Bil Browning

Presbyterians: Gay Clergy OK But No Marriage

Filed By Bil Browning | July 13, 2010 11:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Living, Marriage Equality
Tags: gay clergy, General Assembly, Presbyterian church, same-sex marriage

As a lapsed Presbyterian, I can unequivocally say that the church drove me out with their anti-gay stances. I'll never forget my mother calling me one Sunday after she'd gone to church when I was a teenager. I was 16 and living on my own - a necessity after I'd come out in high school to disapproving parents.

ghpcsymbol.gifMom called in tears to beg me to "go straight again." The women at the church had sat down with her after the service to tell her how concerned they were for my eternal soul and how "other members" (read: them) might judge her parental skills since she'd obviously done something wrong since I'm gay. That was the end of my Presbyterian ways; I've attended church services at a Presbyterian church twice since then.

Years later, mom called to tell me exciting news about the church. They had a new minister - a female. "And she's gay friendly!" Mom said. Within the next year, the minister had confessed to Mom that she was actually a lesbian, but since the church forbid gays and lesbians from becoming clergy, it was a closely guarded secret. (Mom had done a major turnaround about sexuality in the years since I came out.)

So it was with some sense of joy that I see the Presbyterian Church (USA) has voted to allow openly gay clergy members. Of course, as with all things Presbyterian, that joy was tempered somewhat when the General Assembly voted to sidestep same-sex marriage validation in favor of "a special study" on civil unions and marriage.

It's been 20 years since I left the church; maybe in another 20 years they'll consider me part of the body of Christ again. Until then, I'll keep worshiping the God I know - the one who loves everyone equally.

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This isn't over yet. The GA has voted to approve this amendment the past three assemblies. Each time it has to go to the presbyteries to be passed. Last time, the vote was 51-49%, a big change from each prior vote. We think it will pass this next time, votes to be declared May 2011.

I think the Assembly simply couldn't make themselves vote positively on the marriage issue until the ordination amendment is on the books. It would never pass until the first one does. It would be very divisive to pass this now. Yes, it's politics, but we knew it would be.

I make no excuses for the denomination, but each church/congregation is unique. There are Presbyterian churches who have been ordaining LGBT individuals for years, declaring a "scruple" against doctrine. Those who wish to find an affirming welcome CAN find it in a Presbyterian church, just not all of them. I wish it were better than that.

So, Presbyterians are 50/50 regarding LGBT persons. Nice. Why would anyone in our community want to support that?

It would be very effective if the 50% that believe in our full equality would simply stay home on Sundays. That would change things very quickly.

Do gay-Christians have the courage to take a stand?

JonathonEdwards | July 13, 2010 12:26 PM


Your still a part of the Body of Christ if you want to be. Don't let the PCUSA convince you otherwise...and the United Church of Christ would love to have you! :)

Bil I have an observation you may take issue with. First let me say that I neither encourage atheists to attend church nor do I push on an atheist to reexamine what she or he believes. But let me address those theists who refuse to attend a church until that church alters its stated creeds and doctrines. Is staying out of churches not the equivalent of staying in the closet? Does it not in essence disavow what Harvey Milk advocated? How can I or anyone else expect change unless it is by living what I adhere to in my beliefs? March right into a church. What are they going to do..stone you? Well Harvey did get shot you might say. I can't dispute that. But... he made his life count even if it was shortened.

One last thing. Church is not for everyone and some specific congregations are places that would certainly make a person less than welcome. But there are always other congregations that would be pleased to get to know GLBT people.

Because attendance and support of "church" condones the bigotry and the continued Christian teaching/belief that homosexuals are wrong.

Christian denominations won't get the message until gay-Christians withhold their approval and financial support of these bigoted institutions.

Sitting in the pews IS approval.

Just like running for public office in a city with no recognition of gay rights is approval of that policy?

Sorry, Denna. Running for political office puts your approval at the mercy of the voters. It can't be compared to supporting a club that doesn't believe in our full equality.

A better analogy would be membership in a racist whites-only Country Club. I think people who understood the damage that racism does would LEAVE.

