Church leaves PCUSA over gay ordinations

Fremont Presbyterian pastor says his Sacramento church ‘didn’t leave the PCUSA; they left us’

Anderson

AMEN | The Rev. Scott Anderson gives the benediction at the end of his ordination in Madison, Wis., on Oct. 8. Anderson is the first openly gay person to be ordained to the ministry in the Presbyterian Church (USA), the largest Presbyterian denomination. Fremont Presbyterian Church in Sacramento, Calif., voted Oct. 16 to leave the PCUSA over the denomination’s decision to ordain openly gay ministers. (Craig Schreiner/Wisconsin State Journal/Associated Press)

Associated Press

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — A Sacramento church has voted to split from Presbyterian Church USA over the national denomination’s decision to ordain openly gay clergy.

After months of discussion, members of Fremont Presbyterian Church voted 427 to 164 on Sunday, Oct. 16, to join the more conservative Evangelical Presbyterian Church.

“Let me make it clear that Fremont didn’t leave the PCUSA; they left us,” said the Rev. Donald Baird, senior pastor.

About 800 congregants attended church Sunday for a meeting about the pros and cons of what is technically known as seeking “dismissal” from the mainline Presbyterian fold. Supporters of the separation argued that their denomination had drifted away from biblical teachings with its decision to allow gay ministers.

Scott Anderson became the denomination’s first openly gay minister when he was reordained last week in Wisconsin. He served as a Presbyterian minister in Sacramento for seven years before he came out to his congregation and resigned in 1990.

“This is a day of rejoicing. It frees us from the controversy that has split the church,” Clair Parsh, a member for 50 years who favored leaving the denomination, told the Sacramento Bee.

Cindy Harris, who is preparing to become a minister herself, was on the side of those who expressed reservations about joining the Evangelical Presbyterian Church.

“I think God can and will call whoever he wants to call, regardless of sex or orientation,” she said, wiping away tears after the vote.

Fremont, with weekly attendance of about 1,400, is the seventh Sacramento-area church to leave the mainline Presbyterian Church over doctrinal issues in the past few years, according to the Bee.

Regional church leaders plan to meet with Fremont’s staff to discuss what will become of the church’s property and other assets.

In an interview with The Associated Press this month, Anderson predicted that accepting gay clergy would make the Presbyterian church stronger in the long run.

“It really says to the wider culture, here we have a church that not only talks about being created in the image of God and you’re all created to be in relationship with one another, but also wants to live that message,” he said.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 21, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

WATCH: Which one of Rick Perry’s anti-gay co-chairs in Florida is a bigger nutjob?

Pam Olsen

The other day we told you how John Stemberger, co-chair of Rick Perry’s leadership team for this week’s GOP presidential straw poll in Florida, once compared same-sex marriage to suicide (prompting one of our Twitter followers to quip, “It certainly has been for my sex life!”) But all joking aside, it turns out Perry’s other co-chair in Florida, though not as well known, appears to be just as crazy. Right Wing Watch reports that Pam Olsen heads the Tallahassee branch of the International House of Prayer, which helped put together Perry’s day of prayer in Houston in August . In July, Olsen said denominations that have allowed same-sex marriage and gay clergy are likely to blame for recent natural disasters:

“If anybody looks at the news and has just seen what’s been happening recently with the floods, the fires, the tornadoes, God is shaking. Yeah I think you have God shaking, sure you have the Enemy shaking, you have both and I don’t want to say oh that’s the judgment of God or that’s the Enemy. But the reality is God is judging us, and I think it’s going to get worse.”

As Mother Jones points out, it’s unclear why God would punish Texas with wildfires given Perry’s extreme anti-gay views.

Watch video of Olsen’s remarks below.

—  John Wright

Churches debate whether to marry gays

As more states legalize same-sex marriage, religious groups grapple with whether to allow ceremonies

RACHEL ZOLL | AP Religion Writer

NEW YORK — After same-sex marriage becomes legal here on July 24, gay priests with partners in the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island will head to the altar. They have to. Their bishop set a nine-month deadline for them to marry or stop living together.

