Testimony of Chris Harris to the Presbytery of Cincinnati

Copyright Chris Harris 1997

Good evening, Mr. Moderator and Sisters and Brothers of the Presbytery of Cincinnati. I wish to introduce myself to you this evening. I am the Elder-Commissioner from Mt. Auburn Presbyterian and wish to speak in opposition to Amendment B. I have been a loyal member of the PC(USA) since my family's move to Milwaukee in my pre-teen years and was a Youth Advisory Delegate to the Synod of Lakes and Prairies while in college. I am a Pediatrician at Children's Hospital Medical Center, specializing in the care of children with lung disease. As an African American member of this denomination, I take our corporate history very seriously and personally. You see, I know very clearly the struggles of Old School Presbyterians and New School Presbyterians in the middle 1800's to resolve issues of ecumenical cooperation and the importance of revivals. I understand clearly the results of the schism which occurred along regional lines during after the Spring Resolutions offered at the General Assembly of 1861 where Rev. Gardiner Spring beseeched the Assembly that "it is the duty of the ministry and churches... to do all in their power to promote and perpetuate the integrity of these United States, uphold and encourage the Federal Government." Many of the Southern commissioners to this Assembly walked out of the meeting. Commissioners met later that year in Augusta, Georgia and formed the Presbyterian Church of the Confederate States of America, leading to the "Address...to all the Churches of Jesus Christ throughout the Earth". Of course, the division of the Union and the "Address" dealt with the morality of the institution of slavery. These actions, which lead to a decision that slavery was not immoral was based on a supposed clear understanding of Scripture. For in the Paul's letter to the church at Ephesus, he writes "Slaves, be obedient to those who are your earthly masters." Obviously, in 1997, we would find this passage to be very troubling and would not use it to allow the complete and total subjugation of another human being, lovingly made in the image of the Creator. Indeed, after the end of the Civil War, one would have thought that the Schism of the Presbyterian Church would have been repaired just as the division of the Nation had. As we all know, this was not the case and the church remained split, with many of the PCUS feeling that white and black Presbyterians should not even worship together. Because of the institutional racial prejudice, separate Presbyterian Synods were created in parts of the Carolinas, Alabama and Louisiana. This vicious sin of racism is a blight on our church and is a cause for shame for all of us Presbyterians. This separatism remained with us until 1983,when the Northern and Southern churches rejoined. Why? Because of the attempt to say that some of us are not as worthy as others of the loving grace bestowed by Christ Jesus himself. And now we come to a different time. As a gay elder in the church, I can no more divide my sexual orientation from my personality than I could my race. Of course, this is true for all of us, whether we are heterosexual, bisexual or homosexual. With regard to this moment, it is important to note that I understand very clearly the connections between the present and the 1860's. The Union may not come apart over the question of how lesbians and gays may participate in society. However, the same may not be said for the church. We are coming close to another occasion of great import for the PC(USA). And, as important as this decision is for the church, personally, this discussion is even more painful for me and others who attend Mt. Auburn Presbyterian Church. Indeed, I have felt the sting of homophobia even here on the floor of Presbytery, given by those who assume that I have a lifestyle, instead of a life. Much has been written and said about what will happen if Amendment B becomes part of the Constitution. Honestly, many hope that this will be the end of dealing with lesbians and gays in the church. However, I want this body to ponder clearly that the vote taken tonight is not about an abstract person, not intimately associated with the Presbytery of Cincinnati. No, rather it is solely about me and how I am invited to part of the Body of Christ. Will you ask me to stay or will you be inhospitable and send me away?
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