Category Archives: Presbyterian

In Landmark Vote, Presbyterian Church Approves Gay Ministers

Just received this wonderful news from More Light Presbyterians:

In Minneapolis, Minn., May 10, 2011, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) crossed an historic threshold as Presbyterians in the Twin Cities area voted to eliminate all official barriers to the ordination of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people as ministers and lay leaders in their 2.4 million member denomination. With their vote the Twin Cities Presbyterians were the 87th Presbytery (a regional governing body) to vote yes, giving the denomination the majority of votes needed to approve the landmark change.

“Passing this amendment makes clear the good news that the Presbyterian Church welcomes and values every person – because Jesus does. Its passage removes an enormous stumbling block for many who would otherwise be drawn to following Jesus,” said the Rev. Mary Lynn Tobin, Co-Moderator, Covenant Network of Presbyterians.

presbyterian-crossPCUSA’s acceptance of LGBT ministers is another major step for mainline protestant denominations in the United States. With the passage of the Presbyterian Amendment 10-A, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender ministers are now welcome to serve in the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 6th largest mainline protestant denominations, ministering to an approximate 10.3 million members and millions more non-members. Of the six largest Protestant denominations in America, only United Methodists and American Baptists remain closed to LGBT clergy.

To quote Vice President Biden, this is a big fucking deal.

There will surely be talk of schism, just as there always is every time a denomination opens its doors wider. It usually fizzles out pretty quickly, but if congregations leave, so be it. I’ve long said that it’s better to have a smaller righteous church than a larger church that teaches against the basic principles of God.

Will The Presbyterian Church Finally Recognize The Calling of Gays?

presbyterian-crossTwo years ago, the Presbyterian Church (USA) (PCUSA) voted on a constitutional amendment that would have allowed LGB persons to be pastors, reversing language added in 1996 that specifically removed LGBs from consideration.

Amendment 08-B ultimately failed to garner enough votes among the presbyteries, though with a far slimmer margin than when the issue was up for a vote in 2002.

Now it’s time to give it another shot. The presbyteries are again voting on an amendment for the same purpose, this time with Amendment 10-A. (More Light Presbyterians, which has been leading the fight for years now, has the verbiage and more specific information. Also, I’ll be using the term LGB because trans ministers seem to be permitted already.)

For our purposes here, it’s most important to understand that under the current rules in place since 1996, a local PCUSA congregation is not permitted to appoint an openly LGB pastor. Amendment 10-A would not force any local congregation to accept an LGB minister if they didn’t want to, but would permit a congregation to elect an LGB minister if they wanted.

In short, this amendment restores choice to the local congregation, which is much more in keeping with the way the PCUSA church generally operates.

Presbyteries have been voting for several months now, and the outlook is better than it was in 2009. Rev. John Shuck has been tracking the vote, and as he said last week:

…we need only seven more YESes to make a significant step in healing the church.

  • We have had 16 positive flips.
  • We have had 2 negative switches.
  • So that means 14 net flips.
  • 35 presbyteries are yet to vote. [ed: One has since voted NO]
  • 12 of those had voted YES last time.
  • We are in good shape.
  • But there is a lot of work to do.

Very good news, indeed. As Rev. Shuck says, passage isn’t a sure thing and it won’t be until voting ends in late May, but they are cautiously optimistic. For more specific and regularly updated voting data, see More Light’s chart here.

I’ll be keeping an eye out for developments on Amendment 10-A for the next few weeks, but until we get the final counts, here’s Presbyterian minister Mark Sandlin explaining just one of the more salient reasons for a YES vote in a brief excerpt from his blog The God Article:

At some point, those who stand against ordaining people whose sexual orientation happens to be homosexual are going to have to admit that they believe two things that most of the rest of the Christian community do not see as core values in the teachings of Jesus: 1) that God’s love comes in degrees; that God loves some people more than others; that if you are gay you are less worthy of that love and hence less capable of being called into ministry and 2) they personally know better than the individual who feels called into ministry whether or not God is actually calling them into ministry.

Thanks to reader and ally Greg for pointing me to the new amendment!

