I began the reflection time for the June Session meeting with a story. I spoke of an experience from an earlier period in my ministry when I didn't just write a letter to the Editor of a regional newspaper in response to something another clergyman had written about marriage and family values. I signed the letter as minister of the congregations I served at the time. I was taken to task by one of the Sessions in the pastoral charge, and rightly so. I knew there was a lot of sympathy for the opinion I expressed. I got letters of support from the community and positive feedback from individuals in the pastoral charge. But I didn't write on behalf of those congregations or their Sessions.
I've been cautious since then.
Last Tuesday I asked the elders, "To what extent do you feel your minister represents you and Glenview in public? What are the limits, if any, on your minister's freedom of opinion on controversial issues?"
We had a good discussion. I got the sense most church folk grant their minister freedom to say what she or he thinks needs to be said. That's certainly true of preaching. The minister in our Presbyterian tradition has the freedom of the pulpit. In the pews there is freedom to agree or disagree. In public, however, most would say their minister should only claim to represent the congregation and Session when specifically authorized to do so. As an individual a minister should feel free to speak for her- or himself. The way media may spin a sound bite or an image is beyond anyone's control. There's always the risk a pastor will be identified with her or his flock without intending to do so. That doesn't mean ministers should stay out of the way and keep silent.
I also concluded that, at least for some, it depends on the issue. If there's some sympathy for the minister's position, if not explicit authorization to express it on the church's behalf, there's freedom. Even a tacit blessing. If, on the other hand, there's little support for what the minister espouses, she or he had better be careful.
There are always a few people who find it hard to accept that it's possible to trust someone with whom they differ on matters they're attached to emotionally. Ministers can offend these people without intending to, and may never find out what they've done to give offense.
Be careful. Take the temperature of the church. Read the congregation before speaking out, writing, marching. A minister's place isn't quite like walking on eggshells. More like walking on ice. Not always thin ice, but slippery nonetheless. Core strength is required.
I hope by now you know my position on the issues that are hot in the Presbyterian Church in Canada right now. In the pulpit, and in conversation I believe I've been clear about where I stand on the full inclusion of LGBTQ people in the church. As I speak and act I claim the liberty of the individual Christian's conscience that is a sacred principle of our Presbyterian tradition. That allows me to disagree with the PCC when I feel I must, in order to be faithful.
Again, it's my responsibility to say what I believe needs saying in the pulpit. It's your responsibility to think in response to what I preach, and decide for yourself if you agree or not. Outside the pulpit it's my responsibility to ensure I don't put words in your church's mouth. It's also my responsibility to follow my conscience and set an example of integrity. I hope anyone who disagrees with me can at least see that.
(This Blog is hosted on Glenview's website, but it bears my name. That's intentional. No endorsement by Session is implied. I used to have a Blog I called "Out of my mind". This Blog is offered as a little window into my mind.)
On Sunday afternoon I will join with more than 50 other Presbyterians and march together in the Pride Parade. I won't be there as a representative of Glenview. I will, however, represent many Presbyterians, including some at Glenview. The organizers have asked clergy to wear collars. That's something I rarely do, in worship, if I'm not in a gown. I haven't decided about the collar for the parade. For some it's a sign of solidarity. They tell me it's appreciated. For others the collar is a symbol of hierarchy and oppression. It's also just plain uncomfortable on a hot, summer afternoon.
I've been watching Pride Parades for years. I saw my first in New York City. Halifax's parade was much smaller. I don't like everything I see portrayed in every parade. I could say that about a lot of events I attend. The path some follow to freedom sometimes leads to excess. The important thing for me is to be there and demonstrate my conviction that God is love and God's people are called to love everyone. I also want to celebrate the gifts LGBTQ sisters and brothers-- lay and ordained, Presbyterian or not-- have been to me. I want to give thanks for the gifts I've received through them.
I haven't announced the Pride Parade or promoted Presbyterian Pride at Glenview. Perhaps I've been too careful. I've only recently been added to the email list and become part of the conversation. This is, in part, because some people feel they have to remain on the level of word-of-mouth, need-to-know in their congregations and Presbyteries. I'm angry that those on one side in the PCC advertise and trumpet their views, while others stay quiet for fear of further exclusion.
I'm pleased that Knox Church in Waterloo has taken leadership and put their name on the parade list. St. Andrew's Toronto will host us after the big event. If you would like to come downtown on Sunday afternoon and watch the parade, I encourage you to do so. The Presbyterians will be walking behind the Metropolitan Community Church and just ahead of the Anglicans. If you'd like to join in, let me know and I'll pass your name to the organizers.