This past Tuesday night, at 660th meeting of the Presbytery of San Francisco, the Presbytery narrowly approved Lisa Larges for ordination. Larges is a lesbian who has sought ordination in the Presbyterian Church (USA) for over 20 years. Presbytery Moderator Chuck Fry wrote the following on the Presbytery’s website:
The Presbytery in its 660th meeting voted in favor of sustaining Lisa Larges in her trials of ordination in preparation for proceeding to ordain her as a minister of word and sacrament. The body demonstrated once again that it is capable of dealing with sensitive and polarizing issues in the context of mutual respect, order and love. Those who were present witnessed the work of the Spirit as together we sought to discern God’s will for this body. May this be a lesson as we proceed with our structural enhancements, altered staffing and refocused priorities for the future. (more here)
It was certainly an historic event to be present for, and while I’ve had my own frustrations with the Presbyterian process, I left the meeting feeling proud of the Presbytery for the decision it made. And while #sfpby never made it as a Twitter trending topic, there was a lot of chatter on Twitter about the meeting, both from many who were at the meeting and from many around the country (and world) who were following the live-updates via Twitter.
For many of you – it will not surprise you to know that I was thrilled that Lisa Larges was finally approved for ordination. I met Lisa for the first time before her examination on Tuesday night, and had never heard her speak before. I was incredibly impressed during her examination with her ability to share her call, the passion with which she spoke about following Christ and her ability to remain calm and collected as person after person got up to question her call, her theology and her commitment to Christ and the scriptures.
The Presbytery of San Francisco is an extremely divided Presbytery and I was present for the last major Presbytery vote when the Presbytery voted against Amendment B. So I was cynically very much expecting a similar vote this time around. However, first the Presbytery voted to allow Lisa’s call to serve as Ministry Coordinator for That All May Freely Serve, and after hours of discussion and conversation, voted to ordain Lisa to that position. I will say that while the Presbytery is so divided, the tenor and tone of the questions and discussion were *for the most part* fairly civil and filled with charity. There were of course exceptions to that, and it was disheartening to hear some of the questions and perceptions of some present.
I guess the thing that kept coming up for me was the folks who were so fearful and threatened by Lisa’s interpretation of scripture. Some of the questions/statements seemed to imply, “Lisa – your interpretation of scripture is CLEARLY different than mine. Thus, your interpretation is wrong – or it’s clear that scripture has no authority for you.” The inability of some to see the possibility for the presence of difference is quite frustrating. Now, obviously, this is something that I (and others who are supportive of Lisa and all other LGBT folk in the church) need to work on as well. Sometimes I can find myself too closed off from hearing others perspectives that I don’t agree with – but when I’m at my best, I hope that I can leave room for that difference as well.
There are some who are probably wondering how the Presbytery of San Francisco could approve the ordination of a lesbian woman, according to our polity. I’ll let the polity wonks out there define it in more detail:
- This Presbyterian Outlook article is a helpful start
- Shuck and Jive: Lisa Larges Approved for Ordination
- Shuck and Jive: Lisa Larges and Her Scruple
- Shuck and Jive: Busybodies Strike Back at Lisa Larges
- A Time to Embrace: Lisa Larges Approved for Ordination, But
Essentially, Lisa was scrupling G-6.0106b, which has traditionally been used to keep gay and lesbian folk from being able to be ordained. Lisa was able to make a theological case for the fact that it didn’t go against the essentials of Reformed faith and polity, and that she could remain faithful to Christ and the scriptures while acknowledging a departure from this section of our church’s polity. This is all something that is possible to do within our current church polity.
Of course – many knew that the celebration would not last long. There was a large group that disagreed with the Presbytery’s actions last Tuesday, and according to this Press Release:
Enough signatures were collected at the close of the meeting to secure a Stay of Enforcement while a remedial complaint is filed with the Synod of the Pacific Permanent Judicial Commission. Mr. Larges’ ordination cannot take place unless all legal hurdles are overcome, which could take another eighteen months.
This was both expected and very sad. This will put her ordination on hold, will consume many people’s time and energy, and will undoubtedly cost a fair amount of money. It’s unfortunate that some people feel obligated to “protect God’s word” by these types of actions. However, it’s also part of the Presbyterian system that allows for this and makes sure that everyone’s voice is heard. Lisa has been waiting for over 20 years – and while I’m sure she’ll be able to handle this additional time – it’s sad that she is being forced to, especially after the Presbytery has now validated her call to ministry and voted in favor of her ordination.
While the actions to delay her ordination are saddening, I’m still very pleased with the way the Presbytery voted last Tuesday, and I am incredibly impressed with Lisa Larges and the way in which she was able to express herself so candidly, honestly and faithfully during her examination. If you want to read her Statement of Faith, you can find it here. Her statement of departure from G-6.0106b can also be found here.
Talking with someone yesterday, she was remarking that one day her children (both currently in middle school) will look back on situations like this and be so utterly confused what all the fuss was about. I’m confident that one day this will not be an issue that we find ourselves debating about. But it’s just unfortunate that we still have a long way to go until then.