Truth* Academy Instructor Series: Robert Gagnon


On April 1-2, 2011, Mission America and Americans For Truth About Homosexuality (AFTAH) will be cosponsoring the second Truth* Academy in Columbus, Ohio. I thought it might be helpful to see what tone and substance attendees can expect from each of the instructors before the conference begins. You can find all of my Truth* Academy posts at this link.

Robert Gagnon of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary
Robert Gagnon of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary
Robert Gagnon, Associate Professor of New Testament at the Presbyterian and very conservative Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, has called his session at Truth* Academy “Christian Theology and Homosexuality: Why God Has Not Changed His Mind.”

Gagnon has written books and articles that are daunting in length (the man needs an editor, that’s for sure), but when you really dig deep, everything he writes comes from viewing the Bible through one interpretive lens: Boys rule and girls drool.

Gagnon often goes back to the creation story in Genesis 2: 18-24 to prove this point, extrapolating that masculine and feminine traits and roles are viewed by God as unwaveringly distinct. Men are awesome because they were created first, and women were just (yes, just) created to help men. What they don’t tell you is that if you read Genesis 2 closely, people with vaginas were pretty much a last ditch effort after Adam rejected all the animals.

There’s a problem with this line of thinking, though. The creation story in Genesis 1 and 2 is a myth. It’s a nice myth, as creation myths go, but that’s all it is, and it’s written from a staunchly patriarchal world view. (And I say that as a Christian.)

Extrapolating further, Gagnon drew a stunning and absurd conclusion in 2008 in an article directed at Timothy Kincaid of Box Turtle Bulletin. He said… Well, I’ll let Kincaid tell you.

You may have heard of Matthew 7:1-6. You may even have thought it was about acceptance and tolerance and withholding judgment of others. Well not according to Gagnon:

Jesus’ saying about not giving what is “holy” to the “dogs” (Matt 7:6), an apparent allusion to Deuteronomic law (Deut 23:17-18) and texts in 1-2 Kings that indict the qedeshim, self-designated “holy ones” identified as “dogs” for their attempt to erase their masculinity by serving as the passive-receptive partners in man-male intercourse.

I kid you not! Robert Gagnon believes the text on not judging is really a condemnation of bottom boys.

But I guess the good news is that Jesus loves tops.

Again, this all comes through an interpretive lens that demands that stereotypical masculinity be more highly valued than stereotypical femininity and that falsely equates masculinity with dominance during sex.

Gagnon also makes the common mistake of treating homosexuality as a specific physical act rather than a trait that includes psychological, physiological, romantic, and spiritual elements. By reducing it to “You’re doing sex wrong,” Gagnon effectively devalues and dismisses the witness of gay people, leading his audience to view us as broken creatures bent on self-destruction.

If you’re interested in a more complete refutation of Dr. Gagnon’s theories, Jack Bartlett Rogers, Professor of Theology Emeritus at San Francisco Theological Seminary and Moderator of the 213th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), has a pretty good one in his book Jesus, the Bible, and Homosexuality: Explode the Myths, Heal the Church, Chapter 5, “What The Bible Says And Doesn’t Say About Homosexuality,” beginning at page 77 (second edition).

Unfortunately, Dr. Gagnon doesn’t limit his faulty logic to his church. On September 7, 2004, Dr. Gagnon wrote the following in an article (it’s really more of a press release) on the dangers of a hate crime law that would protect LGBT people:

A “hate crime” bill does not reduce violent crime. It rather establishes homosexual and bisexual behavior as valued practices that society wants to promote. It opens up the possibility of criminal prosecution of persons who speak out publicly against the harmful effects of promoting homosexual practice.

By establishing the valued character of “sexual orientation” diversity, it provides a legal stepping stone for other homosex-promoting legislation (including workplace and school promotion of homosexual practice, civil unions, gay marriage), further threatening the civil liberties of any opposed to homosexual propaganda and indoctrination. It also ignores the fact that orientations toward sex with children and with multiple sex partners are “sexual orientations.”

His whole statement is hogwash, though I do think it would be awesome if being gay were more highly valued in society. But I would be remiss if I didn’t point out the most absurd lie in that last sentence I quoted. It jumped out at me because we’ve heard it before, most memorably in 2009 when Representatives Steve King and Louis Gohmert floated it in Congress.

