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The Presbyterian Church (USA) & lesbian/gay/bisexual ordination:
Activities during 2011

Part 5: First openly gay minister ordained.
Oklahoma church votes on leaving denomination.

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This is a continuation from Part 4

The term "LGBT" refers to lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender persons & transsexuals.
"LGB" refers to lesbians, gays and bisexuals.
The acronym "WCC" refers to the Wisconsin Council of Churches.

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2011-OCT-08: Scott Anderson was ordained -- actually re-ordained:

Scott Anderson was ordained in front of a congregation of his friends and supporters at Covenant Presbyterian Church in Madison WI.

He said:

"To the thousands of Presbyterians who have worked and prayed for almost 40 years for this day, I give thanks. And I give thanks for those who disagree with what we're doing today yet who know that we are one in Jesus Christ."

Nancy Enderle, the interim executive director of the Covenant Network of Presbyterians, said that the ordination touched everyone, especially Anderson. She said:

"He's a very dignified and poised person but you could tell he was deeply moved."

Anderson selected the Rev. Mark Achtemeier of Dubuque, IA, to deliver the sermon at the ordination. Achtemeier was once a vocal opponent of lesbian and gay ordination. However, after he developed a friendship with some LGBT Christians, he reconsidered the often cited six or seven "clobber" passages in the Bible that have been used to condemn same-gender sexual behavior. After study, he reversed his stance on the ordination question. This is a common scenario. Once a person who is opposed to equal rights for LGBTs actually befriends a person from that community, they often come to a different understanding of the nature of their friend's sexual orientation or gender identity.

Anderson told the congregation that he hopes that Achtemeier's ministry will bring "healing good news" to all those who have felt "ostracized and alienated" from the church.

Tom Hay, the director of operations for the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) said:

"The Episcopalians, the Lutherans, the United Church of Christ have all made this step and all have experienced [membership] losses. I would expect we will, too. I would grieve that and hope we can find better solutions than to break apart."

When referring to "the Lutherans," Hay means the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). The other main Lutheran church in the U.S. is the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod. It is a conservative denomination that does not permit non-celibate gays to be ordained; they also ban ordination of women. 1,2

Lauren Gallant Cochran, a candidate for ordination in the Presbyterian Church (USA), was present at the ordination and wrote about it:

"This ordination was an emotionally and spiritually moving time of worship, to say the least.  No matter our denomination (there were many present), race, gender, or sexual orientation, we rejoiced in the common belief that God loves and calls to God’s service all [groups of] persons equally. 

Because of Scott’s work with the WCC, many of those who came to the service were ordained clergy.  During the 'laying on of hands' -- where Scott received the prayer and blessings for his ordained ministry -- the invitation for all who were ordained to come and take part left the pews empty.  Looking up to the front of the church to see 70 or more ministers of all different churches lay their hands on Scott and share their blessings was an overwhelming sight. 

Equally moving was the return of Scott’s stole.  Twenty years ago when Scott was stripped of his ordination by the PCUSA because of his sexuality, he donated his stole to an exhibit showcasing all the ministers that the PCUSA had lost under similar circumstances.  On Saturday, his stole was removed from the traveling exhibit and returned to its proper place—around his shoulders.  As the words 'what once was lost shall now be found' echoed through the sanctuary, I know I was not the only one with tears streaming down my face."

Some Presbyterians who are opposed to lesbian and gay ordination protested outside the church. They were joined by pickets from the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, KS. They are the "God hates fags" folks who have been causing great anxiety among the families of deceased American service members by picketing funerals in recent months. 3

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Some Presbyterian congregations conflicted over their future in the denomination:

Enid First Presbyterian Church in Enid OK is typical of a group of Presbyterian Church (USA) congregations across the U.S. Their membership is deeply divided over the denomination's decision to ordain non-celibate LGB candidates for ordination. The congregation is facing a deadline at 10:456 hrs on 2011-OCT-16 when a vote is scheduled to decide whether to leave the Presbyterian Church (USA) or to stay.

Enid News has written:

"Rev. Roy Schneider announced ...[that] the vote will be a private yes or no vote by members of the congregation on whether to stay in the Presbyterian Church USA. In the newsletter, Schneider said the reason for the vote is because the church needs to know the true number on each side of the issue before members can determine how to proceed. The Presbytery, the governing body, has agreed to the vote.

