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‘Olympia Overture’ opponents make their case

The Polity Committee will first consider the overture, which adds sexual orientation and gender identity to anti-discrimination categories in the Book of Order

by Tony Sundermeier and Alan Dyer | Special to Presbyterian News Service

Editor’s note: Following publication of this story by Presbyterian News Service on the LGBTQIA+ Equity Advocacy Committee’s response to a petition opposing POL-1, commonly known as the Olympia Overture, which will first be considered by the Polity Committee during the 226th General Assembly, PNS invited a response by the Rev. Dr. Tony Sundermeier and the Rev. Alan Dyer, who authored this open letter opposing the overture. Sundermeier said that the group Presbyterian Communion, primarily led by the Rev. Dr. Chris Currie and Dr. Barbara Wheeler, has also expressed opposition to the second part of the overture. Currie has endorsed the following response by Sundermeier and Dyer. PNS asked the three questions and left room for an additional response.

Briefly explain your opposition to the overture.

The Rev. Dr. Tony Sundermeier: “Our concern is that the second part of the overture seems to open the possibility of weaponizing our polity in such a way that mutual forbearance will no longer be possible or valued. This is a sentiment shared by colleagues in the Presbyterian Communion, Barbara Wheeler and Chris Currie, who in their own statement wrote, ‘By elevating one paragraph of the Book of Order over all the rest it invites inquisitorial examinations for ordination and installation of teaching elders, ruling elders, and deacons who seek responsibly to serve the denomination and local church and who are promised non-discrimination on theological grounds by the very same section of the Book of Order that is proposed to be amended.’ The Olympia Presbytery’s own rationale for the overture heightens our concern that such examinations are more than just a theoretical possibility. We encourage commissioners to separate the Olympia Overture into two separate overtures for the General Assembly’s consideration and strongly recommend that Part B be defeated.”

The Rev. Dr. Tony Sundermeier

“Regarding my own commitment to advocacy for inclusion, I officiated what was probably the first gay PC(USA) wedding in Lehigh Presbytery in June 2014. In 2016, I led the session of First Presbyterian Church in Atlanta to open its ministry to gay weddings. I was part of the process to hire the congregation’s first openly gay pastor, I have pastorally supported a trans member who was transitioning and have encouraged the ordained and lay ministry of many gay members in the life of the church. Those seeking to equate my and other dissenting voices to this overture as somehow being discriminatory are flat-out wrong. I am opposed to this overture because parts of it are unnecessary and bad polity — not, as some have suggested, because I am pro-discrimination.”

How did this group of pastors come together?

 The Rev. Dr. Tony Sundermeier: “The initial concept emerged from conversations with colleagues and friends across the country who serve in congregational contexts representing the full theological, geographical and cultural plurality of our denomination. Alan and I drafted the letter, circulated for feedback, finalized and gathered initial signatories, and then put the it online at so other clergy could sign it. At present, those who have signed the letter represent clergy who serve or have served PC(USA) congregations that cumulatively total 60,000+ members. These are pastors who are liberal, evangelical, conservative, centrist, and mixed in our theological convictions, but who all share a deep commitment to the unity and diversity of the PC(USA).”

What plans do you have during General Assembly for getting your points across?

The Rev. Alan Dyer: “This is a grassroots effort. We hope the letter raises awareness across our denomination of the need for healthy and respectful dialogue around this overture ahead of the upcoming General Assembly. We feel that we are accomplishing that goal. In addition to sharing our concerns with the elected commissioners from each of our respective presbyteries, Tony and I have also shared the letter with members of the General Assembly Polity Committee. We will continue to engage the process through all available means as the Assembly meets while also praying earnestly for all the commissioners across the coming month.”

The Rev. Alan Dyer

The Rev. Dr. Tony Sundermeier: “I have signed up for the Polity’s open meeting on this particular overture and I’m hoping to be included in that conversation.”

Additional thoughts

 The Rev. Alan Dyer: “Tony and I are committed PC(USA) pastors seeking to lead welcoming and inclusive congregations in settings where there are diverse perspectives and belief sets. Across our two congregations we have active and faithful gay and trans members, officers, children and clergy. We also have people who are not quite there theologically but who are still loving and faithful Christians, committed to being the church with siblings in Christ who are different than they are. This issue matters to us because it is personal, and I believe many of those who have signed this letter share that sentiment. Yes, our polity forms the foundation for our connectional church, but ultimately lasting inclusion and acceptance are only accomplished through intentional relationship-building at the local congregational level.”

The Rev. Dr. Tony Sundermeier is senior pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Atlanta. The Rev. Alan Dyer is senior pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Spartanburg, South Carolina.

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