Tag Archives: LGBT

Cast of characters: Guy Erwin

At the 2009 ELCA Church Wide Assembly, two notable measures passed. The first was a social statement on human sexuality, and the second was a revision in ministry policies that recognized and supported gay and lesbian relationships and welcomed such partners into the pulpit. The vote on the social statement came first, following a tornado in the vicinity of the Minneapolis Convention Center.

By late afternoon, the sun peeked out, and the voting members picked up their electronic voting devices, ready to vote. Professor Guy Erwin of California Lutheran University was a laity voting member from the Southwest California Synod. He was returning from a bathroom break when he heard the call to vote. He hustled back into the plenary hall and settled into his seat just as the presiding bishop said, “push one for yes, two for no.”

Out of 1,045 registered, 1,014 were present. To reach the constitutionally mandated 2/3 of voters present and voting, the social statement would need 676 affirmative votes. The vote totals appeared first on the monitor of the presiding bishop. With a quizzical look on his face, he turned to his parliamentarian for guidance, and then he announced, “the Social Statement is adopted,” as the totals flashed on the big screens. There were precisely 676 votes for the measure. Not a single vote to spare. Every single aye voter could legitimately claim to have cast the deciding vote; for Dr. Erwin and his sprint from the men’s room, that seemed especially true. Guy Erwin

Guy Erwin was born in Oklahoma with roots in the Osage tribe of Native Americans. His life in the church would be that of a scholar and academic. While studying at Harvard, the history of Luther and the Reformation led him to the Lutheran Campus Ministry and the Lutheran Church. Later, while undertaking graduate studies at Yale, he considered ordination within the Lutheran Church of America shortly before its merger into the ELCA, but more studies intervened–at Tubingen and Leipzig in Germany. Upon his return from Europe, the ELCA had been formed, and the newly created Vision and Expectations stood as a barrier to his call to ordained ministry. In 1994, he met his life partner, Rob Flynn, and Dr. Erwin assumed that was the end of his prospects for ordination. Dr. Erwin continued his career as an academic, settling in at California Lutheran University (CLU) by 2000 where he has served as a faculty leader.

But, following the revision to ministry policies that the church wide assembly enacted later in the week, Dr. Erwin’s path to ordination opened up. On May 11, 2011, he was ordained by Bishop Dean W. Nelson of the Southwest California Synod, who said,

We are humbled and thankful to God for the privilege of receiving Dr. R. Guy Erwin onto the roster of ordained pastors of the Southwest California Synod. We have been blessed by Guy’s ministry for over a decade, for in addition to teaching at California Lutheran University, Guy has been the Bible study leader and/or presenter at our Bishop’s Colloquy for rostered leaders, at our Synod Assembly, and at our Synod’s Equipping Leaders for Mission School. During that same period, he has also been a preacher and teacher at several of our Synod’s congregations.

Two years later, on May 31, 2013, Rev. Dr. Erwin allowed his name to go forward during the Synod election of a new bishop to succeed Bishop Nelson. He made it past the first couple rounds in the ecclesiastical ballot process, and he was one of the seven remaining candidates called upon to address the plenary and then one of three to participate in a question and answer session. Emily Eastwood, the executive director of ReconcilingWorks, offered this eyewitness account:

A little nervous before he gave his opening speech, once at the microphone and speaking, he relaxed and told a bit of his story. He talked about Rob. The assembly listened silently in rapt attention, no chatting, no coughing or shuffling of papers. He did what he needed to do. He was completely authentic. From that point forward he was in his element, the teacher and pastor. He seemed to have fun with every question in the Q&A session, especially the one asking about how he would handle ministry to LGBT people. You should have seen his face. What a softball question. He responded with care for those who might be at different points in the conversation on LGBT inclusion. His answer was full of grace and the love of Christ. At that moment, he was the bishop, and most everyone knew it.

As the final vote tally was announced, Erwin sat with head bowed with partner Rob leaning in close. The weight of the moment was upon each of them. The call was clear and so was his commitment.

