By Doug Kelly
For the last two years Bethany has been engaged in discussions and discernment around the place of gay Christians at Bethany. Twenty five years ago one could not be in a same-sex relationship and be a member at Bethany. In 2002 the Holiness and Leadership Statement was approved, which identified standards for leadership on a number of issues. The statement allowed those in same-sex relationship to be church members but not leaders. This statement was re-affirmed by Session in 2006.
In the summer of 2014 the General Assembly of our denomination, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), changed its policy on marriage, and for the first time permitted congregations, if they so choose, to celebrate weddings for same-sex couples. In February of 2015, Bethany’s session sent a congregational letter reiterating its policy of not allowing same-sex weddings on church property. However, the memo also announced a desire to engage the congregation in two roundtable conversations: the first on the practice of communal spiritual discernment around controversial matters; the second roundtable focused on the place of gay Christians at Bethany. The Fall 2015 Bethany Roundtable packet is available here.
Meanwhile, in the spring of 2015 a number of Bethany members wrote letters to the session, our church governing board, requesting that the session change the Holiness and Leadership Statement. A team of elders on session met with these members and upon prayerful reflection recommended that session take some time to engage the congregation in addressing this issue.
In 2016, we hired Renewal Ministries Northwest to lead us in a four phase communal spiritual discernment process, Listening For God’s Leading. Read more details on the four gatherings here.
On April 30, 2016, for phase two of this process, session met and through prayerful listening and engagement with scripture felt it heard God give us a question to bring before the Lord: “Given our diversity of positions on the issues of gay marriage and leadership standards, Lord God, what do you have to say to us about being united in Christ, providing a sanctuary (safe place) for all people, and learning to love each other across our differences with the same abundant love you continually give to us?”
At phase three of this process the congregation engaged this question through conversation, scripture and prayer. In phase four the session took what was heard by the congregation and distilled what we were hearing from God. Here is what session heard.
We believe God is saying to us:
• Be centered on and united in Christ.
• Open my sanctuary to all in a way that is both safe and holy.
• Be courageous in loving one another across differences.
Furthermore, the session decided to take two initial steps:
• Revisit the Holiness and Leadership Statement
• Equip the congregation and the session with tools for engaging this issue further.
For more details see the congregational letter of July, 2016.
As of February 2017, session is engaged in both these steps. Session hopes to engage the congregation soon.