|Presbyterian Church's ordination of gays bittersweet|
Before returning to New England for the second time, I served two African American Presbyterian Churches. And during that time I never thought, two decades ago, that the entire church body would change its position on LGBTQ worshippers.
But a historic yet bittersweet moment happened on October 8th in the Presbyterian Church (USA).
And the moment didn't happened without a long and arduous struggle against the church's ecclesiastical heterosexism.
After decades of open struggle with the church's recalcitrant attitude and discrimination against its lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) worshippers who wanted to serve as pastors, elders or deacons, the Presbyterian Church (USA), known as the more liberal and tolerant branch of the denomination, finally conducted its first openly gay ordination.
In May of this year, Amendment 10-A was passed, meaning the majority of church’s 173 presbyteries ratified an amendment to its constitution (The Book of Order) that removes a provision prohibiting the ordination of sexually active unmarried Presbyterians as church officers. Before the passing of Amendment 10-A, the constitution required church officers to be celibate or married to a member of the opposite gender.
So on that Sunday of October 8th, many of us Presbyterians celebrated Scott Anderson's ordination. Anderson served as co-Moderator of More Light Presbyterians before moving to Madison to become the Executive Director of the Wisconsin Council of Churches, and he also served as Executive Director of the California Council of Churches.
Scott stands on the shoulders of so many of my clergy brothers and sisters who were either defrock or flatly denied ordination because they were either opened about their sexual orientation or their local presbytery suspected they were LGBTQ.
As a church that is borne out of a liberal Protestant Christian tradition, the Presbyterian Church’s problem with its LGBTQ worshippers is a history of how it not only broke the backs and souls of the many who wanted to serve, but also how the church recklessly discarded the gifts we bring.
While homophobia is nothing new in the hallowed halls of most churches, the Presbyterian Church—with its 2.3 million members in all 50 states and Puerto Rico that are part of the Reformed family of Protestantism, descending from the branch of the Protestant Reformation begun by John Calvin—has been an embarrassment to itself.
And as a church that proudly touts itself as "reformed and always reforming,” when it came to all things LGBTQ prior to this recent Amendment, the church was not only losing its theological ground of being one that affirms diversity without divisiveness, but it was also losing its public face of inclusion.
Wrestling with the issue of scriptural interpretation and faithfulness to the Bible, the Presbyterian Church at the 190th General Assembly in 1978 was unabashed with its homophobic renderings as it relates to LGBTQ worshippers stating, "The repentant homosexual person who finds God's power to control his or her [sexual] desires can certainly be ordained, all other qualifications being met."
LGBTQ worshippers had second-class status in the church, and it was maintained not only by church policy that forbid us to serve as pastors, elders or deacons, but also by overriding decisions made by local parishes in support of inclusion of us within the body of the church.