The crowd went wild. There was hardly a dry eye in the house. The assembly had elected the best candidate, he happened to be gay and Native American and a PhD., one of the world’s best known Luther scholars, and a very good pastor.

Emily Eastwood is a battle-scarred warrior. She has been active in LC/NA for over thirty years, the last decade as its leader. As the assembly applauded, she sobbed.

I cried. I cried as I had not in a long time, surprised by how much pent up hope there was in me for this historic moment. I know how to lose, but even now winning takes me by surprise.

Where to buy the book

Print copies are available from Amazonthe publisherBarnes and NobleCokesbury, or an autographed copy straight from me. Amazon offers it in digital, eBook format for Kindle, and Barnes and Noble offers it for Nook. For iPad or other Apple users, you may order through the iTunes bookstore. Search on RW Holmen.

This is the last installment in the series Cast of characters countdown, which are biographical snippets and summaries of the stories of the iconic pilgrims and prophets on the road to full inclusion who are featured prominently in Queer ClergyAs with all these posts, this is merely a summary of the full story, which is woven into an overarching narrative in the book. 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)

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)

1976 Chris Glaser (longtime Presbyterian activist)

1977 Ellen Marie Barrett (first out lesbian ordained to the Episcopal priesthood)

1978 Loey Powell (early UCC lesbian pastor and activist)

1980 Mark Bowman (founder and leader of RMN and editor of Open Hands Magazine)

1982 Melvin Wheatley (Methodist bishop and straight ally)

1987 Ann B. Day (Led the UCC ONA for twenty years)

1990 Jeff Johnson, Ruth Frost, Phyllis Zillhart (Extraordinarily ordained Lutherans)

1990 John Shelby Spong (leading straight ally in the Episcopal House of Bishops)

1992 Janie Spahr (Presbyterian leader of “That All May Freely Serve”)

1994 Ross Merkel (defrocked Lutheran allowed to remain on call with a “wink-and-a-nod” from his bishop)

1996 Walter Righter (Episcopal Bishop whose heresy trial opened the door for queer clergy)

2000 Jimmy Creech, Greg Dell, Joseph Sprague, and Jack Tuell (Methodist trials to punish clergy who performed covenant services for same-gender couples)

2001 Anita Hill (extraordinarily ordained Lutheran)

2003 Gene Robinson (gay bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire)

2004 Karen Dammann and Beth Stroud (Methodist clergy put on trial for being lesbians)

2007 Bradley Schmeling and Darin Easler (defrocked Lutheran clergy who were the first to be reinstated)

2011 Scott Anderson (first gay Presbyterian to be ordained following policy change)

2011 Amy DeLong (out, partnered Methodist minister on trial)

Cast of Characters: Amy DeLong

As I turned to my conversation partner he immediately said to me, “Amy, tell me about the most important thing in your life.” I wanted to tell him about Val, but I couldn’t. I wanted to tell him about her children whom we were raising together, but I couldn’t. So I talked about my cat. Now aside from looking profoundly superficial – the most pathetic part was that I didn’t have a cat at the time. My life and my loves had been reduced to telling make-believe stories about a cat I didn’t have.

Amy DeLong and Val Zellmer

So says Methodist clergywoman Amy DeLong who eloquently states the case for honesty in spite of potential consequences, and she now self-describes as an “out, partnered lesbian and United Methodist minister.” Her honesty resulted in an ecclesiastical trial in Wisconsin in 2011 that was the first in the current wave of Methodist clergy trials that may have brought the church to a tipping point in the Methodist journey toward full inclusion. In particular, Rev. Amy and her partner, Val Zellmer, were honest in registering under Wisconsin’s domestic partnership law, and Amy honestly noted that she officiated at a covenant ceremony of a lesbian couple when she filed an annual report of her clergy activity.