But again, it’s a lie. The federal law that governs such things makes it clear as day when it says, “As used in this section, the term ‘sexual orientation’ means consensual homosexuality or heterosexuality.”

It really bothers me when someone who claims to be a scholar lies so easily.


Church of Scotland Bans Talk of Sexuality

After upholding on Saturday the appointment of Scott Rennie, an openly gay minister, to Queen’s Cross in Aberdine, the Church of Scotland dodged the expected Overture to ban future openly gay ministers by appointing a Commission to examine the issue for two years, then banning discussion of the issue until the Commission’s report is given in 2011.

There’s a lot of information in that run on sentence, so I’ll let The Herald (Glasgow) unpack it for me.

The Church of Scotland has banned the ordination of gay clergy for the next two years along with any public discussion of the issue only two days after approving the controversial appointment of a homosexual minister.

Following a ruling by the General Assembly in Edinburgh yesterday, Kirk members are now effectively banned from talking about the issue outwith the church, including the media.

The only people who can discuss human sexuality are those connected with social committees such as the HIV/Aids groups.

Meanwhile a special commission will be set up to examine the issues thrown up in recent weeks and the wider issue of same-sex relationships. It will report in 2011.

The two-year moratorium was part of a “deliverance”, or motion, moved by Rev Dr John McPake from Mossneuk church in East Kilbride, which will see the special commission established.

The move had echoes of the Kirk’s stance when the world’s eyes were upon it in 2007, when same-sex relationships were on the agenda. Dr McPake said: “I am not appealing for silence, I am appealing for disciplined debate.”

The move will not affect the appointment of Mr Rennie whose appointment at Aberdeen’s Queen’s Cross church was approved on Saturday night.

The decision – swung in a 326- 267 vote – raised fear among traditionalists of a possible split in the Kirk.

Rev Ian Watson, an opponent of Mr Rennie’s appointment, called for a decision to be reached sooner.

He said: “We’re really tired of this debate. I really don’t know how much longer the church can sustain this debate.”

I’m not so sure about this one. I’m generally of the mind that it’s best to get things out in the open, even if the result isn’t what I would hope for. (One of the reasons I’d be a horrible politician.) On the other hand, there are all sorts of cultural, procedural, and historical nuances in the Kirk that make this more complex for an outsider like me.

Here’s something: Over 400 commissioners present and eligible to vote on the appointment of Rev. Rennie on Saturday night chose not to vote at all. Maybe these 400 commissioners are sympathetic but not yet ready to publicly declare their conviction. Could it be that the leaders of the Kirk are giving them an extra two years to gather themselves to join the fight?

If so, Rev. Rennie and his allies in the Kirk have their work cut out for them.

Gay Minister’s Appointment Upheld by Church of Scotland

Wonderful news coming from the Church of Scotland tonight. The General Assembly has rejected an objection, allowing an Aberdeen church to appoint Rev. Scott Rennie, a gay minister in a committed relationship.

The Church of Scotland last night [Scotland time] backed the appointment of an openly gay minister.

Commissioners voted 326 to 267 in favour of appointing the Rev Scott Rennie, 37, currently at Brechin Cathedral, who had the support of the majority of the congregation at Queen’s Cross in Aberdeen and the presbytery.

But the move sparked strong protest from traditionalist members which rippled across the world, with more than 12000 Christians from as far afield as Africa and the US signing an online petition against the appointment.

There had been concern that the vote could cause a split in the Church. Much of the four-hour debate was hemmed in by detailed legal discussion of Church procedural law amid claims from the floor of “a fudge”.

The gathered commissioners at the supreme court meeting of the Church of Scotland heard how left handed people were once considered “not normal”, how in Roman times faithful homosexual relationships were accepted, and how the Kirk had previously changed its mind over controversial issues such as its stance on female ministers.

Scott Rennie, new Minister at Queen's Cross in Aberdeen
Scott Rennie, new Minister at Queen's Cross in Aberdeen

Mr Rennie said last night: “The same talk was about when women were ordained and I think that argument suits those that don’t want any change.”

He said there are “many” gay ministers in the Church and rejected claims that his sexuality contradicts bible teachings.

