The Presbyterian Church (USA) and homosexuality
Trials of Elder "Doug," Rev. Jane Spahr,
Scott Anderson, and Laurie McNeill. Part 2
Readers' Comments on the One News Now article about Rev. Jane Spahr's trial (Cont'd):
- "How sad. How can we
continue to ignore the Bible and what it says about homosexuality - it is
wrong - God calls it an abomination - and we want to pretend He did not say
that. Wow, are we asking for heavenly correction or what?"
- "True freedom and peace
come can only be found in the Designers plan for His creation. God’s word
warns us against the dangers of a homosexual lifestyle as we would lovingly
warn our toddler on the dangers of a hot stove. All denominations are called
to heed God’s word and teach it, not make it up as they go along."
- "I don't see why people
are making a big deal about gay couples doing civil unions, but not making a
big deal about a man and woman living together having the same relationship
as a married couple. Does it make it right because it's a man and woman? Or
that it's not as bad? They are both SIN but every body is clamoring about
the gay couples ruining traditional marriage. Like people "shacking up" (as
my dad says) hasn't done that already. If you turn a blind eye to the
unmarried couple living together, you might as well do that for the gay
couple who want to 'get married'."
- "It may be true that Jane
Spahr did not violate denominational law when she officiated the weddings of
two lesbian couples but she definitely violated God's law when she did that!
What say you Presbyterian Church?"
- "Great, so they have a
woman pastor (not Biblical) that isn't following Biblical principles. Gee,
what a surprise. This looks like one of the churches we are told about that
has lost their way."
- "Would you expect
anything other than a "confused message" from a confused denomination?"
- "Very Simply Put, she is
a Politically Correct Non-Christian who thinks what she feels Is Above the
dictates of God. Romans 1, Leviticus 19, Daniel 11:32-40 and It is Immoral
and always has been ask Sodom and Gomorra They are Apostate."
- "Doesn't surprise me. At
least at the national level, I don't consider Pres.(USA), the United
Methodist Church, or the Episcopal Church to be Christian denominations
anymore in the proper sense. They've all embraced heresy in their acceptance
of homosexuality so they are no longer properly part of the Church.
Conservative churches within those denominations that still practice
doctrinal purity should withdraw their churches from these denominations."
- "I guess I don't
understand what's at issue here. The PC(USA) has decided that marriage is a
man and woman, yet they don't oppose legal rights (civil unions) for
couples. I don't understand why so many Christians oppose legal protections
for same-sex couples. So they're not married in the eyes of God. Neither are
a man and woman that go to the Justice of the Peace. Let churches conduct
church business, governments conduct legal business, and people conduct
their own business."
- "That's not confusing at
all. I attended a Presbyterian church years ago that did the same thing. Our
minister would do commitment ceremonies for gay couples, but with the
understanding that it was not marriage in the eyes of the church."
- "Our pastor, shortly
before he resigned to sell insurance, made a comment that the Bible does not
teach that homosexuality is wrong. We must remove anyone who spreads this
lie from any position of authority in the Church."
- "More and more churches
will accommodate the ever increasing social demands for recognition of
same-sex marriage. The day will come, in not too many years, that true
Christianity will be evident when only one denomination remains true to the
principle of marriage between men and women only."
- "The logic is not hard to
follow: the Presbyterian Church believes in civil unions but not gay marriage. While it may
come as a shock to the readers of this site, most members support this
- "Homosexuals along with
scripturally ignorant pastors ...continue to make an utter mockery of God's
word. I suppose Sodom and Gomorrah have been omitted from all of these 'New
Age' translations (butcherings)" of the Word of God." 1
Scott D. Anderson's trial:
Scott Anderson, 54, is gay and has been in a loving, committed relationship for almost two decades with Ian MacAllister. He held the post of executive director of the Wisconsin Council of Churches. He had been ordained earlier, but had set aside his ordination in 1990. He took this action because two members of the California congregation where he was serving as pastor outed him as a gay man.
Some three decades later, in early 2011, he was considered for ordination by John Knox Presbytery whose boundaries include portions of Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin. He declared a "scruple" -- a conscientious objection to the ordination standards of the Presbyterian Church (USA). At the time, the standards required candidates for ordination to "practice fidelity if they are married in an opposite-sex relationship, or chastity if they are single or in a same-sex marriage.
He told the Presbytery that "... if the state of Wisconsin granted us the privilege of a civil marriage license, Ian and I would be first in line to sign up."
The Presbyterian Outlook reported:
"In his statement to John Knox presbytery, Anderson wrote that he does not believe it’s either biblical or faithful to exclude from ordained office gays and lesbians in covenanted, lifelong partnerships. He offered a series of reasons – drawing from both the Bible and the Book of Confessions, including an affirmation that, as shown in Genesis, '“we are born for relationship.'
