This acquittal for Jane Spahr, PC(USA) minister and long-time activitist for gay causes in the church, is a sad day for the church as is this striking report about a long-distant relative of Jonathan Edwards who performs same-sex marriages.
Yet what is striking is how little most observers understand the way the mainline Presbyterian church has dealt with this issue. For example, as the official church report on Spahr indicates, since 2000 mainline Presbyterian ministers have been able to "bless" same-sex unions. Likewise, though a great deal of effort has been spent toward ordaining practicing homosexuals, the PC(USA) has long allowed the ordination of homosexuals who are non-practicing.
In the light of this, these recent reports are not surprising. However, these reports do represent a warning of sorts and raise other questions. What steps within mainline Presbyterian were necessary to make homosexuality acceptable as a lifestyle both for parishioners and for ministers? And how do conservative Presbyterians reach out in love, grace, and concern for those in homosexual lifestyles without affirming their practice?
Ministries such as First Light and Harvest USA are certainly helpful in enabling us to reach out in love and care. But surely the church can do more--what can we do? One thing we must do is tone down our rhetoric and demonstrate the kindness of God, which leads people to repentance (Romans 2:4). For far too long, conservative evangelicals have responded in fear and loathing rather than in the mercy of Christ, who saves all kinds of people. Only as we lower our voices and respond in concern will there be an avenue for Gospel word and deed in these lives.