“We don’t stone women, we don’t stone adulterers, we’ve moved on from that,” he said. “The living word is Jesus and I think the question is, what would Jesus have done?”

Mr Rennie, who was married and has a child, was appointed minister of Brechin in Angus 10 years ago. The controversy erupted after 12 members from Aberdeen presbytery, none of whom are members of Queen’s Cross, raised complaints over the appointment.

This is not the end of the debate at this year’s General Assembly. Debate is set to begin Monday as the Assembly considers an “Overture” that states: “That this Church shall not accept for training, ordain, admit, readmit, induct or introduce to any ministry of the Church anyone involved in a sexual relationship outside of marriage between a man and a woman”.

Given tonight’s vote and the limited coverage I could find of the Overture, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to be hopeful. But for tonight, congratulations to the congregation at Queen’s Cross and their new minister, Scott Rennie. Most of all, thanks and congratulations to the Church of Scotland for taking a major step in this long and winding struggle.

Rev. Scott Rennie’s Fate to be Determined Saturday

The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland will be voting on the continued ministry of Rev. Scott Rennie tomorrow, May 23rd. Debate is being scheduled, but it sounds like the vote will definitely come before the sun sets.

In preparation for the vote and in support of Rev. Rennie, a group of evangelicals has submitted the following letter to The Herald (Glasgow). (Kirk=Church)

Faithful same-sex relationships do not preclude a relationship with God

The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland is faced with a difficult subject: homosexuality in the church. We want to assure the Kirk of our prayers. We are evangelicals who believe that Scripture does not condemn homosexual relationships. We are made up of heterosexual and homosexual Christians.

These are, of course, deeply personal questions. As a result of the traditional view on homosexuality, it has been our experience that many gay and lesbian Christians have been forced down a path of self-hatred, which all too often leads to loss of faith, breakdown or even suicide.

After much wrestling, prayer and heartache, we have come to understand that God affirms loving, faithful same-sex relationships.

As evangelicals, we believe in the authority and supremacy of Scripture, and wholeheartedly affirm “the holy scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the word of God, the only rule of faith and obedience” (Westminster Larger Catechism 3) without question. We understand the various positions within the church and believe it is a difference of interpretation, not biblical authority, that characterises our debate.

We stand with the historic orthodox Christian teaching of “justification through faith alone” – that a person is made right with God because of the work of Jesus Christ and it is faith in Him that brings us into relationship with God.

This is the heart of the good news that Scotland and the rest of the world, whether gay or straight, needs to hear from the church.

No-one is excluded from a relationship with God (or service for Him) because they are in a relationship with someone of the same gender.

We affirm the teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ and the apostle Paul that all the law is summed up in love for God and love for our neighbour (Mark 12; Romans 13). We can see nothing in Scripture or our calling as God’s people – both gay and straight – where a loving, monogamous same-sex relationship is inconsistent with this summary of the requirements to live a holy life. We pray that the General Assembly will follow the example of Jesus, who reached out to the marginalised, the suffering, the oppressed and those on the fringes, and who continues to do so today.

We are not just “out there”. There are thousands of faithful people sitting in pews, standing in pulpits, working in Kirk Sessions who are gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered.

We urge the assembly to embrace the message of transformational grace and inclusion, to stand for justice and mercy and signal the openness of God’s compassionate love to his children, straight and gay. A vast and growing number of evangelicals and others across the world do not exclude homosexuals but understand that the church has erred in its rejection of them. Will the assembly send a clear message of God’s love and welcome, or one of rejection and fear?

Dr Ralph Blair, Davis Mac-Iyalla, Martin Stears-Handscomb and Sarah Hill, Rev Colin Coward, Rev Benny Hazlehurst, Cindy McCarron, Jeremy Marks and Rev Ruairidh MacRae, 37 Annette Street, Glasgow.

(Representing 10 evangelical organisations.)

Whatever comes of this, here’s the part the Church most needs to hear: “There are thousands of faithful people sitting in pews, standing in pulpits, working in Kirk Sessions who are gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered.”

This isn’t a matter of keeping a certain kind of person out of the Church; we’re already there and we aren’t going away. This is a matter of allowing us to live open, honest lives as part of the Body of Christ.

