At the 1976 Presbyterian General Assembly, More Light Presbyterian founder David Bailey Sindt was joined by others, including seminarians Bill Silver and Chris Glaser. In fact, Silver’s candidacy for ordination through the New York Presbytery was on the agenda because the presbytery was uncertain how to respond to his ordination request, and they kicked it upstairs to the General Assembly for “definitive guidance.” The assembly responded by creating a task force to study, solicit churchwide input, and report back. Openly gay seminarian Chris Glaser was appointed to the task force.
The public hearings across the country were tedious at best and homophobic at worst, and Glaser later wrote.
Yet many of us on the task force found the hearings frustrating: we had already learned so much that we found ourselves astounded and exasperated by the ignorance of the majority of those who testified … Many attacked us for being on the task force, questioning our own morals, character, and judgment … Our faith and our intelligence were offended as person after person used their time (and ours) to read from a dusty Bible its handful of verses presumed to be about homosexuality–as if we hadn’t heard them before, as if we couldn’t recite them verbatim!
After more than a year of study and dialogue, it was time to prepare a report to be submitted to the 1978 General Assembly for consideration and action. Fourteen members supported an inclusive majority report
May a self-affirming, practicing homosexual Christian be ordained? We believe so, if the person manifests such gifts as are required for ordination …
Five dissenters supported a restrictive minority report:
That no possibility for the ordination of a self-affirming, practicing homosexual person should be granted …
When the report became public, conservative opposition mobilized and when General Assembly 1978 rolled around, they were ready. The majority report was quickly rejected, and the commissioners (delegates) went beyond the minority report, adopting a resolution with a 90% majority stating,
“homosexuality is not God’s wish for humanity” [and] “unrepentant homosexual practice does not accord with the requirements for ordination.”
This resolution would control Presbyterian policy for a generation.
Glaser’s path to Presbyterian ordination had encountered an insurmountable roadblock. He diverted into non-ordained ministry. He founded and directed The Lazarus Project, an LGBT ministry in Los Angeles. He remained an active leader of More Light Presbyterians and contributed as editor and writer for More Light Update and later, Open Hands Magazine, an award-winning pan-denominational publication. He also penned numerous books; to date, a dozen have been published. Finally, in 2005 he was ordained, but through the Metropolitan Community Churches rather than the Presbyterian Church.
Rev. Glaser continues to write, speak, and lead workshops and retreats, and his latest offerings can be found here. Chris has also been an invaluable source and fact checker for my own work, and his endorsement will appear on the book’s back cover:
Queer Clergy is a comprehensive, carefully documented, and highly readable account of a movement that transformed mainline Protestant denominations into more welcoming spiritual communities for LGBT Christians. There is still much work to do, but Holmen’s well-written history reminds us of our basis for hope.
This is the ninth installment in the series Cast of characters countdown. I will continue to post biographical notes about the iconic pilgrims and prophets on the road to full inclusion who are featured prominently in my soon-to-be-released book, Queer Clergy. Here’s the list of prior posts:
1968 Troy Perry (founder of the MCC)
1970 Robert Mary Clement (gay priest who marched in the first Gay Pride parade)
1972 William Johnson (first out gay man to be ordained by a traditional denomination)
1977 Ellen Marie Barrett (first out lesbian ordained to the Episcopal priesthood)
1974 James Siefkes (Lutheran pastor behind the formation of Lutherans Concerned)
1974 David Bailey Sindt (founder of More Light Presbyterians)
1975 Steve Webster (organized the first gathering of gay Methodists)
1975 Dr. Louie Clay (founder of Episcopal Integrity)