Next door, meanwhile, the Episcopal bishop of New York says he also expects gay clergy in committed relationships to wed “in due course.” Still, this longtime supporter of gay rights says churches in his diocese are off limits for gay weddings until he receives clearer liturgical guidance from the national denomination.

As more U.S. states legalize same-sex marriage, religious groups with ambiguous policies on homosexuality are divided over whether they should allow the ceremonies in local congregations. The decision is especially complex in the mainline Protestant denominations that have yet to fully resolve their disagreements over the Bible and homosexuality. Many have taken steps toward acceptance of gay ordination and same-gender couples without changing the official definition of marriage in church constitutions and canons. With the exception of the United Church of Christ, which approved gay marriage six years ago, none of the larger mainline churches has a national liturgy for same-sex weddings or even blessing ceremonies.

The result is a patchwork of church policies in states where gays can civilly wed — not only for lay people, but also for gay clergy who want to marry their partners.

“It’s a challenge for us,” said Tony De La Rosa, administrator of the Presbytery of New York City, a regional body of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). “I think this is a moment of great tumult in the sights of the church.”

The New York regional body of the United Methodist Church issued a statement reminding local congregations that the Methodist Book of Discipline bars any celebration of same-gender unions, but encouraged congregants to “extend God’s love” to each other, “particularly those with whom we disagree.”

Just last Sunday, the Presbyterian Church formally lifted barriers to ordination for gays and lesbians who are not celibate, although individual congregations had been hiring gay pastors and conducting same-sex blessing ceremonies for years. De La Rosa expects a similar mix of responses to gay marriage laws, even though a minister who conducts a same-gender marriage is at risk of possible disciplinary action by the denomination since the ceremonies are not officially authorized. De La Rosa, who is gay, said he does not plan to wed because the marriage would not be recognized in California, where he and his partner are residents.

New York churches can look for guidance to religious leaders in the five other states where gay marriage is already legal: Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire and Iowa, plus the District of Columbia.

The New England Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, which includes four of the five states with gay marriage, issued a document stating that pastors can choose to solemnize same-sex marriages in individual churches that give their approval. The Upstate New York Synod, which oversees Lutheran churches in the Albany area, distributed that document to local leaders ahead of an upcoming discussion on the gay marriage law. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America formally abolished a celibacy requirement for gay and lesbian clergy more than a year ago, but still defines marriage as between one man and one woman.

The Rev. David Preisinger, an assistant to the Upstate New York bishop, said the bishop has indicated that she will not take action against clergy who perform the ceremonies. He said churches in his region have already received several requests for weddings and believes they will take place soon.

“There are some congregations that are very open to it and others that don’t want anything to do with it,” Preisinger said.

The Episcopal Church blazed a trail, and enraged fellow Anglicans worldwide, in 2003 by consecrating the first openly gay bishop, V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire. On same-sex marriage, Episcopal dioceses have been guided by a 2009 resolution from the General Convention, the church’s top national policy body, that asked for a “generous pastoral response” to gay couples, especially in states with same-sex marriage or civil unions.

However, bishops disagree about what the resolution means. Each has cited the measure when issuing dramatically different policies.

Even before the New York legislature had passed the gay marriage bill last month, Bishop Gladstone Adams, who leads the Syracuse-based Episcopal Diocese of Central New York, had asked the local liturgy committee to draft a rite for same-gender marriage. Adams said individual priests and parishes could decide whether to conduct the ceremonies. He has not yet set a policy on marriage for clergy living with same-gender partners.

In the Diocese of New York, Bishop Mark Sisk said local priests could bless couples who marry elsewhere in a civil ceremony, but could not solemnize the marriages.

“I do not believe that resolution … empowered bishops to authorize clergy to perform such marriages,” Sisk wrote in a statement. “Nor do I believe that it is appropriate for clergy to circumvent the vows we have taken by becoming separately licensed by the state to perform such marriages.”