Scripture is Complex vs. You’re Hitler

Earlier this month, I mentioned Scottish minister Scott Rennie, who came out of the closet five years ago and now faces opposition as he moves to a new church.

Well, the battle within the Church of Scotland continues, including a sermon from Rennie’s chief Pharisee Ian Watson comparing the thought of The Homosexuals in church to Hitler taking France (Seriously, he makes a direct comparison.), we do seem to be on the winning end of this one. A vast majority of the Church’s ministers haven’t signed Watson’s petition, and the issue should be officially broached this week.

Meanwhile, I’d like to pull out a bit more from Rev. Rennie’s interview with OneKirk Journal. (pdf) He shows a remarkable understanding of scriptural complexity that his opponent can’t seem to grasp.

Rev. Scott Rennie, Church of Scotland
Rev. Scott Rennie, Church of Scotland

I take my lead from Jesus. If we want to see how Jesus treats Scripture we only need to see how he deals with the Sabbath laws. He makes clear that the law is there to serve God’s purpose of love, not to cause people harm. So in Luke 6 he heals someone on the Sabbath, showing the primacy of the command to love above Sabbath rules. When I compare the Levitical command to stone those who work on the Sabbath with what Jesus did you see the radical prioritising of love over the law. For Jesus ‘Love your God’ and ‘Love one another as yourself’ summarise the law.
You often hear the cry ‘hate the sin but love the sinner’. For me it is a false dichotomy. I can testify to the fact that it was impossible for me to experience this blanket condemnation of homosexuality as loving. Instead, it caused me to hate and fear a large part of myself—an experience gay and lesbian Christians around the world will relate to.
For me, when I encountered the Jesus who, first and foremost, loves and accepts us—the Jesus who prioritised love and healing people over the blunt imposition of law—it was a revelation. I realised that I had been caught up with—like the Pharisees—a restrictive legalism not grace. In denying my sexuality, I was rejecting Jesus’ unconditional love for and acceptance of me, and saying there was something wrong with the way God had created me.
One of the great themes of the Old Testament is the importance of covenant in relationships. I cannot believe that the destruction of committed relationships between people is what God wants, or what the Biblical authors had in their minds when writing.

The more I read, the more impressed I become with Rev. Rennie. Living out this understanding of complexity is surely more difficult than Rev. Watson’s approach. It certainly encourages more contemplation and compassion.

Scottish Gay Minister: “Both Strong and Battered”

This blog tends to focus on issues in the United States, but the struggle to reconcile religion with sexuality can be found around the world. Today I found the issue in Scotland, where Reverend Scott Rennie of the Church of Scotland is facing opposition by an evangelical group within the church.

In the interview from the OneKirk Journal, Rev. Rennie discussed how he’s doing with the battle. There’s a lot more meat in the interview (pdf) that I’ll be touching on in the coming days, but this section caught my eye today, as Rev. Rennie pinpoints the dual problem that a lot of gay people of faith face. (BTW, Kirk = Church)

Rev. Scott Rennie, Church of Scotland
Rev. Scott Rennie, Church of Scotland

I feel both strong and at the same time battered. Battered by weeks of speculation about my private life, which no other minister would have—or should be expected—to endure. On the other hand, and for the greater part, I feel hugely strengthened and supported by the hundreds of messages I have received from people both inside and outside the Kirk.

Some of the correspondence I have received has been deeply moving: very often from gay people who are serving in ministry, or as lay people in their churches— and who feel caught between a rock and a hard place. On one hand, they feel the church does not understand or appreciate them as gay people. And on the other, they are treated with suspicion within the gay community because of their Christian faith—no doubt, because of the negative treatment of gay people by the church throughout history.

Although the present discussion centres around my own response to God’s call, all the correspondence over the last few months has reminded me that there is a large body of people, like me, in a similar situation, in the Kirk.

Presbyterian Church (USA) Turns Gays Away from Active Ministry

presbyterian-crossSix weeks ago, I brought your attention to Presbyterian Amendment 08-B, which would open ordination to all called Presbyterians, including lesbian and gay members of the church. There had been an early indication of record numbers of Presbyteries voting to in favor of the amendment, but More Light Presbyterians, the denomination’s LGBT advocacy group, announced Saturday that the “no” votes have won the day.

