In December of 2001, just a few months after my 25th birthday, I was ordained as a minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA). My ordination was the end of a long process of discernment and formation that had begun a little over three years earlier when I entered seminary as an idealistic 21 year old who just so happened to be gay.
The official position of the Presbyterian Church is that gays and lesbians may be ordained as ministers, but they may not be sexually active. The denomination, like most Protestant churches, rejects the idea of clerical celibacy. Nevertheless it imposes it on its gay clergy. The irony has never been lost on me.
In seminary, given the contentious debate occurring over homosexuality in our denomination, I was counseled by many older gay and lesbian clergy members to not hide who I was, but to also not bring up the issue when I went before my ordination committee. I was told that I could do more good on the inside of the system than on the outside. I never lied about being gay, but I did learn what it was like to live in an ecclesiastical don't ask, don't tell situation.
Upon graduation I felt a very clear call to serve a congregation. Instead I spent my first seven years in ministry in chaplaincy and academia, more welcoming choices for gay and lesbian clergy. I was deeply unhappy. I knew that my true call was to a pulpit and that, while there were efforts to change the denomination's policies, that change was slow in coming.
The eventual end of my relationship with my denomination came when I realized that whenever a gay friend came to me looking for a church, I could not bring myself to suggest they join my denomination. As much as I loved the Presbyterian Church, I could not ask my friends to join an organization that imposed different standards on them than on their straight neighbors. Not long after I came to that realization, I began making my own plans to leave.
I was recently asked to serve as a pastor to a community in the United Church of Christ. With my acceptance of this position comes a transfer of my ministerial standing to the UCC, a denomination that welcomes and affirms gays and lesbians. I am thrilled. But, I will always love and miss the community that nurtured me in my young adulthood.
The Presbyterian Church is filled with good people who believe in justice. Still, even some straight supporters have thus far failed to prioritize equality. In some cases our allies have gone so far as to delay votes on gay inclusion in order to not alienate conservatives. To them I ask, what about the many gays and lesbians who have already been alienated by the church?
Martin Luther King once said, "In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends." As I leave the Presbyterian Church I do not hold anger for those who believe homosexuality is wrong. They are entitled to their beliefs.
But I am deeply frustrated with those who believe that inclusion of gays and lesbians is right, but who tell us to wait for justice. Their lack of urgency comes from living in a privileged comfort that gay Presbyterians have never known. Like Dr. King said, I will remember their silence. And so will that idealistic 21 year old who entered seminary all those years ago.