His position stunned many Episcopalians. The New York diocese is considered so gay-friendly that the local chapter of the national Episcopal gay advocacy group, Integrity, focuses instead on outreach to other gay and lesbians seeking a religious community, according to Mary O’Shaughnessy, New York City coordinator for the organization.

Sisk’s spokesman said the bishop won’t move forward without an approved liturgy. Episcopalians are drafting prayers for blessing same-gender couples that advocates hope will be accepted next year by the General Convention.

O’Shaughnessy said she was disappointed by Sisk’s decision, but said he has “unequivocally” supported gay and lesbian rights and she understands that he has a broad constituency to consider, including parishes in the diocese that lie outside of Manhattan.

Long Island Episcopal Bishop Lawrence Provenzano said there is nothing “punitive” about the nine-month period he set for clergy to marry their partners — a length of time he said was similar to an academic year. No one will be disciplined for failing to meet the deadline. Instead, he said he would handle each priest’s situation on a case-by-case basis. He noted that some private employers are considering restricting domestic partner benefits to those who are legally married.

“I need to be mindful that the church has always asked people to live in committed monogamous, faithful relationships,” Provenzano said. “I won’t allow heterosexual clergy to live in a rectory or church housing without the benefit of marriage. When one puts it in that context, then you see how it all begins to make sense.”

The Rev. Christopher Hofer, pastor of the Episcopal Church of St. Jude in Wantagh, on Long Island, said he has heard no complaints from other gay or lesbian clergy about the policy. Hofer plans a “big” August wedding in his parish with his partner of 17 years, Kerry Brady. They live in the church rectory, where on a recent evening they waited together for a messenger to deliver their wedding rings.

“I think Bishop Provenzano’s statement was not only fair, but beyond generous. It gives people time, acknowledging that there’s a financial component involved, and recognizing that some may not choose to live together,” Hofer said. “Now that the state is recognizing civil marriage, we as priests, perhaps deacons too, who are in committed relationships, have a choice: We either live what we preach, to become civilly married, or we choose to live apart.”

No other Episcopal dioceses in states with same-gender marriage have set an explicit deadline for gay clergy to marry their live-in partners.

Episcopal Bishop John Chane, of the Diocese of Washington, allowed local priests to perform same-sex marriages in parishes that approved the ceremonies, but did not ask clergy to marry or live alone. He said it wouldn’t be fair, since so few states recognize the marriages, and state and federal laws like the Defense of Marriage Act are still in effect and “deny the human rights and disrespect the orientation” of gays and lesbians. He said five gay clergy have married in the Diocese of Washington since same-sex marriages started last year.Churches debate whether to marry gays

—  John Wright

What’s Brewing: Slavery dropped from ‘Marriage Vow’; Presbyterian Church celebrates gay clergy

Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson is the only major GOP presidential candidate who’s spoken out against the Family Leader’s “Marriage Vow.”

Your weekday morning blend from Instant Tea:

1. The “Marriage Vow” pledge that a right-wing Iowa group is asking presidential candidates to sign continues to make headlines. Over the weekend, the group, called the Family Leader, removed a portion of the pledge’s preamble which suggested blacks were better off during slavery. But this wasn’t before GOP candidates Michele Bachmann — who, alarmingly, leads one recent Iowa poll — and Rick Santorum had already signed the pledge, which also says homosexuality is a choice and calls for banning all pornography. Thus far, only one GOP presidential candidate, Gary Johnson, has spoken out against the pledge, although Jon Huntsman has also confirmed he won’t sign it.

2. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s new policy allowing ordination of non-celibate gays and lesbians took effect Sunday. Many congregations marked the change with a national day of prayer organized by More Light Presbyterians, which pushes for LGBT equality within the church. The 2.8 million member Presbyterian Church joins other Protestant denominations including the Episcopal Church, the United Church of Christ, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, in allowing gay clergy.

