faith. Indeed, this spirit of welcome is one that has been embraced by many Covenant churches. By laying aside these two congregations, it causes congregations like my own, who embrace this spirit, to question how we are to continue supporting this denomination of which we have been a part for over 125 years.
Second, I’m opposed to this action because it cheapens the call for all of us who serve as credentialed ministers of the Gospel in the Covenant. One of the great strengths of our ministerium is that we are dedicated students of the Word. Within that dedication, we make room for conversation, debate, and relationship trusting in the Spirit to hold us together in the midst of it. Hence our rules which allow for dissent but have expectations for pastoral practice. I believe that healthy debate and even disagreement amongst colleagues, in the end, serves to make us all stronger. However, when we silence one part of the conversation as happened in these cases, we cheapen our call to the point that the stoles gifted to us by the people in our ordination — the symbol of our commitment to Christ and the Church — are cheapened to something not unlike a sweat rag around the neck of laborers in an ecclesial sweatshop.
Finally, I am opposed to this budget action because it does not fit within our historical ethos of companions of ALL who fear thee. We have been a church that is able to hold in tension non-creedal theological convictions for the sake of unity. We have been a church that has erred on the side of grace and mercy. And, we have been a church that allows space for congregations to consider how ministry is shaped and practiced in their context. We have allowed these values to shape how we have lived together as a beautifully diverse body with diverse convictions and a spirit of grace around important matters like baptism, women in ministry, divorce, and more. We have done this with the conviction that despite what may divide us, God calls us together and makes us strong in one common mission. I believe this Spirit can prevail again as we consider the LGBT people in our churches and our communities. Pastor Adam and Pastor Andy are not alone amongst our clergy in their convictions on LGBT inclusion and affirmation, and they broke none of the rules of the ordered ministry. Not only that, their congregations did not embrace a posture towards LGBT inclusion that is any different than many other congregations in our Covenant who are seeking faithfully to do ministry in their communities. Actions like these taken against Christ Church and St. John’s cheapen our whole movement and make us companions of only some who fear thee — a kind of disembodied fundamentalism that does not embrace the Spirit of who we have been or the Spirit of relationship in, by, and with Christ that is at the heart of who we are.
So, today I will cast a no vote on this budget, again, not because of what it does contain, but because of what it does not contain. It is a vote cast lamenting the loss of congregations, colleagues, friends, and parishioners who no longer feel safe in our Covenant. It is a vote cast in solidarity with the many LGBT Covenanters who wonder if their church will make room for them at the table. Yet, it is a hopeful vote that trusts in the Spirit of God to bind us together and grant strength to our leaders to lead with boldness, creativity, and grace trusting that though the road is difficult, God is at work in our church and will continue to lead us forward as friends in mission.
(Paul had an earlier post on COC which you can read here.)