Tag Archives: Presbyterian

Image courtesy of More Light Presbyterians

Following the Presbyterian General Assembly from afar

I’m a church nerd–more precisely, a church convention groupie. When my wife and I were sent as voting members to the inaugural assembly of our NE Minnesota ELCA Synod (1988), we were hooked. We returned year after year as voting members or as guests for the fellowship, the bookstore, stirring worship, and ecclesiastical politics. More recently, I have been at numerous regional Methodist, Episcopal, Lutheran, and UCC conventions in the Midwest hawking my books. While researching and writing Queer Clergy: A History of Gay and Lesbian Ministry, I attended the Methodist General Conference of 2012, the Presbyterian General Assembly of 2012, the Episcopal General Convention of 2012, and the last three ELCA church wide assemblies.

All this is to say I feel downright left out as the Presbyterian General Assembly is currently underway in Detroit, especially because it appears that history is happening.

For Lutherans, Episcopalians, and the UCC, blessing the relationships of same-gender couples has never been a contested issue, compared to the decades-long struggle over LGBT ordination. Given the progressive DNA of the UCC, the lack of significant controversy is hardly surprising. For the Lutherans and Episcopalians, blessing gay or lesbian partners was largely left to the discretion of the pastor/priest who was free to “explore the best ways to provide pastoral care.” Such discretion has naturally rolled over into performing marriages as state after state have changed their civil definitions of marriage.

For the Methodists, performing covenant ceremonies or–God forbid, marriages–has been the LGBT issue. Beginning with the defrocking trial of Rev. Jimmy Creech before the turn of the century to the recent defrocking of Rev. Frank Schaefer, along with thousands of clergy and bishops who are willing to conduct LGBT marriages in defiance of the Methodist Book of Discipline, the Methodist journey to full inclusion still has miles to go.

Which brings us to the unique circumstances of the Presbyterians.

Ordination of LGBT ministry candidates has also been the principal source of Presbyterian controversy over the years–from judicial decisions interpreting a 1978 “definitive guidance” that prohibited LGBT ordinations, through the adoption of “fidelity and chastity” versus “fidelity and integrity” in the 1990s, through disagreement over “that which the confessions call sin” and the mysterious and erroneous reference to homosexuality in modern interpretations of the centuries-old Heidelberg Confession, through thrice-adopted reforms by general assemblies only to see the presbyteries fail to ratify, to the 2010-2011 breakthrough that allowed LGBT ordination. While the decades-long debate over LGBT ordination occupied the attention of the church, the issue of rites of blessing remained secondary. Now that ordinations of gays and lesbians are occurring regularly, attention has switched to marriage equality.

In ecclesiastical court decisions early in this century, the Presbyterian “Supreme Court” drew a bright line between clergy conducting covenant services (permitted) and officiating at legal marriages (not permitted). In fact, the earliest cases were dismissed because the purported marriage of a gay or lesbian couple was not legal in the jurisdiction in which it was performed, but that judicial dodge was no longer available as marriage equality spread from one jurisdiction to the next. Yet, when the Presbyterian Supreme Court ruled that Rev. Dr. Jane Spahr had repeatedly violated church policy by performing marriage ceremonies and remanded her case to her local presbytery to impose censure, the presbytery instead voted to support her ministry.

Presbyterian assemblyWhich brings us to General Assembly, the national gathering of the church that meets once every two years and which has ultimate policy-making, legislative authority–but often subject to ratification by the 173 regional presbyteries. Although there are numerous proposals to be considered, the principal issues are narrowed to two: an authoritative interpretation (AI) that would allow clergy, as a matter of conscience, to officiate at same-gender weddings, and an amendment to the Book of Order that would change the definition of marriage from “a man and a woman” to “a couple.” The first step of the process is committee hearing and recommendation. Earlier, both matters passed out of committee with strong affirmative votes (51-18 for the AI and 49-18 for the amendment). If both measures pass at plenary, the AI will become immediately effective without further action, but the amendment must go to the individual presbyteries for ratification, which will require majority action.

It’s exciting to watch history unfold, even from afar. Godspeed, Presbyterians.

Holy Union 1970

Did the Movement for Marriage Equality Begin in 2008? One Chapter in a Larger Narrative

Forcing the Spring, the recent best-seller by New York Times reporter Jo Becker, purports to chronicle the back story to the sweeping success of the marriage equality movement across the nation, but critics complain that the book gives too much credit to Becker’s sources and too little to the significant contributions of others, especially earlier pilgrims in the long journey toward marriage equality. In response, author Becker acknowledges that “The book is about one chapter in a larger narrative, and that narrative includes so many people who worked so hard on this issue when the going was far tougher than it is today.”

