For Self Avowed Practicing Presbyterians

Trigger warning for stupid church politics.

I apologize for this small departure into the politics of church abuse to rant about shenanigans in a church I no longer claim, but apparently haven’t gotten free from. This lovely blog entry got to me this morning, when I should have been doing something else — which is maybe one of those signs it’s still an abusive relationship for me. This is a slightly expanded version of my comment there.

I’m a Calvinist by birthright, for better or worse. My copy of his Institutes has my mother’s maiden name in it. I was baptized Christian Reformed, for those of you who know what that is. Confirmed and ordained an elder in the Presbyterian Church (USA). I came out as queer and later trans while an active member of a PCUSA congregation.

At 24, I flew all the way to Albuquerque, NM, on my own dime in 1996 to hear what the Church had to say to me. I gave up the PCUSA (I joke that it was for Lent) in 1997 after listening to the Presbytery of Philadelphia sing “They will know we are Christians by our Love” like a funeral dirge after they ratified my unwelcome. I got the message. Still waiting around for a reason to imagine the PCUSA has anything to offer me.

I thought I was long since resolved on this abusive relationship and do my best to keep a distance, despite friends and family who are still enmeshed in those spaces. Traded it for United Methodist abuse for a minute, which I’ve also learned to regret.

But the way the discussion of this PCUSA Overture 50 is going is dredging it all up again, even from this distance. Hard enough to have been told that I was not welcome, but at least I could stand apart and claim the pain of that brokenness on my own terms.

This acting like we are welcome as long as we are somehow ok playing semantic games with the pain of what has occurred is a fresh layer to navigate. I don’t quite know how to articulate this well. But all this talk of “unity” rings hollow for those of us who have long since departed. Just another reminder that I *still* don’t count.

All kinds of well-meaning folk who somehow found air to breath on the inside are somehow trying to arbitrate my pain while I am still… gone. To hear well-meaning folk say that an apology isn’t necessary. Or that this overture is not timely — when it is actually 20 years too late.

To worry that, God forbid, someone who thinks I am an abomination might theoretically fear for their place in the church, when so many of us left decades ago to avoid the actual definitive, authoritative Inquisition that really existed. It’s just not ok.

To me, it feels worse and more abusive than before. Like an abuser who says they have changed, but really just wants you back for more of the same.

That’s it. That’s what I need to name about this. Opening up to marriage and ordination was this sad hope, a slippery promise, designed to make it seem like things have changed: Look! We’re different. No, really…

But even this dialogue so far makes it so very clear how little has actually changed. I get it. The people who think me an abomination still matter more — even to those who say they love me. 

I’m not here to tell you what to do about the history abuse of in *your* church.  Whatever you think of the particulars of this overture. I’m just here to remind you that many of the folk who needed the apology most… have long since left the conversation.

Acknowledging the long-standing pain in the midst of the current conversation would tell me that maybe, just maybe, you can actually see me after all these years.

I’m here to tell you that you including your own personal apology in the current conversation really would matter to those of us who are still listening.

Sincerely,
One of the Disappeared

© 2016 Chris Paige. All rights reserved.

For more on my relationship with the PCUSA, see my article, OtherWise, from 2001.

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3 thoughts on “For Self Avowed Practicing Presbyterians

  1. Thank you, Chris, for reading and for responding. I don’t expect people who have been hurt by the system of which I am still a part to teach me at every turn, but I am truly grateful when they do. Thank you for your writing. I was also led to your conversation on this post on Facebook through some mutual friends. I appreciate learning even more about aspects of some of this that are new to me.

    I’ve written and rewritten more here for well over an hour, but most of it doesn’t convey what I would like it to. I am sorry for the pain that you carry, pain that I, too, have caused in this discussion. I am listening. I want to learn.

    1. This version doesn’t have the “thank you” part that the version on your blog does. So, in this space, Thank you, too, Stephanie. We can talk about the politics till we turn blue, but something happens when we hold space for each other. That you paused long enough to acknowledge that “something happened” broke open a different set of possibilities for me today. I hope that other folks in the PCUSA will pause long enough to open up that kind of possibility, too.

  2. Hi Chris, I am a PCUSA pastor (since 2008). I haven’t been through the long, terrible struggle in this denomination like so many who worked for years and years to challenge the church’s sin against LGBTQ* sisters and brothers in Christ. I have been proud to say, so recently, that Presbyterians can serve freely, can follow their call, be ordained, and now be part of the blessed commitment of marriage defined by love and not bigotry. Thank you for writing to remind us that rearranging the rules does not equate to the transformation Jesus calls us to: a repentant and compassionate heart. I apologize, as one within the institution, for the cruelty we have perpetrated, and the suffering we continue to cause. I pray that we will one day know what God’s grace really looks like, and that we will become even a dim shadow of God’s glorious love. I believe your words have power to provoke change, and I am grateful for your witness to us.

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