The More Light Presbyterians met on Tuesday to celebrate the 25th anniversary of a document titled “Keeping Body and Soul Together: Sexuality, Spirituality, and Social Justice,” a document that was rejected by a margin of 534-37 at the 1991 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA).
In his opening remarks, Alex McNeill, executive director of MLP, said that since that day, the organization has had brief glimpses of the kingdom as the doors opened and closed on their dream for what is known as the LGBTQQ quest for acceptance within the PCUSA — acceptance that would include the right to ordination and same-sex marriage.
Two writers of the original 1991 document were present and gave their perspective on a document that they see as prophetic witness to the church. Martin Ellison and Sylvia Thorson-Smith clearly see the current climate within the PCUSA as an affirmation of their work for acceptance, but they still see a need for additional work and hope to resurrect the original 1991 document for distribution.
“The church needs to get past their fear, shame, and the need for control,” stressed Ellison. “It is time that we recognize that the church has been rigid, fearful, judgmental, and even punitive. They have been fixated on these matters and need to recognize that their stance is outdated and unworkable. It is time to offer bread and not stone and renounce their patriarchal pattern of sexuality.”
In a direct jab, Ellison noted that there has been a big change since The Layman labeled their understanding of human sexuality as “barnyard theology.” “What they need to realize is that we have raised the ethical bar, not lowered it as the demands for justice fall so close to home with the desire to be treated fairly and with deep respect,” said Ellison.
This perceived place of injustice gave birth to what is known as the apology overture before the 222nd General Assembly’s Social Justice Issues committee.
In the latter part of the meeting, the group began to process what they see for the future. That future will include a time when the church will no longer seek to control who is worthy as they understand that the spirit doesn’t follow the Book of Order or even the Book of Confessions.
Leaders of the organization see a future that includes sex education for both adults and youth in an environment where people can tell the truth about their lives. In that context, they hope to resurrect the 1991 document and to see it used widely as a resource in theological education and within the church so that people do not need to choose between their spirituality and their sexuality. Instead, the hope is that they will become mature adults instead of holding on to an ethical morality that seeks to control them and infantilizes them rather than enabling them to become adults.
Based on today’s conversation, the More Light Presbyterians believe they have been successful in their quest because, as the group was informed, they have “stormed the ramparts and crumbled the foundation” of the historical and scriptural understanding of sexuality and marriage.