Indeed.

Let us consider the role of progressive religion. Against well-entrenched religious opposition to all things gay, progressive religious leaders were early voices “crying in the wilderness,” and decades of advocacy within religious spheres have largely prepared the good soil for recent marriage equality policy breakthroughs.

In the sixties, the issue was not marriage equality but criminalization and police harassment of homosexuals. Of course, the Stonewall riots in Greenwich Village in the summer of 1969 exploded as a spontaneous backlash to a police raid on a gay bar, and Stonewall has become the iconic moment that marks the birth of the gay liberation movement.

Clergy press conference following police raid

Clergy press conference following police raid of 1964 New Year’s ball

However, nearly five years before Stonewall, the San Francisco based Council on Religion and Homosexuality (CRH) sponsored a New Year’s Eve ball in 1964 that was raided by police, and the clergy who appeared at a press conference the next day to denounce the police behavior focused the eyes of the nation on abusive police practices and policies. One commentator suggested the clergy provided the “cloak of the cloth,” a powerful and visible sign of religious support for the LGBT community. In 1965, the prestigious Christian Century Magazine suggested, “the law … should not penalize private immoralities which cannot be proved contrary to the common good.” The first LGBT policy statements of the ecumenical Protestant denominations (Methodists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, United Church of Christ) in the late sixties and seventies called for the decriminalization of homosexuality and homosexual behavior.

Holy Union 1970

The 1970 Holy Union of Father Robert Mary Clement and John Darcy Noble, Rev. Troy Perry officiating

By the 1990’s, still long before marriage equality was on the legal horizon, many clergy conferred a blessing on the relationships of their gay or lesbian parishioners, variously referred to as “covenant ceremonies,” “rites of blessing,” commitment services,” “holy unions,” and other terms. In fact, the terminology “holy union” dates to 1970 when independent (non-Roman) Catholic priest, Father Robert Mary Clement, who had marched in his clerical robes in the first Gay Pride parade in New York City, was joined with his life partner in a religious ceremony, and the officiant was Rev. Troy Perry, who had started the Metropolitan Community Churches (MCC), a predominantly gay denomination, months before Stonewall. In 1993, Perry and the MCC organized a Washington D.C. event they dubbed simply “The Wedding,” and Perry claimed “At least 2,600 same-sex couples, complete with tuxedos and wedding gowns, made a public commitment in a mass ritual.”

Meanwhile, the ecumenical Protestant churches wrestled with policies regarding blessing gay and lesbian couples.

  • In 1993, the Lutheran Conference of Bishops stated that although the church did not recognize an official ceremony of blessing, the bishops acknowledged the prerogative of pastors and congregations in ministry with gay and lesbian persons to “explore the best ways to provide pastoral care,” and that was widely interpreted to allow clergy discretion to preside at rites of blessing.
  • After Methodist Pastor Jimmy Creech was defrocked and Pastor Greg Dell suspended just before the turn of the century for presiding at covenant ceremonies, nearly one hundred West coast Methodist clergy jointly officiated in the covenant service of a lesbian couple. Though Methodist policy remained unchanged, the horde of media representatives and bank of television cameras at the February 2000 press conference announcing that no ecclesiastical charges would be filed against the “Sacramento 68” demonstrated that the same-sex marriage issue had captured the attention of the world.
  • When Massachusetts became the first state to recognize marriage equality in 2003, by judicial fiat, the local Episcopal bishop initially encouraged his priests to refrain from conducting marriage ceremonies, but the priests widely ignored their bishop, and within a few years, the bishop himself presided at a lesbian wedding–of two of his priests, no less!
  • On July 4, 2005, the UCC General Synod formally endorsed marriage equality with an overwhelming vote for a resolution that “affirms equal marriage rights for couples regardless of gender and declares that the government should not interfere with couples regardless of gender who choose to marry and share fully in the rights, responsibilities and commitment of legally recognized marriage.”
  • In the last decade, the Presbyterian journey to full LGBT inclusion was marked by ecclesiastical trials wrestling with rites of blessing, and the Presbyterian courts made it clear that rites of blessing were permitted as long as it was not a legal marriage ceremony. Yet, when the Presbyterian “Supreme Court” instructed her local presbytery to censure Rev. Dr. Jane Spahr, who has long been the “poster lesbian” of the Presbyterian Church, for officiating at legal marriages of gay and lesbian couples, the presbytery instead issued a resolution of support for Rev. Dr. Spahr’s ministry. All Presbyterian eyes are on Detroit this week where issues of marriage equality are front and center of the General Assembly.