Reluctantly, Bishop Linda Lee pressed ecclesiastical charges. Several trial prosecutors were appointed and subsequently resigned, and the trial process barely moved forward until the seasoned inquisitor of the gatekeepers, Thomas Lambrecht, became trial prosecutor. With an angular face and a disarming cant of his head to the right, Lambrecht had become inquisitor general on behalf of Good News (an organization of conservative Methodists) years earlier, and his guiding hand remains behind many of the ongoing Methodist trials. Finally, in June, 2011, the trial convened in a small church in Kaukauna, halfway between Green Bay and Oshkosh in East-central Wisconsin. Despite the isolation, the national press followed the trial closely.

The clergy jury acquitted Rev. DeLong of the charge of being a “self-avowed, practicing homosexual” because prosecutor Lambrecht’s clumsy attempt to prove genital contact failed but convicted her of the second charge of officiating at the holy union ceremony of the lesbian couple. Indeed, the couple testified on Rev. DeLong’s behalf during the trial. Then, the jury did something radical in the imposition of a penalty. Rev. DeLong was merely to spend a purposeful twenty day suspension discerning whether or not she would develop recommendations for the church on how better to deal with clergy conflict.

She accepted the challenge of writing the recommendations.

The paper was a year in process and resulted from collaborative meetings (four of them) between Pastor DeLong, Bishop Lee, District Superintendent and complainant Rev. Jorge Luis Mayorga, Board of Ordained Ministry chair Rev. Richard Strait, and Pastor Wesley White, who served at Pastor DeLong’s request. It was presented to the Wisconsin Annual Conference in June, 2012. Her eleven page document is a tour de force for the cause of LGBT inclusion that indicts the church, its leaders, and its membership for a lack of courage. Her argumentation is summarized in the words of Dr. King, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends,” and the concept of “weeping executioners” that “describe those who express concern for the oppressed, but will not leave their place in the hierarchy of oppression.

Earlier that spring, Rev. DeLong had become the de facto leader of the gays, lesbians, and allies that engaged in direct action ecclesiastical disobedience by moving to the center of the plenary floor at General Conference 2012 and refusing to leave. Rev. Amy negotiated an agreement that allowed a gay man to offer the opening prayer for the afternoon session, and the president of the Council of Bishops, Rosemarie Wenner, began the session with an acknowledgement that harm had been done to gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people during the Conference, which had once again failed to remove onerous LGBT policy provisions from the Book of Discipline. Rev. DeLong continues to advocate directly with Methodist leadership—the Council of Bishops last fall and soon with the Connectional Table, and her activities may be followed at Love Prevails website.

Rev. Amy has been an invaluable source and fact-checker for Queer Clergy, and she has offered this blurb for the book’s back cover.

Holmen has captured in detail our fervent belief in the grace of God and the gospelstrength of our cause. I am grateful that this narrative of our risk-taking saints and sages is preserved under one cover.

Where to buy the book

Print copies are available from Amazonthe publisherBarnes and NobleCokesbury, or an autographed copy straight from me. Amazon offers it in digital, eBook format for Kindle, and Barnes and Noble offers it for Nook. For iPad or other Apple users, you may order through the iTunes bookstore. Search on RW Holmen.

This is the latest installment in the series Cast of characters countdown, which are biographical snippets and summaries of the stories of the iconic pilgrims and prophets on the road to full inclusion who are featured prominently in Queer ClergyAs with all these posts, this is merely a summary of the full story, which is woven into an overarching narrative in the book. 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)

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)

1976 Chris Glaser (longtime Presbyterian activist)

1977 Ellen Marie Barrett (first out lesbian ordained to the Episcopal priesthood)

1978 Loey Powell (early UCC lesbian pastor and activist)

1980 Mark Bowman (founder and leader of RMN and editor of Open Hands Magazine)

1982 Melvin Wheatley (Methodist bishop and straight ally)

1987 Ann B. Day (Led the UCC ONA for twenty years)

1990 Jeff Johnson, Ruth Frost, Phyllis Zillhart (Extraordinarily ordained Lutherans)

1990 John Shelby Spong (leading straight ally in the Episcopal House of Bishops)

1992 Janie Spahr (Presbyterian leader of “That All May Freely Serve”)

1994 Ross Merkel (defrocked Lutheran allowed to remain on call with a “wink-and-a-nod” from his bishop)

1996 Walter Righter (Episcopal Bishop whose heresy trial opened the door for queer clergy)

2000 Jimmy Creech, Greg Dell, Joseph Sprague, and Jack Tuell (Methodist trials to punish clergy who performed covenant services for same-gender couples)

