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LGBTQIA+ Equity Advocacy Committee responds to pastors’ petition on the Olympia Overture petition creates a spirited social media debate

by Shani E. McIlwain | Presbyterian News Service

Photo by Jiroe (Matia Rengel) via Unsplash

As the PC(USA)’s 226th General Assembly approaches next month, a petition ignited much social media chatter this week as 26 teaching elders began a dissent to challenge Part B of POL-01, commonly known as the “Olympia Overture” as it’s sponsored by Olympia Presbytery. Nearly four dozen more pastors have since signed the petition.

The petition writers state, “The overture’s proposed changes to G-2.0104b appear to introduce an ordination question that is deeply at odds with our core Reformed tenet of freedom of conscience.”

The PC(USA)’s LGBTQIA+ Equity Advocacy Committee, also known as ACQ+E, believes that this position is not accurate, and the committee embraces freedom of conscience.  ACQ+E’s recommendations were posted on PC-Biz Wednesday.

The functions of the LGBTQIA+ Equity Advocacy  Committee are explained here. The General Assembly has recognized the need for those who have been silenced or ignored by the power structure to be given direct access to decision-making tables through committees specifically called to focus on justice and equity for particular marginalized constituencies. Like other advocacy committees, the committee does not speak for the PC(USA).

In the letter that challenges the overture, the writers say the amendment “would immediately disqualify and exclude many faithful and dedicated ruling elders, teaching elders, and deacons from serving.”

However, ACQ+E Committee Chair Tim Haworth disagrees, saying, “It saddens me that these individuals who are dissenting are using misinformation and fear to achieve their goal. There is nothing in this overture that calls for the disqualification of anyone. Passage of this overture in its entirety does not take away the authority of the local ordaining body to call whomever they feel is qualified.  I would encourage fellow Presbyterians to read the overture, the rationale, the advice and comments of the various committees and the concurring opinions before making a decision.”

The Rev. Ashley DeTar Birt, another ACQ+E committee member, says, “This isn’t about stopping ‘freedom of conscience.’ It’s about asking, ‘Can you serve alongside people of different races, genders, abilities, sexual orientations, even, yes, theological conviction, without discriminating against them or treating them un-Christlike?’ This isn’t about belief; you can believe what you want. This is about behavior and putting into the ordination process the values that the PC(USA) General Assembly has been affirming for nearly a decade in the case of sexual orientation and gender identity and much longer in the cases of race, ability, and more. This is about saying you can work amicably with people of all kinds, including those with whom you have theological differences. This does nothing to change freedom of conscience, which is in the very next section.”

Openly gay pastor the Rev. Billy Kluttz, who signed the petition, says that during his own ordination process, the final vote was not a unanimous decision. One person throughout the process had a very clear difference of opinion about human sexuality. Kluttz said that he recalls the person saying, “I can’t vote for you, but our denomination has made it clear that they’re going to allow LGBTQ folks to be ordained, and so I’m not going to vote against you.” After the vote passed with one abstention, the body held hands, prayed together and sang the Doxology.

Kluttz added, “That experience illustrates who I believe the church is called to be and how we are called to bear witness to Jesus’ ongoing work in the world. I was able to share openly about my calling, my identity, and my Christian faith; this man was able to do the same; and, together, we sought to worship God and serve our neighbors as best we could.”

Historically, when marriage equality and ordination were being challenged there was a mutual agreement that people would be able to discern how they would come to their own understanding. For Kluttz, part B of the overture creates a boundary that does not allow for community, conversation and collaboration.

As commissioners come together in Salt Lake City for the upcoming assembly, committee members say  that a thoughtful and necessary integration of the rationale, along with the recommendations of three other committees, should be taken into consideration. ACQ+E members said that the assessment does not require uniformity of thought or conviction — only a commitment not to disrupt or block other individuals from living into their callings based on the identity markers.

Committee member Selina Brett says that “POL-01 is a single, unified commitment to equality. I’m willing to compromise on the color of the damn carpet, but not on core Christian values of human equality.”


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