Sorry Andrew, if a person has a relationship with God, is also GLBT and refuses to enter a church they aren't doing much to bring about change. You are the very person who is always advocating change through interaction with people instead of politics. But in this case you are reversing yourself. Your example is rather funny. How could a person of color be a member in a whites only Country Club? If that were possible I would say go for it.

so i have to ask: if you have a good relationship with god...why, exactly, do you have to go to church at all, especially if it's in the company of those with whom you have significant personal issues?

it seems to me that god is easily found in the forest, or on the river, or sitting on a cliff a hundred feet above the golden gate when the fog starts rolling in off the ocean...and it seems to me that you can easily find god giving out food at the food bank...and with all that in mind, if you're just trying to have a relationship with god, why should it also have to be a fight with those who don't know any better?

That is certainly a fair question Don. I did exactly that for decades until one day He told me to go to church. One point though. I don't have significant personal issues with other members of my congregation. At first (some 3 years ago) there were members who were uncomfortable by my presence. I know that some even raised questions with the pastor. He said if they had issues then they should take them up with me directly but he cautioned them about condemning others for that is only condemning ones self (or words to that effect).

So you see, by avoiding church attendance those who aren't accepting of all that God has made are left wallowing in darkness. I personally don't buy the concept of separate but equal either in civil rights, church or any other venue. I suppose for some living in the closet part time is the way they prefer. After all, who am I to criticize another? We all travel different roads to some extent.

it sounds like you are fortunate to have a pastor and a congregation who are enlightened enough to make this work well for you, but as i read the comments i can easily see the other side--as you clearly can, as well--and i have to say that i can understand why a lot of folks simply don't want the bother of trying to convert an entire church...and if you think about it, the inherent difficulty of converting congregations probably has something to do with why you see so few genuine messiahs emerge from among us mere mortals.

I never said "a person of color." I already told you how to change your church: stay home. Half (or more) of the people attending church disagree with the official position on LGBT persons. Until they STAY HOME the church will not respond.

It has taken 50 years just to get "gay-friendly" status in less than 1% of US churches. These businesses will NOT respond until it costs them members (money).

You can effect change with religion more effectively by NOT supporting it. I bet Jesus would stay home, too.

I've been following the conversation and enjoying every minute of it. I hope more readers chime in too.

But I'm struck by something Andrew says here, "I bet Jesus would stay home too." I think we could have a whole conversation just on that one line, eh? :)

I don't know that he would. It would have been super easy for Christ to surround himself with his followers and devotees, but instead he chose to go to the temple. How many verses in the Gospels quote him as railing against the Pharisees and Saducees - the priests who valued "the law" more than the people? He went toe to toe with them and, well, stood up for the values we also strive for.

Why do you think he would have stayed home?

I don't believe staying home is the answer. Staying home is easy- it doesn't involve confronting that which is wrong, and it doesn't call people to greater conversion. We need to go to Church and make our voice heard- withhold money in the collection, perhaps, but be present. The prophets didn't stay home. Jesus didn't stay home.

Jesus said:

"“No one lights a lamp and puts it in a place where it will be hidden, or under a bowl. Instead he puts it on its stand, so that those who come in may see the light.”

The "light" is our equality. It doesn't burn inside the church. If all the gay-Christian "lights" would gather outside the church that act of courage would highlight the change that's necessary. Those inside the church clinging to bigoted-beliefs could stay there, but those that support our equality would leave and join us.

I fail to understand why religious people have an aversion to starting a denomination (or re-defining theirs) by taking a stand for equality. There are thousands of Christian denominations, yet not a single one has formally renounced the traditional Christian teaching/belief that homosexuality is wrong.

For what it's worth:

"“Bad associations spoil useful habits.” — 1 Cor. 15:33

i really like this comment, and i would encourage every one of those denominations to give this some thought.

One denomination HAS formally renounced the traditional Christian teaching/belief that homosexuality is wrong and that is the Metropolitan Community Church.