2001 Anita Hill (extraordinarily ordained Lutheran)

2003 Gene Robinson (gay bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire)

2004 Karen Dammann and Beth Stroud (Methodist clergy put on trial for being lesbians)

2007 Bradley Schmeling and Darin Easler (defrocked Lutheran clergy who were the first to be reinstated)

2011 Scott Anderson (first gay Presbyterian to be ordained following policy change)

Cast of characters: Scott Anderson

In the late eighties, Bethany Presbyterian of Sacramento was a bustling, thriving congregation. Because of the congregation’s strong, service-oriented presence in the community, Bethany would soon receive the Ecumenical Service Award presented by the General Assembly. Rev. Scott Anderson, their head pastor, was an integral part of their successful ministries.

But then he was outed.

He chose to resign to avoid the “scorn,” “derision,” and an “enormous backlash” that would split the congregation, and he assumed he would merely fight a losing battle that would end with his defrocking anyway. Anderson would later reflect:

Getting outed at Bethany was both the best and worst moment of my life. On the one hand, it was so freeing and empowering to finally be honest about the truth of who I am. On the other hand, it forced me to step away from my passion. The gay issue had never been part of my ministry at Bethany; it hadn’t played any role at all in our conversations there. When out of the blue it became the conversation, I thought it best if I voluntarily resigned from Bethany. I didn’t want the tumult caused by my staying to ultimately prove disruptive to the life of the church.

This background, together with Anderson’s service as a leader of More Light Presbyterians in the nineties, is merely prologue. Though he willingly relinquished his pastoral call in 1990, he would fight vigorously for clergy reinstatement a decade and a half later.

It would be a matter of scruple.

But before jumping to that story, more prologue is necessary. The Presbyterian Adopting Act of 1729 established the right of dissent from non-essentials for clergy and clergy candidates.

And in Case any Minister of this Synod or any Candidate for the Ministry shall have any Scruple with respect to any Article or Articles of sd. Confession or Catechisms, he shall at the Time of making his sd. Declaration declare his Sentiments to the Presbytery or Synod, who shall notwithstanding admit him to ye Exercise of Ministry within our Bounds and to Ministerial Communion if the Synod or Presbytery shall judge his scruple or mistake to be only about articles not Essential and necessary in Doctrine, Worship, or Government.

The right of dissent was re-affirmed in the 1920s in the Fundamentalist-Modernist debate that birthed the term “fundamentalism.” A special commission became known as the “Swearingen Commission,” and their 1927 report affirmed freedom of conscience, recycling the “scruple” of the Adopting Act of 1729. Furthermore, the Commission held that it was not the business of General Assembly to legislate beforehand what was essential and what was not. Such decisions should be left to specific cases and the presbyteries that performed the examination of candidates.

As the new millennium dawned, Scott Anderson had moved to Wisconsin and served as executive director of the Wisconsin Council of Churches, and he was an active participant in the affairs of the John Knox Presbytery. He was appointed to a blue ribbon panel, a theological task force on the Peace, Unity, and Purity of the Church (PUP). After four and a half years of discernment, their report was submitted to the church and adopted by the General Assembly in 2006. A critical insight of the PUP report was the reaffirmation of the legacy of the scruple applicable to the fidelity and chastity requirement for ordination. The PUP Report used the term “departure” instead of “scruple,” but the principle of freedom of conscience remained. Though conservatives “wanted to paint this as a new and dangerous innovation,” it was merely a restatement of Presbyterian principles dating to 1729 and reaffirmed by the Swearingen Commission in 1927.

