Rainbow Communion* is a special committee formed by the 2017 General Assembly that has been empowered to invite LGBTQI people to tell stories of harm done to them within and by the church, and to share their stories of God’s grace experienced by them in Christian ministry.
In addition to the original Terms of Reference (and in the downloadable package), revised terms were adopted by 2018 General Assembly of The Presbyterian Church in Canada.
The Listening Process now also welcomes all persons (people who identify as LGBTQI, as well as relatives, friends, co-workers, members of same congregation, ecumenical colleagues, allies and others) to share their experiences of harm done due to homophobia, hypocrisy, heterosexism and transphobia.
For those who either serve with Rainbow Communion or those who share their stories, who might otherwise be subject to discipline with respect to the PCC’s stance on same-sex relationships, censure has been suspended indefinitely in order to allow them to participate freely and honestly in the work of the special committee.
Furthermore, The Presbyterian Church in Canada through the General Assembly encourages individuals and groups to tell their stories of harm done by homophobia, hypocrisy, heterosexism and transphobia as well as stories of grace received in the midst of these challenges through the process now established by Rainbow Communion.
Safe and Respectful
Those who wish to share their stories are encouraged to do so by whatever means is best for them (orally, in writing or through face-to-face conversations). Rainbow Communion Listening Spaces will receive stories from May 15, 2018 until June 15, 2019.
Rainbow Communion is working hard to ensure that a confidential, safe, affirming and respectful space is created for people to share their experiences. The Committee will report to future General Assemblies and recommend concrete actions to address and respond to homophobia, hypocrisy, heterosexism and transphobia in the church. The name “Rainbow Communion” was selected by the committee to intentionally reflect its mandate and purpose.
*Rainbow: as a symbol of God’s promise, has its origin in the biblical covenant with Noah and his family. It is also a term or symbol often used to represent the inclusion of the full diversity of people and emphasizing the inclusion of persons who identify as sexual and/or gender minorities.
Communion: is central to our life as Christians and in a broader sense reflects the sharing or exchanging of intimate thoughts and feelings, especially when the exchange is on a mental or spiritual level.
LGBTQI is an acronym used to refer to people whose sexual orientation is not heterosexual and/or whose gender identity does not conform either to binary male/female categories or the “assigned” gender at birth. LGBTQI is an acronym for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer or Questioning, Intersex.
The Special Committee is made up of seven members drawn from across the church reflecting the diversity of the denomination and includes two members who identify as LGBTQI.
Co-Conveners: The Rev. Dr. Bob Faris (Toronto, ON), Ms Sue Senior (Waterloo, ON)
Members: The Rev. Michael Veenema (Canning, NS), the Rev. Joseph Bae (Thornhill, ON), the Rev. Dr. Jean Morris (Calgary, AB), Ms Sydney O’Brien (Oakville, ON), Ms Bassma Younan (Aurora, ON)
All communication is monitored solely by Rainbow Communion.
rainbowcommunion [at] gmail [dot] com
The gmail address is not associated in any way with the PCC’s communication infrastructure.
Leave a confidential voicemail at 1-800-619-7301 ext. 300. This extension is a dedicated line for Rainbow Communion and is solely monitored by one of the co-convenors.
P.O. Box 40113
The PCC LGBTQI Listening Committee (“Rainbow Communion”) invites people to share their stories with us, to gather those stories (in a variety of media) and to create a safe respectful environment while doing so.
Listening, not discerning:
The points of contact (email, phone and mail) are not provided as forums or means for discernment around the question of full inclusion of LGBTQI persons, but rather a process where those who wish to share their experiences or ask questions of the committee may reach out to do so.
All messages that relate to the content outlined will receive a reply within a reasonable amount of time. However, any communication that includes personal attacks or defamatory comments will not be answered, but may instead be reported to the Presbyterian Church in Canada &/or appropriate legal authorities where warranted. Respectful dialogue is expected and welcomed.
rainbowcommunion [at] gmail [dot] com
1-800-619-7301 / 416-441-1111 (ext: 300)
P.O. Box 40113, Waterloo Square
Waterloo, ON N2J 4V1
At the General Assembly in 2017, a special committee was created with the following terms of reference:
- The Special Committee shall create a safe and respectful environment in which confidentiality is assured, in order to encourage LGBTQI people and others:
- to tell their stories of harm done to them within and by the church; and
- to share their stories of God’s grace experienced by them and Christian ministry performed by them, even in the midst of the challenges they have faced.
- The Special Committee shall invite LGBTQI people and others to submit their stories orally or in writing. Stories will be included in the committee’s report to a future General Assembly with permission of those who have shared.
- The Special Committee shall make use of relevant documents of the church, including but not limited to:
- the 1994 Human Sexuality Report;
- Body, Mind and Soul study document and the individual responses received by the Life and Mission Agency and the Committee on Church Doctrine to it; and
- any other such documents as the committee may deem relevant.
- The Special Committee shall provide an appropriate response to the issue of homophobia, hypocrisy, heterosexism and transphobia within The Presbyterian Church in Canada.