I'm not sure about the Unitarians or the UCC, but Andrew is essentially correct, out of all the thousands of other denominations, none has renounced homosexuality.

Andrew I might take you seriously on this issue if you would ever answer the question I have asked you many times. Are you an atheist or agnostic? And then I would ask you how many other "wrong" things any church has ever renounced? I don't know that eating shell fish has ever been formally accepted for it too is an abomination. I have yet to see a church renounce stoning women who are not virgins on their wedding nights and yet that is in Leviticus also. Would you care to have an in depth discussion of the details of Biblical prohibitions, abominations and sin in general? I would be pleasantly surprised to find that you are not only a theist but are well versed in these topics.

Perhaps someday you will release an in depth survey you ave taken about such things. But, on the other hand, if you are simply lobbing grenades at churches without much knowledge or concern for either theology or God then would it not be fair to write your statements off as tirades made from ignorance and prejudice? Would you not then be simply a sock from the same drawer that holds other colored socks of prejudice such as those who hold strong opinions against Lesbians?

Give it to me in a simple yes or no Andrew. Are you either an atheist or agnostic?

I am not an Atheist because that requires the assertion that "there is no God." That's a leap of Faith. Atheists do not have any evidence of the non-existence of God.

I am not necessarily an Agnostic because that typically includes the belief that there IS a "supreme being" of some sort.

I admit to not knowing and I am okay with not knowing. I believe that "I don't know, neither do you, and that's okay."

My life is about what I do know. That includes the fact that human beings have an incredible potential to live, learn and treat each other equally. Religion has created "stories" that have made equality very difficult. Christian doctrine includes the teaching/belief that homosexuals are "wrong, sinful or deviant." I am none of those things. I am comfortably beautiful and free of any preconceived notions about anyone. I am no more or no less than any other human being. We are all what we "do" in the world, not what we believe.

Label that, if you must.

It wasn't about labeling you but rather gaining some insight into your level of both involvement and expertise. I think it was Ben Franklin who said something like any fool can criticize, complain and condemn and most fools do. I am always amazed how many people like to discuss issues in the Bible yet have never read it completely through and how many people criticize churches yet don't attend.

Indeed our very society seems to have a bias towards judgment when a wise approach might be to watch, wait, listen and learn. Th BP catastrophe comes to mind as one example. It is easy to be a Monday morning sports expert about games played on Sunday. But, I'm reasonably certain no one at BP wanted this mess and no one at BP or elsewhere seems to have an immediate and permanent solution (including the press and the government).

I like your solution of getting involved with friends, neighbors and other people as a way to reach better solutions to such things as equality. Pulling grand stand stunts such as sitting on the sidewalk outside the church or chaining yourself to a pew and handing out markup pens to the clergy appear to me to be counterproductive if the goal is true understanding and acceptance. I prefer interacting with the congregation, listening and allowing others to openly condemn me and whomever they choose until the Holy Spirit enters their hearts and minds with the truth that will burn away those abominations from them.

Andrew I am speaking from direct personal experience. That we disagree is unimportant to both of us I'm sure. The resolution to these issues will never be complete. In the meantime I will continue my own small efforts in spite of your skepticism.

I wasn't being cynical or skeptical about your efforts - I think they are wonderful.

I have been trying to understand why members of Christian denominations that disagree with a major part of their doctrine are afraid to either leave or object to that doctrine? Especially gay-Christians because that doctrine teaches bigotry and has created most of the discrimination of LGBT persons.

I know you and others are trying to change the church by example and from within (with some Holy Spirit) but when more than half of the members disagree about something that is enough to redefine that denomination - IF those people have the courage to leave/withhold funding. I agree that we don't need "stunts" - we need courage and conviction.

Why is it so hard to leave the institution that continues to harm us and is directly responsible for the deaths of thousands of young gays every year? I want to know why that is so difficult.

Please share.