He wrote that “God has blessed me with a faithful and loving partner who has been an integral part of my life for the last 19 years. In our life together we have sought to cultivate the kind of fidelity and love and self-giving that the Bible lifts up as God’s intention for married couples.”
And Anderson wrote that he believes the categorical prohibition in the PC(USA)’s ordination standards now “represents a grievous misapplication of biblical teachings in the case of gay and lesbian believers who are in faithful, covenanted, lifelong partnerships. For the reasons stated above, I believe this misinterpretation of the biblical witness is unfaithful to God’s loving intentions for humankind, and seriously undermines the church’s gospel witness to gay and lesbian persons. I cannot in Christian conscience support it.”
The Presbytery decided to "... close Anderson’s examination and its discussion of his candidacy to the public. [William] Brinsky, [a lawyer representing opponents to Scott's ordination] said opponents of the ordination told the presbytery leadership in advance that they wanted the proceedings to be recorded, so an accurate record would be kept of what was said and done." 2
On 2011-FEB-20, the Presbytery voted 81 to 25 to ordain Anderson.
Brinsky said that an appeal would be blanched.
He said that the denomination's Book of Order:
"... has a mandatory provision that a person engaged in a sexual relationship outside of marriage cannot be ordained and installed. ... the General Assembly cannot by itself ... make that go away without amending the constitution. ... The leadership of Knox presbytery tried to make this procedurally fair and open and honest, so as not to be oppressive. Although we were disappointed with the closing of the meeting and the lack of a transcript, the leadership was trying to be responsible.”"
Anderson was surprised by the wide margin of the vote. He said:
"... we expected the vote would be closer than that. ... [The decision] made me proud to be a Presbyterian. ... [The vote] vindicates the recommendation of the Peace, Unity and Purity task force, that Presbyterians can consider candidates who have departures for whatever reason, and a presbytery can successfully weigh all that in the context of someone’s fitness for ministry. This works. It can work. And I think that’s good news."
Anderson also commented on John Knox’s:
"... extraordinary leadership. ... they have been fair and transparent and open and gracious to everyone, including me. I’ve been extraordinarily well-treated. I’ve been extraordinarily well-treated by those who oppose my ordination, which speaks well for the presbytery ... I long for the whole church to have that relationship."
He suggested that the Presbytery's decision might give hope to other gay and lesbian candidates for ordination. He said: "
"I’m not sure I would wish this on a 25-year-old who just graduated from seminary. That would be really tough."
Less than three months later, on 2011-MAY-10, a majority of presbyteries had ratified the 2010 General Assembly's decision to remove the bar to ordination of lesbians and gays in loving, committed, sexually active relationships.
On 2011-OCT-08, Scott Anderson became the first non-celibate gay person to be ordained in the Presbyterian Church. More details.
Rev. Laurie McNeill's case being appealed to the denomination's highest court:
On 2012-OCT-26, she will be tried before the Permanent Judicial Commission of the General Assembly of PC(USA). Her crime is that she fell in love, committed herself to another person, and was married to another woman. The prosecutor's brief reads in part:
"This case is about a Teaching Elder, the Rev. Laurie McNeill, who deliberately chose to do what was right in her own eyes rather than stay true to the Word, the Confessions, and the Constitution of which and by which she was called to be a pastor."
The Presbyterian Church USA defines marriages as limited to one woman and one man. McNeill was legally married in another denomination in Massachusetts. Still, she was charged with participating in a same-sex marriage, even though the denomination does not recognize same-sex marriages. She is also charged with living in a relationship that is not condoned by the PC(USA).
The denomination's response to her marriage has been mixed:
- 2010-JUL: Her congregation, Central Presbyterian, voted her out of her position of church leader.
- The Permanent Judicial Commission (PJC) of her presbytery tried and acquitted her on both charges.
- 2011-DEC: The case was appealed to the PJC of the Synod of the Northeast, who upheld the acquittal.
- 2012-OCT: The case will be heard by the PJC of PC(USA). 3
Meanwhile a 2012 poll of church members shows that support for same-sex marriage has increased from 23% in 2005 to 34% today. Support among pastors has increased from 35% to 49%. Like national polls, membership and clergy support is increasing rapidly. However the general membership is over 20 percentage points behind national surveys of American adults while pastors are only a few percent behind. More details.
Internet and media references used:
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
- Allie Martin, "PC(USA) sends confusing message on marriage," OneNewsNow,
- Leslie Scanlon, "Scott Anderson approved for ordination," The Presbyterian Outlook, 2010-FEB-22, at: http://www.pres-outlook.com/
- Michael Gryboski, "PCUSA's Highest Commission to Hear Case of Lesbian Clergy Who Married Her Partner," Christian Post, 2012-OCT-12, at: http://www.christianpost.com/
Copyright © 1996 to 2012 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance.
Latest update 2012-OCT-14
Author: B.A. Robinson