The Presbyterian Church (USA) & lesbian/gay/bisexual ordination:
Activities during 2011
Part 4: Benefits plan change. Emails. Benjamin
Tutu comments on gay
ordination. First ordination
of an openly
non-celibate gay minister approved.
This is a continuation from Part 3
Extending Benefits Plan eligibility:
The General Assembly (2010) urged the denomination's Board of Pensions to extend eligibility for spousal and dependent benefits to those Benefits Plan members with same-gender domestic partners and the children of those partners on the same basis as has been extended to opposite-gender spouses and the children of those spouses. However, the Board was urged to "provide relief of conscience" to some congregations if their dislike of same-sex relationships is so intense that they find supporting spouses and partners of employees equally to be morally repugnant. 1
Emails that we have received:
We have received a few Emails from church members who are displeased with the change in the Book of Order. Most are from religious conservatives who have lost their faith in the denominational leadership and are saddened by what they see as an abandonment of the Bible's clear teachings on homosexuality. Others are from religious liberals who are concerned that the changes will still allow conservative presbyteries to automatically reject any lesbians or gays in loving, committed same-sex relationships. The pain is very obvious.
In our responses, we typically quote the comments made by four denominational leaders above.
Responding to one Email I wrote:
"From my viewpoint outside of the denomination, I see both the liberal and conservative wings as being composed of dedicated Christians, intelligent, thoughtful, and sincere. However, they take different cultural worldviews to the Bible and come away with very different interpretations of what it actually means. Unfortunately, many within the denomination demonize the opposing side. Feelings run high.
You might find one of our essays helpful. It is at: http://www.religioustolerance.org/homglance.htm. It compares how conservative and liberal Christians interpret the six "clobber" passages in the Bible that refer to same-gender sexual activity and are at the core of the dispute. Although the conservatives and liberals read the same English wording in the passages, they interpret the meaning of the passages very differently.
Our menu at http://www.religioustolerance.org/hom_bibl.htm#menu contains more detailed information and also a deeper analysis of each of these seven "clobber" passages.
There have been many schisms within Christian denominations resulting from conflicts over human slavery, the status of women, female ordination, and now over lesbians, gays and bisexuals. There is still another topic waiting in the wings with potential for future division: transgender persons and transsexuals.
If only people had a reliable method of assessing the will of God through prayer, these disputes could be nipped in the bud. People could simply follow God's wishes. But, as we found out in a pilot study at www.religioustolerance.org/god_pray.htm, prayer to assess the will of God does not seem to work. If it did, there would never have been any schisms, and all Christianity would be unified today as a single denomination.
Archbishop Tutu comments on the ordination of non-celibate lesbians and gays:
Shortly after his 80th birthday during 2011-OCT, Anglican Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu of Cape Town, South Africa sent an open letter to Rev. Grayde Parsons, Stated Clerk, Presbyterian Church (USA). He expressed his approval of the denomination's decision to allow non-celibate lesbians and gays to be ordained:
"Dear Brother in Christ,
I am writing you with the request that you share these thoughts with my brothers and sisters in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.):
It is incumbent upon all of God’s children to speak out against injustice. It is sometimes equally important to speak in solidarity when justice has been done. For that reason I am writing to affirm my belief that in making room in your constitution for gay and lesbian Christians to be ordained as church leaders, you have accomplished an act of justice.
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.
You are undoubtedly aware that in some countries the church has been complicit in the legal persecution of lesbians and gays. Individuals are being arrested and jailed simply because they are different in one respect from the majority. By making it possible for those in same-gender relationships to be ordained as pastors, preachers, elders, and deacons, you are being a witness to your ecumenical partners that you believe in the wideness of God’s merciful love.
For freedom Christ has set us free. In Christ we are not bound by old, narrow prejudice, but free to embrace the full humanity of our brothers and sisters in all our glorious differences. May God bless you as you live into this reality, and may you know that there are many Christians in the world who continue to stand by your side.
God bless you.
Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu 2
Scott D. Anderson became the first openly non-celibate gay minister whose ordination is approved:
Scott Anderson, 56, is gay. He had felt a calling to the ministry while in high school, a few years before he realized that he was gay. He said:
""In my first year [in seminary'] I fell in love with another man. At that point I had to make a decision: Do I follow the call and stay in the closet, or come out and be honest about who I am and leave the seminary?"
He decided to continue in the seminary. He was later ordained, and served a congregation in Sacramento CA between 1983 and 1990. He set aside his ordination in 1990 after a couple in the congregation outed him as a gay man. When he informed his congregation, he expected rejection and anger. However, he received their love and affection and a donation to cover two years of graduate education.
He has been in a loving, committed relationship for almost two decades with partner Ian MacAllister. He has held the post of executive director of the Wisconsin Council of Churches (WCC). 3,4
He feels that the decision of the Presbyterian Church (USA) to ordain non-celibate gays and lesbians will strengthen the church over time. He said:
"It really says to the wider culture, here we have a church that not only talks about being created in the image of God and you're all created to be in relationship with one another, 5 but also wants to live that message. That's going to give the Presbyterian church a lot more integrity in its witness to the Christian faith."
In early 2011, over two decades after leaving the ministry, he was considered for ordination by John Knox Presbytery whose boundaries include portions of Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
On 2011-FEB-20, the Presbytery voted 81 to 25 to ordain Anderson. More details. Those opposed to his ordination had planned to appeal the Presbytery's decision. However. 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 who are in loving, committed, sexually active relationships. Prior to this ratification, lesbians and gays could not be ordained unless they were celibate.
This topic is continued in Part 5
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
- "The Board of Pensions and Same‐Gender Benefits Questions and Answers." Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), 2010-JUL, at: http://oga.pcusa.org/
- Archbishop Tutu challenges Presbyterian Church to do the right thing," Walking with Integrity blog, 2011-
- Dinesh Ramde, "US Presbyterian church ordains first gay minister," Associated Press, 2011-OCT-08, at: http://www.ajc.com/
- Dinesh Ramde, "Scott Anderson, 1st Gay Minister Ordained in Wisconsin Presbyterian Church," Huffington Post, 2011-OCT-07. at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/
- Genesis 2:18: "And the LORD God said, "[It is] not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him."
Copyright © 2011 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally posted: 2011-OCT-14
Last update: 2011-OCT-14
Author: B.A. Robinson