Andrew you should realize it is not hard at all to leave a church. Millions not only have done it in recent years but millions continue to do so. But I take exception to your allegation that an "institution" ..."is directly responsible for the deaths of thousands of young gays every year". There might be a few rogue individual preachers who call for killing gays but that is hardly the norm. In fact I would say that far more deaths belong in the category of murder by atheists who seldom darken a church door and got their values from the streets. Homophobia is tough to diagnose in any culture. Are you really laying the root cause of it in our culture in the pews, the pulpit or Scripture? Let me suggest you have the cart before the horse. Jesus never uttered a single word (that anyone knows) against homosexuality. In fact I have asked on more than one occasion whether a person follows Jesus or the interpretations of Paul. I would hardly get that opportunity standing out on the sidewalk.

So I guess you could look at it this way. You prefer to spend your efforts outside the churches preaching against them to audiences that for the most part already side with your position. I see that as wasted ammunition. I prefer to spend my efforts on people who are seeking Christ and need exposure to the true equality and values of GLBT in the sight of God. You might even say it is a target rich environment. I am a simple ditz so it seems more productive to me that way. It is kinda like Rosa Parks refusing to obey bus driver James Blake's order that she give up her seat to make room for a white passenger.

I am not aware of any "atheist dogma" that has lead to any loss of life. Maybe an atheist can help us with that one.

Each year thousands of young gay people commit suicide. They do so because of the traditional Christian belief/teaching that homosexuals are defective. That's what religion does.

I don't know what Jesus thought of homosexuals, but that was not my question. The hatred and discrimination of LGBT people is a direct result of the traditional Christian teaching/belief that homosexuality is wrong. It is the primary source of ALL of our suffering. Please tell me how you can support that institution. I am trying to understand how you value your church attendance more than our equality and the thousands of young lives we lose every year because of religion.

I think I can understand why you follow Jesus, but why the "church?" If Jesus is not like the Church, what are you doing there? Why do you support the Church when it seems in conflict with Jesus?

I mean no disrespect, but I think this is an important question.

Several denominations have formally renounced slavery and racism. There is some progress on treating women equally.

Amy Hunter Amy Hunter | July 14, 2010 7:35 AM

From Wikinews:

"In a meeting on Monday in Atlanta, Georgia, the United Church of Christ overwhelmingly approved a resolution supporting same-sex marriage, therefore becoming the largest Christian denomination to do so. UCC has over 6,000 congregations and 1.3 million members.

In a press conference, Rev. John H. Thomas said, "On this July Fourth the General Synod of the United Church of Christ has acted courageously to declare freedom, affirming marriage equality, affirming the civil rights of same gender couples to have their relationships recognized as marriages by the state, and encouraging our local churches to celebrate and bless those marriages."

Thomas also acknowledged that the issue of marriage equality is "the source of great conflict" not only in society but also in the churches. The UCC, he said, "is no exception" and "there are clearly great differences among our own members over this."

The decision is non-binding but asks member churches to consider wedding policies "that do not discriminate against couples based on gender" and support laws granting equal marriage rights for gays and lesbians."

My spouse is the Director of Music at a UCC church in our home town. When she interviewed for the position, they stated: "We support diversity in all it's forms" then asked her views. To her surprise when she related that she was married to a transsexual, they did not bat an eye, rather, the reaction was "Oh! She must come too!"

I have since joined the congregation and found nearly all of them to be friendly, non-judgemental, open and honest. We have become great friends with some of the other members. It is great to note the presence of gay and lesbian couples in the congregation.

Over the last two and a half years I have had many surgeries. Both of the pastors never miss visiting with me before and after my hospital stays.

During the off year election cycle in 2009, Kalamazoo, MI proposed and passed a municipal non-discrimination ordinance. The three UCC churches in town led the way in forming a coalition to support the ordinance, holding rallies and town hall meetings, etc...

Interestingly, the one UCC church having difficulties is traditionally Gay and Lesbian church. The pastor (whom I know well), recently left because of the turmoil about trans congregants being welcome...

I have spoken and delivered sermons there a couple of times. While many in attendance were friendly, many refused to attend if I was preaching and some of those who did attend were rather cold. I found it interesting that the "open" church felt the most biased.

