For Reverend Sylvia Vasquez of Walnut Creek's , the passage of the Presbyterian Church's (USA) Amendment 10-A was a non-issue. She had gay seminarians and gay associates in her congregation long before the controversial amendment was endorsed by the national denomination of the Presbyterian Church in early May.
“If you have a call to ordination and if God calls on you, then you have an obligation to say yes to God,” said Vasquez. “It is disturbing when people are trying to make this into an issue. Of all the gay people in our congregation, 80 percent are very active in the church. They just want to do their ministry because of who they are and their beliefs. God looks at our hearts, our character and who we truly are as qualifications.”
Last month, the 's senior pastor, Rev. Morgan Murray, of his 750-member congregation, saying the local church opposed the Presbyterian Church's (USA) decision to allow gays and lesbians to be ordained as pastors, deacons and other church leaders. Murray on a Sunday after services and said the Walnut Creek church, which he identifies as evangelical, would not go along with gays and lesbians serving in leadership roles. He cited theological grounds. However, he said the church welcomes gay members.
Vasquez said she believes the call to ordination has nothing to do with gender, color of skin or sexual orientation. The arguments for keeping people out of leadership —because they're female, African-American, homosexual—have plagued church denominations throughout history, she said. But she said she thinks the call to ordination should be about a person's connection to God only.
Christians have been divided on many issues long before Amendment 10-A. Some follow a “biblical literalism” — taking words from the Bible as truth, not as an allegory — and some leaders may be using passages from the New Testament to excuse the bias they may have against cultural shifts, Vasquez said.
The Catholic Church opposes the social acceptance of homosexuality and same-sex relationships, and one of Pope Benedict's first moves was to bar actively gay men from studying for the priesthood. Various movements within Judaism differ in their view of homosexuality. While traditional Judaism views homosexual acts as wrong, more liberal branches of Judaism welcome gay and lesbian rabbis and allow their congregations to perform same-sex commitment ceremonies. Representatives from Walnut Creek's Catholic churches and synagogues did not respond to requests for comment.
“If you truly take the literal meaning from the Bible, you could not sanction women pastors, eating pork and you must keep a kosher kitchen,” said Vasquez. “The truth is, God wants us to be reasonable people.”
In an email message sent to Patch, Jon McNeff, the senior pastor of , did not comment on the passage of Amendment 10-A, but reflected on how genuine orthodox Christianity has always been “counter-culture.” That is, orthodox Christians never have accommodated their values to reflect contemporary cultural values, he said.
“So the thrust of Christian doctrine is that it is not primarily concerned with reflecting the values of society at any given time or place," McNeff said. "Our goal is not to accommodate the values of popular culture because of cultural changes. God’s word doesn’t. We believe that the truth of God’s word is eternal and cross-cultural. It is not an American truth or a 21st century truth. It is for all people at all times. That’s why the church is made up of people of all colors, all languages and all cultures.”
McNeff also said following Scripture does not mean the church wants to be separated from culture. The church always has served culture through “individual and corporate acts of mercy” by creating hospitals, orphanages, schools and drug- and alcohol-addiction programs, he said. “Christians embrace these civic responsibilities and desire to be contributing members of our society. We believe this is also directed in the Bible.”
In July, the national denomination of the Lutheran Church, The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, also passed an amendment allowing non-celibate gays into their clergy. Pastor David Moore of Trinity Lutheran Church in Walnut Creek said his congregation was divided about the decision. He described the denomination as conservative but more modest within the spectrum.
The passage of the amendment by the main denomination of the Lutheran Church made the more conservative members feel left out in the cold, he said. “But when you get down to the individual people, I have to have compassion and mercy in spite of what they have done, my disagreement with them. That is what Jesus did.”
He said Trinity Lutheran Church’s official doctrine is that the “homosexual lifestyle is not sanctioned by Scripture.” But he also noted that Scripture does not sanction divorce. Still, the emphasis here is not to disrespect or condemn people for their lifestyles.
“We live with a bunch of paradoxes and intentions," Moore said. "I can say I love you, I care for you but I don’t accept your lifestyle. But God accepts the person and not the lifestyle. I am theologically conservative, practically progressive. And the church and the Bible say this (homosexuality) is wrong. However, we can’t forget that Christ died for everyone. And if Christ deemed them worthy to die for, I follow him; I will walk in his footsteps. I will love them as Christ would. Because Jesus died for all people and my job as a Christ follower is to be as gracious and to accept that person. All of humanity past, present and future is reconciled to God.”
Moore said he has a high regard for Scripture but accepts that there is a diversity of beliefs.
“There is a whole plethora of people out here (Bay Area) with different beliefs. As Christians, we can understand, we need to be listening more and asking the questions so that we can unobtrusively find a way to share the Gospels and what it meant in my life and what it meant to the people,” he said.
in Walnut Creek has a different stance on Amendment 10-A than the Prebyterian congregation in downtown Walnut Creek, said Rev. Roger Reabor.
He said he was pleased that the amendment passed. In his message to Grace church members, he said: “For too many years those whose sexual orientation was in the minority have found themselves to be degraded, devalued and discarded. I have known many people in same-sex unions who are Christ-filled and faithful.”
Amendment 10-A received a yes vote from a majority of the 173 presbyteries (church regions) that make up the main church, but it came after decades of discussion and battles, and caused mixed reactions from Presbyterian leaders across the country, as shown by the responses of Murray and Reabor.
“We can have unity in Christ without having uniformity,” Reabor said. “In this congregation there is a diversity of opinion. But this is what I believe as pastor, we don’t have to all think exactly the same. We can agree to disagree and it is really healthy in a community where we can have unity and respect the diversity of views here.”
Reaber said he understands that other Presbyterian churches disagree with 10-A but he has hope in fellowship among denominations and believes disagreement can take place.
“Not everyone is going to be on the same page at the same time," he said. "Both sides are speaking from their faith and from their hearts. Respect the other and who you disagree with. The people are passionately living their life and we need to look for common ground. I believe the common ground is certainly our faith in Jesus Christ. And we can be united in our mission.”