If the vote reveals a large majority wants to leave the Presbyterian Church USA, church leaders will work with the Administrative Council toward what Schneider called a 'gracious dismissal,' he said in the October newsletter.

' That would mean beginning negotiations that would allow the local church to keep its buildings and other assets as they are dismissed to another reformed denomination,' Schneider said in the newsletter.

If the vote reveals a large majority wants to remain in the church, the debate is over, he said.

If there is a close split, the local church 'may take the Presbytery up on its generous offer to pay for a third-party mediator to help us move forward,' Schneider said in the newsletter. Further talks with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church have been suspended until after the vote.

Schneider is remaining neutral on the issue and urged church members to vote their theology." 4

The Evangelical Presbyterian Church is a reform denomination formed in 1981. They have a conservative theology. They:

  • Oppose all abortions. They don't list an exception for those abortions needed to save the life of the woman.
  • Oppose divorce except in cases of adultery and unsolvable willful desertion.
  • Oppose equal rights for lesbians and gays, and refuse them membership and ordination.
  • Leave the decision whether to ordain women to the individual congregation. 5

Our prediction: If the attitude towards LGBs in this congregation matched that of American adults as a whole, then the vote would probably be a significant win in favor of of the congregation remaining in the denomination. One indicator that would make this result likely are the results of a series of national polls during late 2010 and early 2011 on whether to legalize same-sex marriage (SSM). Three major polls showed that about 53% of American adults support SSM while 45% were opposed, for a margin of 8 percentage points. Individuals who favor SSM tend also to favor other instances of equal rights, access and treatment for the LGBT community.

However, there are three reasons why that result is unlikely for the Enid OK congregation:

  • The congregation's advisory committee has recommended that First Presbyterian leave the denomination.

  • Churchgoers tend to be more conservative and opposed to equality for LGBs than is the general American adult population.

  • Oklahoma is a conservative state with about the 7th highest level of homophobia of all 50 states. ("Homophobia" has many meanings. We define it on this site as a desire or activity to give special privileges to persons with a heterosexual orientation compared to those with a homosexual orientation). One indication of this is an estimate by Nate Silver of the New York Times. He collected all available polling results and estimated the chances of a citizen initiative passing on election day in 2012-NOV that would ban SSM. He calculated values for the District of Columbia and for each of the 50 states. He estimated that such a plebiscite would be approved by about 66% of the voters in Oklahoma. 6

There are two factors that might influence the congregational vote towards staying in the denomination:

  • The Enid News reports that:

    "... one member said Amendment 10A, which is at the heart of the controversy, merely states the Presbyterian church will return to the policy pre-1996, which says local congregations get to decide who they will or will not ordain. No church will be forced to call a gay pastor, the member said." 4

  • The congregation's building, endowments, and some other assets appear to be owned by the denomination; retaining access to them may be difficult.

On 2011-OCT-15, we estimated that the results for the vote by the First Presbyterian Church will be about 70% opposed and 30% in favor of severing ties with the denomination.

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Dinesh Ramde, "US Presbyterian church ordains first gay minister," Associated Press, 2011-OCT-08, at: http://www.ajc.com/
  2. Dinesh Ramde, "Scott Anderson, 1st Gay Minister Ordained in Wisconsin Presbyterian Church," Huffington Post, 2011-OCT-07. at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/
  3. Lauren Gallant Cochran, "Guest post: An eyewitness account of the first openly gay presbyterian ordination," GLAAD, 2011-
    OCT-14.
  4. Robert Barron, "Local Presbyterian Church congregation divided over ordination of gay ministers," EnidNews.com (OK), at: http://enidnews.com/
  5. "Beliefs," Evangelical Presbyterian Church," 2011, at: http://www.epc.org/
  6. Nate Silver,"The Future of Same-Sex Marriage Ballot Measures," FiveThirtyEight blog, 2011-JUN-29, at: http://fivethirtyeight.blogs.nytimes.com/

Copyright © 2011 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally posted: 2011-OCT-14
Last update: 2011-OCT-15
Author: B.A. Robinson
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