In the last dozen years, as marriage equality has gained momentum in the civil sphere, so too has full inclusion of LGBT persons moved forward in the religious sphere, at least within the ecumenical denominations. By removing the gates to the pulpit through revisions to ministry policies–that is, by ordaining partnered gays and lesbians–the UCC (as early as the 1970s), the Episcopalians, the Lutherans, and the Presbyterians have all recently affirmed that the relationships of gay and lesbian partners are to be recognized, supported, and celebrated. Without attempting too fine a point regarding a chicken or egg analysis, when the moral authority of the church swings toward inclusion, public opinion will be affected.

Finally, and especially germane to the recent sweeping success of marriage equality adjudication and legislation across jurisdictions, the role of progressive clergy in statewide pro-equality movements cannot be understated. The example of Minnesota is illustrative. In 2012, a restrictive constitutional amendment was defeated by the electorate, and marriage equality was enacted during the next legislative session in 2013. Minnesotans United was the LGBT advocacy group that successfully worked on both measures, and their strategy “refused to cede the religious ground.” Though the local Roman Catholic Archbishop was an outspoken opponent of marriage equality, ecumenical Protestant and Jewish clergy served in highly visible leadership roles. Minnesota clergy issued joint communiques, provided legislative testimony, appeared at rallies and press conferences, and a priest, a minister, and a rabbi came into a bar together in a humorous TV ad. The clergy collar was omnipresent in LGBT advocacy efforts.

Marriage is a legal contract, defined and sanctioned by the civil law but with significant religious overtones, and the voices of opposition to LGBT rights have long used religion to bolster their arguments. Because of the religious underpinnings to LGBT issues, legal and societal progress would have been slowed or thwarted without the counter-influence of activists and allies, within the church, who offered the “cloak of the cloth” from the earliest days, who provided the example of holy unions to bless and solemnize gay and lesbian relationships, and who “refused to cede the religious ground.”

The Failed Attempt to Blunt Progressive Christianity

In 1980, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and a couple of hundred thousand conservative Christians claimed “Washington for Jesus.” Months later, Ronald Reagan was elected with substantial support from Falwell’s “Moral Majority.” Thus began an unholy alliance between Christian fundamentalists and the Republican Party that now threatens to rip the Grand Old Party apart. The loss of functioning government has been collateral damage of this internecine warfare, and David Brat’s defeat of Eric Cantor is the latest and most profound example of the raging civil war over the heart and soul of Republicanism. That christianist Brat claims his victory was a God-ordained miracle is hardly surprising.

The Republican establishment has long fed the beast that now threatens to devour the party, and Nobel laureate Paul Krugman’s New York Times op-ed of June 13 offers his typical sublime insights. Krugman suggests the Republican establishment has long used the cultural warriors of the religious right to stir up the base and win elections but for the benefit of the economically advantaged. Krugman writes of the stratagem: “an interlocking set of institutions and alliances that won elections by stoking cultural and racial anxiety but used these victories mainly to push an elitist economic agenda.”

There is a striking parallel within ecumenical Protestantism.

At the same time that Ronald Reagan forged support from Christian conservatives into a winning political coalition, the Institute for Religion and Democracy (IRD) was founded in 1981. This organization mirrors the Republican establishment in the manner it riled up folks in the pews in order to further a largely neo-conservative economic and political agenda. The IRD’s political/economic goals include increased defense spending, opposing environmental protection efforts, anti-unionism, and weakening or eliminating social welfare programs, but those actual goals were masked by an emphasis on cultural warfare issues. Over the years, the IRD has been financially supported by a who’s who of right-wing millionaires, including Richard Mellon Scaife, Howard Fieldstead Ahmanson, Jr. and his IRD board member wife Roberta (called the “financiers” in a 2005 Time Magazine article), Adolph Coors, the John M. Olin Foundation, and the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation.

President of the United Church of Christ, John Thomas, wrote in 2006,

The right-wing Institute for Religion and Democracy and its long-term agenda of silencing a progressive religious voice while enlisting the church in an unholy alliance with right-wing politics is no longer deniable … But to play with Scripture just a bit, we doves innocently entertain these serpents in our midst at our own peril.*

The Lutheran expatriate turned Roman Catholic priest, Richard John Neuhaus, an IRD founder and longtime board member, bragged in 2005 while addressing the IRD board,

How, if at all and what ways, do we distinguish IRD from the remarkable insurgency that has rewritten the map of American culture and politics over the last 20 years, of evangelical, Catholic, generally conservative, religiously inspired political activism, dismissively called by our opponents, the “Religious Right”? How did it happen, one might ask, that IRD became in many ways an ancillary, supportive, coordinating agency for insurgencies within these three denominations–the United Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church-USA, and the Episcopal Church?*