This national vote continues until May 19, but the ratification decision became clear today as the “no” votes from presbyteries reached the majority number of 87.

More Light Presbyterians laments this loss of the 218th General Assembly’s Ordination Amendment 08-B that would have restored ordination standards based upon faith and character, not marital status and sexuality. Amendment 08-B reflects a Reformed understanding of ordination and put into perspective church membership and service by making faith in Jesus Christ central in ministry. Amendment 08-B gave our Church a faithful way to reconcile one’s faith and sexuality.

“More Light Presbyterians offer our deep gratitude for the thousands of Presbyterians who want the Presbyterian Church (USA) to be a Church for all of God’s people. So far, 48.6% of all votes cast supported a church that embraces and recognizes God’s image in every person,” said Michael Adee, Executive Director and Field Organizer.

As Michael points out, there is reason to hope for the future of the Presbyterian Church (USA).

In what has been a much closer situation than in 2002, 2 oppositional votes today meant defeat for the national ratification of 08-B. However, the good news is that 69 presbyteries have voted in favor with 14 presbyteries yet to vote. The final tally of support for policy change in 2002 was 42. It is important to recognize that 110 presbyteries out of the 155 presbyteries that have voted thus far demonstrate pro-LGBT equality shifts.

Change often comes more slowly than we “radicals” would like. It sometimes seems unconscionable that people who just want to participate in the life of their church are callously turned away, not unlike modern-day lepers. As my own United Methodist Church begins a similar process of declaring whether God’s church is inclusive or exclusive, I thank the minority of Presbyterians who voted for inclusiveness. With faith, hope, love, and a little bit of elbow grease, someday we’ll all be welcomed by our churches.

Presbyterian Church (USA) Seeing Shift Toward Gay and Lesbian Clergy

Good news from the Transylvania district of the Presbyterian Church (USA) in central/eastern Kentucky this week in a report from the Lexington Herald-Leader.

The commissioners of the Presbytery of Transylvania, which includes 56 Central and Eastern Kentucky counties, voted 83-61 Tuesday to approve an amendment that, if supported by the majority of the presbyteries in the United States, would open the door for gays and lesbians to be ordained as pastors, elders and deacons.

The proposal is being considered by each of the nation’s 173 presbyteries. It would have to be accepted by a simple majority of them to take effect.

The Presbyterian Church (USA) has considered such amendments to its Book of Order several times since 1996, when an amendment was put in place requiring church officers to live “in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman or chastity in singleness.”

Keep in mind that the proposed amendment (labeled 08-B) doesn’t simply remove the language from 1996. Instead, it proposes replacing it with this:

Those who are called to ordained service in the church, by their assent to the constitutional questions for ordination and installation (W-4.4003), pledge themselves to live lives obedient to Jesus Christ the Head of the Church, striving to follow where he leads through the witness of the Scriptures, and to understand the Scriptures through the instruction of the Confessions. In so doing, they declare their fidelity to the standards of the Church. Each governing body charged with examination for ordination and/or installation (G-14.0240 and G-14.0450) establishes the candidate’s sincere efforts to adhere to these standards.

I’m still trying to figure out the structure of the Presbyterian Church (And I thought Methodists liked bureaucracy!), but from what I can tell, the inclusion of the amendment was voted on by the General Assembly last summer, passing with a fairly close vote of 380-325-3. The much smaller Church Orders and Ministry Committee passed the amendment on to the Presbyteries with a much clearer majority of 41-11-0.

You can see the full text of the amendment with comments from the minority in the Church Orders and Ministry Committee here. According to the More Light Presbyterians (MLP), the LGBT advocacy group in the Presbyterian Church, the odds seem stacked against us with the current tally 43-71 with 59 still to vote.

While the outlook is relatively bleak (but still hopeful!) for this amendment, MLP points out that there is evidence of a major shift since the last amendment attempt in 2002. Of the votes so far, 19 Presbyteries have flipped their vote in favor of LGBT inclusion, 83 have moved that way regardless of the outcome, and three of the ‘no’ votes are actually ties. You can see a full rundown of the statistics for the vote here.

You’re getting there, LGBT Presbies! Keep up the pressure!