- The Special Committee shall recommend concrete actions addressing homophobia to the General Assembly for implementation within the church.
- The Special Committee shall report its progress at each upcoming General Assembly, with a final report by or before the 2020 General Assembly.
- The Special Committee shall be made up of seven members drawn from across the church. The Special Committee shall be reflective of the ethnic diversity of the denomination and shall include at least two members of the LGBTQI community.
- The Assembly Council shall be instructed to support the Special Committee with an appropriate budget and appropriate document support.
To The Presbyterian Church in Canada and all those harmed by homophobia and hypocrisy by and within the church:
The 2017 General Assembly asked the moderator to write a letter of repentance to the LGBTQI community. Although, in 1994, the General Assembly received The Human Sexuality Report that called on The Presbyterian Church in Canada to repent of its homophobia and hypocrisy, the church to this point has not acted on that call and publicly repented. However, the 2017 General Assembly established a listening committee, the Rainbow Communion, to create a safe space for LGBTQI persons and others to tell of their experiences in the church, and to report back to Assembly no later than 2020. This letter of repentance is an interim response between the call of the 1994 document and the work of the Rainbow Communion.
God calls the church to be a welcoming community where we welcome one another as Christ has welcomed us. In our hypocrisy the church offers welcome to heterosexual people but often shuns people who do not identify as heterosexual. In this homophobic environment, the church is often an unsafe place for people to name their sexual identity and orientation. For the church and our congregations failing to be safe and welcoming places, we are sorry, and we repent.
In this homophobic environment we are all harmed. Families have felt and still feel the church’s expectations to condemn and reject children, siblings and parents who do not look, act or speak in ways congruent with the restrictive gender definitions of the church and society. Friends feel pressure to break off connections. For the ways our congregations judge and exclude others based on restrictive gender definitions, we are sorry, and we repent.
No one should ever be harmed for naming their sexual identity. We live in a culture and a world where LGBTQI persons are bullied, brutalized and sometimes killed. Moreover, bullying and violence occurs in congregations or in the community with the support of church members. Presbyteries and sessions fail to hold church members and church leaders accountable for their hateful acts. For our failure to protect those attacked and brutalized, we are sorry, and we repent. For our ongoing failure to hold people accountable for abuse and hatred, we are sorry, and we repent.
Even when congregations and church members do not participate in emotional and physical bullying, the church’s silence condones such action when it fails to speak against the violence. By not speaking clearly and in a public way, the church is “part of the evil of the world, of its violence, neglect, and injustice.”1 Moreover church members wanting to speak fear that if they speak they will be ridiculed and bullied themselves. For our silence and silencing others, we are sorry, and we repent.
The church by its actions and inaction, speaking and silence, creates hurt, fear and distrust among LGBTQI persons who are part of the church. Deaf to the cries of hurt, fear, and distrust, the church dismisses the pain experienced by LGBTQI persons. For our unwillingness to recognize the hurt and fear our actions and attitudes have caused, we are sorry, and we repent.
Bullying, hatred and silence, have led to emotional and physical pain and personal struggle, which sometimes have led people to attempt suicide. The church has not offered and continues to fail to offer care to those who face this struggle and pain. For our failure to offer tender care to the hurting, we are sorry, and we repent.
Irrational fear in the church has created a climate where there is often more interest in condemning what is considered sin than in listening to the struggles and stories of human beings. The church is often quick to speak and slow to listen. Further, the church is quick to name and condemn certain sexual practices, while at times being slow to name and confront sexual abuse and marital unfaithfulness. For our hypocrisy, we are sorry, and we repent. For offering judgment and condemnation rather than gospel hope, we are sorry, and we repent.
The church too often puts more emphasis on a person’s sexual identity than on their identity in Christ. When the church ignores the gifts present within the body of Christ, it fails to appreciate all that God has for the church and fails to see God’s glory revealed in all people. For our unwillingness to affirm the spiritual gifts present in all the people of the church, we are sorry, and we repent.
By God’s grace, led by the Holy Spirit, and seeking to be faithful disciples of Jesus Christ we repent and desire to go in a new way and to be a welcoming church centered in the Triune God of grace who draws us into community. As such a community, we will seek, as individuals and congregations, to welcome all, as Jesus Christ has welcomed us. We will reach out, rejoice together in fellowship, and seek holiness as we worship, pray, sing, eat and listen together for God’s Word speaking to the whole church. We commit ourselves to pray with one another, weep with one another, and rejoice with one another.
This letter of repentance is neither the beginning nor the end; it is but a part of a longer conversation. This conversation is being taken up in part by the Rainbow Communion, a committee with the important mandate of creating a safe space where experiences of LGBTQI people will be told and heard.
Those who wish to respond to this Letter of Repentance can do so by sending their e-mail response to repentance [at] presbyterian [dot] ca.
The Rev. Peter Bush
Moderator of the 2017 (143rd) General Assembly
The Presbyterian Church in Canada
Note: French translation of this letter will be available shortly.
1 Living Faith 2.5.6