Sunday, October 29, 2023

I feel very attacked

 So, as part of my mild Keith Hartman obsession (Ok, so I love his writing, I'm not stalking him or writing fan letters), I picked up a copy of his first published work, Congregations in Conflict: The Battle Over Homosexuality, written, near as I can tell, when the author was at Duke. 

I had read this previously, in maybe 2005ish, which meant even then, some of the conclusions herein are a bit outdated. (Copyright is 1996, even if most everything discussed tops out in 1995.) Nearly 30 years on, much of what's happened in the intervening years has shown that progress has happened, although at different rates among different factions. However, what I missed the first time I read this, was that all 9 situations explored are in the North Carolina Research Triangle Area. (While two of my brothers live there these days, I doubt either would have an interest in doing follow up for me.) 

Anyway, we start with a Methodist congregation and two Southern Baptist congregations, and how they deal with ministers trying to minister to gay members, and the problems that happen with that. (The Methodist congregation has an older population, and a younger population, with no in-between membership to kind of help reconcile the differing generational views. And since the older folks have the purse strings... Both Baptist churches, which eventually work out to be accepting congregations get expelled from the Southern Baptist Convention.)

We then move into the Episcopals and a bunch of drama concerning a same sex union and the Duke Divinity School dramas of 1992. 

Discussion gets into the Metropolitan Community Church of Raleigh (for those who don't know, they were founded as a church specifically for LGBTQ+ people), and the adventures in what to do with a growing congregation who've moved beyond being just celebrating Gays and God, and also dealing with a minister who's being pulled in several directions due to parishioners dying of AIDS. 

Then we get two chapters of Non-programmed Friends gatherings and the fun of trying to find clarity on blessing unions in both meetings, before getting involved in Dignity, the organization for Black Catholics, and the friction between them and a Jesuit church founded as an all Black congregation, made more complex by edicts from John Paul II and the now Benedict XVI. 

The Epilogue deals with congregations on a national level and the author's predictions on how the drama will play out over the next few years (as the book was written.)  

Thankfully, not all of them came true. Of particular interest to me was discussion on the dueling sexuality reports in the Presbyterian General Assembly of 1991. (I seem to recall perusing both reports in High School for an argument paper on gay rights I was writing. Yeah, that whole, explore gay issues by posing as an outsider trying to understand. Worked out soooo well.) While he (like everyone else) predicted that the Minority report would get adopted, I seem to recall it didn't, and the denomination wound up compromising one way and another. It was ugly, since while Homosexuality was main event, there was a whole "fidelity in marriage, chastity in singleness" clause that had a few folks asking if the ministers were going to become bedroom police. Of course, I also recall an agreement between a few Protestant denominations in the Reformed tradition that would require each denomination to recognize the other's ordinations, and that a few of those in that agreement (like the United Church of Christ) whole heartedly ordained the gheyz. In terms of the Roman Catholics, while they're still not where a lot of us would like to see them, the Scandals of the past few decades and the Promotion of Francis I have moved the needle a bit with them. As for the Episcopals, this was written before V. Gene Robinson became a household name for a few months and nearly broke the Communion. 

This remains a fascinating time capsule of church history and exactly how far things have come in 30 years.

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