3. Six police officers have been fired for lying about what happened during a September 2009 raid of the Atlanta Eagle, a gay bar, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports. More officers face hearings this week following the release of a 343-page report showing they lied or destroyed evidence in the wake of the raid. Eight men were arrested during the raid, but charges were dropped and the city later paid the men more than $1 million to settle a federal lawsuit.

—  John Wright

What’s Brewing: Highland Park Presbyterian says it won’t allow gay clergy despite policy change

Pastor Ron Scates

Your weekday morning blend from Instant Tea:

1. The Minnesota Senate voted 38-27 Wednesday to place a constitutional amendment on the 2012 ballot that would ban same-sex marriage. Minnesota already has a statute limiting marriage to one man and one woman, but Republicans in the Legislature are apparently looking for a boost in next year’s election. Only one Democrat in the Senate voted in favor of the amendment, which now goes to the Republican-controlled House, where it is also expected to pass. Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton opposes the measure but cannot veto it. Constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage have passed in all 31 states where voters have considered them. On the bright side, Delaware’s civil unions bill was signed into law Wednesday night and will take effect next year.

2. Highland Park Presbyterian Church, led by our old friend Pastor Ron Scates, plans to send a letter to its 5,000 members reaffirning the congregation’s commitment to “traditional” marriage and celibacy for unmarried clergy, the Associated Press reports. The letter comes in the wake of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s decision this week to remove the celibacy requirement for unmarried clergy, thus paving the way for the ordination of gays and lesbians. Pastor Scates has long been a vocal opponent of gay clergy, and Highland Park Presbyterian has formed a task force to study the impact of the new policy. In 2009, Scates admitted in a personal letter to Instant Tea that he’s “been taken into the world of homosexual sex …” and sent us a copy of a newsletter from an “ex-gay” group.

3. Contrary to some published reports, Uganda’s Parliament still plans to consider an Anti-Homosexuality Bill this year that currently includes a death penalty provision for repeat offenders and other violators. The Uganda parliament is now scheduled to debate the bill on Friday.

—  John Wright

Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) votes to allow openly lesbian, gay pastors to be ordained

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) voted tonight to amend the denomination’s Book of Order in a move that clears the way for the church to begin ordaining non-celibate lesbian and gay clergy, deacons and elders, according to a number of online reports, including this one from Reuters.

Michael Adee

The denomination’s General Assembly voted last summer to amend the Book of Order by removing a requirement that clergy live “in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman, or chastity in singleness.” But the change had to be ratified by a majority of the denomination’s 173 regional presbyteries, and the 87th and deciding vote was cast tonight by the Minneapolis-St. Paul Presbytery.

Ratification comes at the end of a long battle, including a vote just two years ago refusing the amendment. However, by the time the Minneapolis-St. Paul Presbytery voted tonight, 19 of the regions that voted against the change two years ago had already voted in favor of the amendment this time around.

Michael Adee, the executive director of More Light Presbyterians which has been pushing for the change for several years, on Tuesday told The Huffington Post, “This is quite a day of celebration. We’ve restored the longstanding Presbyterian understanding of ordination: that the most important qualifications are related to faith, not marital status or sexuality.”

—  admin

Talking about gay clergy in the UMC

This just in from Fort Worth: The Texas Wesleyan Gay Straight Alliance will be host for a presentation featuring a representative from MoSAIC — Methodist Students for an All-Inclusive Church — who will talk about giving full clergy rights to openly gay and lesbian clergy candidates, and Dr. Bruce McDonald, a religion professor at Texas Wesleyan, who opposes such action.

Organizers stress the event is NOT a debate but is simply an effort to “educate all those who attend on one of the most sensationalized dilemmas facing the UMC today.”

The event will be held at noon on Friday, April 25, on the first floor of West Library in the Orientation Room.

The university is at 1201 Wesleyan St. in Fort Worth. You can get directions at the Web site, www.txwesleyan.edu.

—  admin