I am hoping UCC will formally declare that homosexuality is not wrong, sinful or deviant. They haven't yet. Like other denominations they are split. Only 7% of UCC Churches are "Open and Affirming," while more than half of their members support our full equality.

Less than 1% of all US Churches are considered "gay-friendly." Some churches have been very supportive of LGBT equality, but none have formally renounced the traditional Christian teaching/belief about homosexuality.

MCC is the gay-friendliest denomination, but they have never formally renounced the belief/teaching that we are wrong. They have a rambling brochure about "misinterpretations" about Bible references, but no formal statement. Pastors within MCC are trying to adopt a formal statement. I have never been able to get an MCC Pastor to say "homosexuality is not wrong or a sin."

At the extremes in most Christian denominations are the "literalists" and those that consider themselves "spiritual," rather than religious. Only 30% of Baptists support LGBT equality, but nearly 70% of Lutherans are supportive.

I am still curious to know why gay-Christians won't take a stand, especially considering LGBT Equality has majority support among members of most denominations.

Paige Listerud | July 14, 2010 2:50 PM

Look on the bright side, Bil--you are not a member of the Roman Catholic Church.

You did not come from a religious tradition where the institution of the church indoctrinates its parishioners into thinking LGBT are "intrinsically disordered" and must go straight or remain celibate their whole lives. You do not come from a church whose institution holds regular purges of its LG clergy (I don't think they even acknowledge the B and the T). And you don't come from a church whose administrators protect the child molesters in the ranks of the priesthood.

You also don't come from a church which says that women cannot be priests because you've got to have a penis in order to transform the communion wafer into the body of Christ during Mass. Yes. Clearly, that's a job you need a penis for.

By the way, if you are a woman, and you aren't a nun, your purpose is stay a virgin till you get married, get married and then have as many babies as your body can stand. No birth control allowed, ladies, not even if you are married. If you don't follow all these rules, then you are not obeying the holy example set by The Virgin Mary and that makes you a bad, bad girl who will suffer the pains of hell. (Did I mention no sex with women? Well, let me reinforce that: NO LESBO SEX EVER OR YOU'RE GOING TO HELL!)

And all of this is held in place by one guy at the top, one guy who is totally infallible. Now the RC's current one infallible guy leads purges on gays in the priesthood, insults Jews, insults Muslims, and protects his child molesting friends in the church hierarchy. Ratzinger is his name and what an appropriate name it is!

So, welcome to the Roman Catholic Church, Bil, the church that can drive you Roman Catholic crazy--especially if you are LGBT.

But, hey, at least that kind of upbringing produces crazy-ass, rebellious divas like Madonna and Lady Gage. "Just Like a Prayer" and "Alejandro"--indeed!

Paige Listerud | July 14, 2010 2:56 PM

Sorry everyone--that's Lady Gaga.

Apparently, my Roman Catholic craziness only leads me to misspell the name of the favorite bi diva of gay/bi men everywhere.

Andrew you must be under several false illusions about churches and congregations. Try to grasp these essentials. Not everyone who attends church has truly accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior. Even those who have are not instantly transformed into saints or even people who understand what it means to follow the path Jesus taught. Even priests, pastors and church leaders are human and not necessarily correct in their ways. In fact, church offers growth and learning. It is not a place where only the righteous and holy are allowed to attend. Jesus cavorted with sinners and tax collectors. He drank and most of what he did was frowned upon by the "orthodox" religious hierarchy of his day. In case you have forgotten they even nailed him to a cross for being a heretic. Yet he went to "church" and spoke out. Imagine that. Now accept the fact that He told me to go to the church I attend. When He tells me it is time to stop attending then I will stop. You may scoff if you want to but the way I look at things He knows a bit more about what I should be doing than you do.

Jesus knows more than me. That assertion cannot be argued - it must be savored. But, please give Jesus a message from me. Tell him the sooner we reject certain teachings (in his name) the sooner his favorite people - the LGBT people - will have equality. Perhaps, he can give you some suggestions.

We love the concept of heaven, but we'd really like to fully enjoy our lives here on earth, too.