Anderson himself was the first to test the waters, soon joined by Lisa Larges, and the next few years would witness back-and-forth legislative and judicial wrangling over their candidacies for ordination, despite their sexuality, based upon their dissent from the restrictive policy known as the “fidelity and chastity” requirement. Their respective presbyteries affirmed their candidacies, which then became entangled in the thicket of Presbyterian jurisprudence. While their cases were pending before the Presbyterian “Supreme Court,” the General Assembly rescinded the onerous restriction on LGBT ordination, which was ratified by the presbyteries by the summer of 2011. The pending judicial cases had become moot, and they were dismissed, but they had helped to sway Presbyterian opinion.

On October 8, 2011, the scene shifted to the Covenant Presbyterian Church of Madison, Wisconsin. Outside, a hundred or more LGBT supporters waved rainbow flags to counter the hateful clown show of the Westboro Baptist Church. Inside the sanctuary, a stole returned to its proper place. In 1995, Anderson had offered his ministerial stole, given to him as a gift after his first year of service at Bethany in Sacramento, to the Shower of Stoles project. It was one of over a thousand that had toured the country and appeared at important gatherings.

“Today, for the first time in the life of this collection, a stole is being returned, and in so doing, it is transformed from a symbol of loss to a symbol of hope,” said David Lohman, of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the director of the Shower of Stoles.

Rev. Scott AndersonWith the stole draped around his neck, Rev. Scott Anderson beamed as he was presented to the crowd of over three hundred. The assembly rose to its feet and began sustained clapping that broke into cheers and shouts. Twenty years after losing access to the pulpit in Sacramento, Rev. Scott Anderson had his homecoming to the ordained ministry. He was the first fruits, the first out gay to be ordained under the new Presbyterian policy. Others would soon follow him into the pulpit.

The book is now available!

Print copies are available from Amazonthe publisherBarnes and NobleCokesbury, or an autographed copy straight from me. Amazon offers it in digital, eBook format for Kindle, and Barnes and Noble offers it for Nook. For iPad or other Apple users, you may order through the iTunes bookstore. Search on RW Holmen.

This is the latest installment in the series Cast of characters countdown, which are biographical snippets and summaries of the stories of the iconic pilgrims and prophets on the road to full inclusion who are featured prominently in Queer ClergyAs with all these posts, this is merely a summary of the full story, which is woven into an overarching narrative in the book. 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)

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)

1976 Chris Glaser (longtime Presbyterian activist)

1977 Ellen Marie Barrett (first out lesbian ordained to the Episcopal priesthood)

1978 Loey Powell (early UCC lesbian pastor and activist)

1980 Mark Bowman (founder and leader of RMN and editor of Open Hands Magazine)

1982 Melvin Wheatley (Methodist bishop and straight ally)

1987 Ann B. Day (Led the UCC ONA for twenty years)

1990 Jeff Johnson, Ruth Frost, Phyllis Zillhart (Extraordinarily ordained Lutherans)

1990 John Shelby Spong (leading straight ally in the Episcopal House of Bishops)

1992 Janie Spahr (Presbyterian leader of “That All May Freely Serve”)

1994 Ross Merkel (defrocked Lutheran allowed to remain on call with a “wink-and-a-nod” from his bishop)

1996 Walter Righter (Episcopal Bishop whose heresy trial opened the door for queer clergy)

2000 Jimmy Creech, Greg Dell, Joseph Sprague, and Jack Tuell (Methodist trials to punish clergy who performed covenant services for same-gender couples)

2001 Anita Hill (extraordinarily ordained Lutheran)

2003 Gene Robinson (gay bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire)

2004 Karen Dammann and Beth Stroud (Methodist clergy put on trial for being lesbians)

2007 Bradley Schmeling and Darin Easler (defrocked Lutheran clergy who were the first to be reinstated)