By Daniel Borgen,PQ Monthly
A little backstory is in order. Portlander Adam Patterson grew up Presbyterian—in the South. For as long as he can remember, his parents have attended the church he grew up in—until quite recently. Over the last several years, the pastor of the Pattersons’ (pictured above) church has taken a more hard-line approach towards gays. During one Christmas eve service, he equated homosexuality to bestiality. (This was, similarly, the last time Adam, his brother, and his sister-in-law attended a service.) The Patterson family–“they were not amused,” Adam said–lamented their pastor using his pulpit to promote a political agenda.
Said pastor recently made a move to take their church out of the Presbyterian Church USA system, which has, of late, taken a softer and more thoughtful approach to gays in church leadership roles. Ultimately, their pastor wanted to join up with a system of a more evangelical ilk. On the day the church had its final vote on whether to stay or join up with the evangelicals, Adam’s mother got to speak about her experiences of being the mother of a gay son. Unfortunately, at the end of the day, the church voted to leave the Presbyterian system—despite Debbie’s eloquent pleas. So both of Adam’s parents wrote letters resigning from Spring Hill Church, their home for innumerable years. Below, after a word from Adam’s partner—a PQ columnist, is her letter.
“Judging by the way it burned through Facebook a few weeks ago, many of you may have already read this letter, written by Debbie Patterson to the church she attended for more than 20 years,” Andrew Edwards writes. “Patterson, a kindergarten and former Sunday school teacher, has become something of a local queer hero. If you haven’t read the letter, do it now – it is poignant and heartfelt proof that we queers have allies in the unlikeliest of places – that amidst all the politicizing and protesting and national noise, small voices are speaking up and refusing to be ignored. ‘What kind of role model am I, if I don’t take a stand?’ Patterson asks. Her message isn’t just a letter; it’s a rallying cry – one for all the queer kids who aren’t as lucky as her own children and students. Read it and share it, for the sake of those who still suffer isolation and fear in their own schools and churches, so that maybe Debbie Patterson’s brave voice will reach them, too.” Below, that rallying cry, dear readers. This is everything:
Spring Hill Presbyterian Church Session
Staunton, VA 24401
Deborah P. Patterson
March, 18, 2013
I have been a member of Spring Hill Presbyterian Church since 1981. Bill and I have raised our children in this church. They were baptized as infants and took confirmation classes in this church. I have served as a Sunday School Teacher, Children’s Choir Director, Bible School Director, Youth Group Advisor, initiated the forerunner to the Mission Outreach Team which was Mountain Top Missions for Youth, and financially supported Spring Hill and its ministries to the best of my abilities.
As many of you know, I spoke against the decision to leave Shenandoah Presbytery. While I said that I would never have chosen the journey to be a parent of a gay son, it has also been a great gift for me to see the world through the eyes of others. I am proud to be Adam’s Mom and proud of the adult he has become.
I have thought a lot about what Dave Zeiner asked, “How do we decide which sins prohibit one from becoming a minister?” I thought Pastor Charlie made “light” of the situation when he said, “Charlie, we accept your drinking habits, come on down Friday night and we’ll have a drink and pray.” Each person has his or her own walk with Christ and to me “sin” hurts other people. I don’t believe that gay people hurt other people.
The Bible says, “Thou shall not kill.” It does not say that thou shall not kill except in the case of war or criminal cases. What I was trying to say yesterday and now, is that the world has changed since Biblical times and continues to change. God gives us the abilities to make the world a better place and discrimination does not make the world a better place. Did discrimination of women voting make the world a better place? Did slavery make the world a better place? What about cultures today where females are not educated, does that make the world a better place? All of these can be traced back to some religious reference and discrimination.
I am deeply disappointed in the congregational vote on Sunday, March 17, 2013 and disappointed in Charlie’s leadership of what was once my church. Several members said everyone is welcome at Spring Hill. What I heard was, you are welcome if you believe what we believe. My son lives on the west coast, because he does not feel welcome here. When he returns home for a visit, he waits outside the church on Sunday mornings so he can say hello to some of the folks that he treasures from his childhood in the church. Does that sound like someone who feels welcomed?
My God gave me a brain to question what happens in the world and how I can make it a better place. He did not give me a brain to blindly follow what others say without careful consideration and prayer.
When the expansion project began, I was disappointed in the leadership that led us to that point. At that time, I thought, “OK, I can deal with this. I’ll just continue to give, but to the projects that I believe in.” Bill and I had many discussions about the business aspect of this move. We knew that we could not run our household this way, especially if we could not even meet our monthly bills. At the time, I questioned the leadership of Charlie at Spring Hill. But it seemed that I was in the minority, and as Richard Homes said, “The church is not the minister, but the people.”
The expansion project is not a moral issue for me, but the vote on Sunday in favor or discrimination is a moral issue. I have carefully and prayerfully thought about whether all this is just about Adam; it is not. I have gay friends and as I examined my feelings, I realized that my dad’s two best friends when I was a little girl were gay. I just didn’t realize it. As a teacher of Kindergarten children, I consistently talk with my students about discrimination, about doing the right thing even when no one is looking, and about the importance of standing up for what you believe. What kind of role model am I, if I don’t take a stand?
With the recent decisions and the direction Spring Hill has chosen, I respectfully ask that I be removed from your membership roll, and that I no longer be considered a member of Spring Hill Presbyterian Church.
Your prompt attention to this request will be greatly appreciated.
Deborah P. Patterson
And this is what progress looks like. To reiterate what Andrew so accurately says above: “Read it and share it, for the sake of those who still suffer isolation and fear in their own schools and churches, so that maybe Debbie Patterson’s brave voice will reach them, too.”