Presbyterians Take a Big Step Forward
This week, the Presbyterian Church (USA) became the latest Christian denomination to lower barriers against LGBT people in their midst.
A new rule—passed in May and taking effect July 10—allows “presbyteries,” regional bodies of the church, and local congregations to decide whether to allow the ordination of openly LGBT persons.
Presbyterian equality activists—there are many, including Covenant Network of Presbyterians and More Light Presbyterians—are ecstatic. Theirs has been a long struggle.
The battle has been waging since at least 1974, when a delegate to that year’s denominational General Assembly held up a sign, “Is anyone else out there gay?” That brave act by David Bailey Sindt triggered response, positive and negative, and the contest for the soul of the church has been engaged ever since.
This is a reminder that some times it only takes one of us to speak up, or stand up, to create what ultimately is a large wave of change.
It also is a reminder that some times our victories are not pure and total. This action creates what in essence is “local option,” meaning that there well could be places where openly LGBT people will not be ordained, or even accepted.
So, Presbyterians have not ended discrimination outright.
The vote in the Presbytery of the James, for example, which includes Richmond was tied—152 to 152—so it was recorded as a “No” vote in the overall count of presbyteries. But that vote was a dramatic shift from the last time when the motion to change the rules was clearly defeated.
Indeed, one of the shining lights in this struggle has been Ginter Park Presbyterian Church. For years, the clergy and lay leadership of that congregation have been forthright in supporting equality and justice.
Mainline Protestant Christian denominations are increasingly resolving their inner struggles over the matter of LGBT ordinations. The United Church of Christ, the Episcopalians, and now the Presbyterians are lined up, in varying degrees of completion, on the side of liberation.
The next battleground is most like among the Methodists. Like the others, they have a network of activists—straight and gay—who agitate ceaselessly for change. They will, of course, carry the day. And I believe it will be soon.
The cause is helped by changes in the wider society: the repeal of DADT, votes in New York and elsewhere for marriage equality or at least civil unions. The wave of anti-gay bullying also touches many religious folks.
It also is worth noting that the Presbyterians who fought for change refused to accept biblical interpretations that denigrated same-gender-loving people and their relationships. Increasingly, church people are coming to understand that the 7 passages used by many to condemn us are irrelevant in the discussion, because they have no reference to self-respecting LGBT people.
The cause moves forward. Inexorably. It will not be stopped.
Alas, with the exception of a few denominations—my own Metropolitan Community Churches, the Unitarian Universalists, Reformed Judaism, and the United Church of Christ come to mind—religious bodies have not been in front of the march.
But at least, we are not at the back of the march. And we are not marching in the wrong direction.
Rev. Dr. Robin H. Gorsline is President of People of Faith for Equality in Virginia, an interfaith organization of gay and straight clergy and lay people working for equality for LGBT Virginians. Read more of his thoughts on faith and spirituality on his personal blog.
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