Presbyterians, Methodists, and gays: an update
In May, the Twin Cities Presbytery became the latest Presbytery to affirm changes in the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA) constitution. Their vote meant that a majority of Presbyteries had affirmed changes that would allow gay clergy, and thus the Presbyterians joined other mainline Protestant denominations with similar policies (United Church of Christ–UCC, Episcopal Church USA—ECUSA, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America—ELCA).
More recently, Presbyterian Ecclesiastical courts have issued two decisions interpreting and implementing the policy changes. In both cases that began before the recent policy changes, the ordinations of openly gay persons were at issue. Last week, the Scott Anderson case was dismissed on the basis that the issues were now moot, and
the way is now clear for him to proceed to ordination as Teaching Elder (the traditional Presbyterian term for minister). In his case, the GAPJC [court] found that the opponent’s argument was now moot because the rule barring participation in leadership by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender members no longer exists in the Book of Order.
The second case was remanded for further proceedings for somewhat murky reasons. See the reports at More Light Presbyterians for more information on both cases.
Scott Anderson currently serves as executive director of the Wisconsin Council of Churches. Here is the link to an earlier blog post that discussed his case. I recently had the pleasure of visiting with him during the Wisconsin United Methodist Annual Conference where we each had booths in the exhibit hall.
At that same UMC Wisconsin Conference, I renewed friendships with Pastor Amy DeLong and her supporters. Here is my earlier blog post about Rev Amy. At the Wisconsin UMC Annual Conference in early June, Rev Amy was only a week away from her own trial before a UMC ecclesiastical court, charged with a) being a “self-avowed practicing homosexual” and b) for celebrating a holy union of a lesbian couple.
Amy was calm and committed to the course ahead.
“What are your chances of winning?” someone asked.
“One hundred per cent,” Amy replied.
As Amy’s trial was pending, others within the UMC had engaged in supportive actions. On January 31, 2011 a large group of retired UMC bishops issued a statement calling for a removal of the UMC ban on gay clergy. At this spring’s round of UMC regional conferences, significant numbers of UMC clergy signed documents promising to “offer the grace of the Church’s blessing to any prepared couple desiring Christian marriage,” including same-sex couples, which was precisely the second charge against Rev Amy. I attended the Northern Illinois UMC Annual Conference, and they passed a resolution offering their own twist—for clergy convicted of officiating at a gay marriage, the penalty would merely be a one day suspension, an obvious signal to the Wisconsin Court in Rev Amy’s pending trial that a slap on the wrist punishment would be in order.
And that is precisely what happened. First, the charge that Rev Amy was “a self-avowed practicing homosexual” was dismissed for lack of proof. If I understand the decision correctly, it would have been necessary for the prosecution to prove that she engaged in same-gender, genital, sexual activity, and it was clear the court simply didn’t want to go there. She was convicted of the charge of performing a holy union, but the penalty was a mere twenty-day suspension, plus the task of writing and presenting a document regarding the UMC clergy covenant to be considered by the 2012 Wisconsin UMC Annual Conference for action.
Lastly, new charges have sprung up here in Minnesota. It seems that one of the UMC clergy who promised to perform same-gender blessings if asked to do so, did so. During the recent Gay Pride festival in Loring Park in Minneapolis, Pastor Greg Renstrom of New Harmony UMC in Minneapolis “participated in services of blessings”.
In a commendable display of openness and balance, Minnesota UMC Bishop Sally Dyck writes a current accounting of the case that is published online at the Conference’s website.
I don’t normally discuss formal complaints in a public venue like this or announce them through the clergy e-mail list as I already have done, but this is an unusual situation. This complaint comes in the context of a statement signed by 70 Minnesota United Methodists saying that they would “offer the grace of the Church’s blessing to any prepared couple desiring Christian marriage.” (At the time of writing this column I had not seen the signatory list so I don’t know whether Rev. Renstrom was among them.)
It also comes in the context of the United Methodist Church trial of Wisconsin elder Rev. Amy DeLong, who was tried for violating the denomination’s ban on “self-avowed practicing” gay clergy and its prohibition against officiating at same-sex unions. Many watched the trial closely.
Rev. Renstrom has agreed to this public reporting and I will give him opportunity to approve whatever I release. We both believe that it will help us all understand and bring clarity to this matter of leading holy unions in the context in which we find ourselves. (emphasis added)
To be continued …