One of the prominent arguments against ordaining gay men and women to church office is that the “global church” finds the move unconscionable. Conservatives in America have become enamored of the “global church” of late, often claiming that departing from it in this matter is nothing short of theological arrogance.
Now, a letter addressed to Gradye Parsons, Stated Clerk of the Presbyterian Church (USA) by none other than Desmond Tutu casts serious doubt on this “global church” position. Tutu is a retired Bishop of the Anglican Church in South Africa and a Nobel Peace Prize winner for his efforts to fight apartheid. He wrote to Parsons to express his support for the PC (USA)’s recent change to its constitution that will permit gay ordination. Here’s an excerpt:
I realize that among your ecumenical partners, some voices are claiming that you have done the wrong thing, and I know that you rightly value your relationship with Christians in other parts of the world. Sadly, it is not always popular to do justice, but it is always right. People will say that the ones you are now willing to ordain are sinners. I have come to believe, through the reality shared with me by my scientist and medical friends, and confirmed to me by many who are gay, that being gay is not a choice. Like skin color or left-handedness, sexual orientation is just another feature of our diversity as a human family. How wonderful that God has made us with so much diversity, yet all in God’s image! Salvation means being called out of our narrow bonds into a broad place of welcome to all.
That a prominent churchman from another part of the global church community supports the change in ordination standards does not, of course, mean that the issue is settled. Many brothers and sisters across the globe do not support it and find it deeply offensive. But Tutu is an important voice of reason in the conversation. His letter disqualifies blanket appeals to the global church as, in and of themselves, conclusive.