The earliest splash made by the IRD was to attack the National Council of Churches by promoting the false notion that the ecumenical denominations supported Marxist revolutionaries in Africa. CBS’ 60 Minutes played the role of dupe in furthering the claim in a 1983 segment later dismissed by Don Hewitt, the 60 Minutes creator and longtime producer, as the segment he regretted most in his 36 year career. The broadcast began with the IRD leader, Richard John Neuhaus, speaking,

“I am worried – I am outraged when the church lies to its own people.” The camera moved from an offering plate in a United Methodist church in the Midwest to images of the Cuban dictator Fidel Castro and then to marchers in Communist Red Square. The lengthy segment over and over suggested that the National Council of Churches (NCC) was using Sunday offerings to promote Marxist revolution. The most damaging accusation in the program was that NCC had somehow funded armed insurgents in Zimbabwe. While showing horrific footage of a slain missionary, the program implied that the NCC was responsible for the brutal murder. It was a lie that the top rated show in television told to tens of millions. The broadcast was highly damaging to mainline Protestants and the NCC.*

By the late 1980s and continuing, the IRD founded, funded, or otherwise influenced conservative organizations within the Methodist and Episcopal Churches and trumpeted the danger of LGBT inclusive policies to rally their troops. Dianne Knippers cut her teeth as a staffer for the conservative Methodist organization, “Good News.” Later, she would serve as IRD president during the height of its influence. Methodist theologian Thomas Oden was another Good News leader with ties to IRD as a member of the IRD board of directors. Current IRD President Mark Tooley is a lifelong Methodist and founder of the Methodist arm of the IRD called UMAction. The IRD also has a Presbyterian Action branch. The longtime conservative irritant within the Presbyterian Church is an organization called the Lay Committee that promotes their publication, The Layman. The self-described pillars of the Lay Committee were “People of means and action. Besides being leaders in their churches, they were leaders in corporate America.”* Within the Episcopal Church, Knippers served jointly as IRD President and organizer and leader of the late 1990s Episcopal group, the American Anglican Council, which served as chief conservative organizer at the virulently anti-gay Lambeth Conference in 1998 and as the opposition to the confirmation of Bishop Gene Robinson and all things gay in the early years of this century. Though the opponents of ELCA progressivism are not connected to the IRD, some Lutheran conservative commentators share neo-conservative political views (for example, Robert Benne, the author of The Ethic of Democratic Capitalism: A Moral Reassessment).

Over the years, the Republican establishment has stoked nativist, racist, sexist, anti-intellectual, anti-government, and anti-Muslim fears with a politics of scapegoating the immigrant, the black, the feminist, the queer, the academic, the government worker, and the welfare recipient. town-hall_thumb.jpgBy appealing to lesser instincts–especially of the angry white male–the party has enjoyed sufficient electoral success to continue feeding the beast, but Krugman’s article suggests this “bait and switch” tactic may no longer work as evidenced by Tea Party primary challenges to the party favorites. Ironically, the destabilization of the Republican Party itself would appear to be the legacy of the Jerry Falwells and Pat Robertsons and the complicity of the Reagans, Bushes, and the Republican establishment who are now being forced to “dance with the one who brought you.” While Republican self-destruction may not play out in the 2014 off-year elections, early portents for 2016 suggest a likely Democratic president and Congress, despite the built-in Republican advantage of gerrymandered Congressional districts. In the meantime, dysfunctional government will continue as the Tea Party insurgency in Congress will preclude any meaningful legislation.

While the outcome of the Republican civil war remains uncertain, the ecumenical denominations have largely resisted the contemporaneous neo-con attempts to destabilize leadership and thwart progressive impulses. For years, the conservatives used the rising tide of LGBT inclusive policies to frighten folks in the pews, but that battle is nearly won. Within the Lutheran Church (ELCA), Episcopal Church, and the United Church of Christ, LGBT-friendly policies are largely settled and entrenched with LGBT clergy, bishops, and high-ranking executives in the home offices all serving openly. The Presbyterians now ordain openly gay and lesbian ministry candidates and will likely endorse marriage equality in the next week. Meanwhile, the conservative opposition to Presbyterian progressivism, the Lay Committee, has chosen to stay away from the national General Assembly currently underway in Detroit–a telling admission of their declining influence. Although the battle rages within the United Methodist Church, it is only unique Methodist international polity that serves as the final barricade against LGBT inclusion (38% of all delegates at the last Methodist General Conference were foreign and staunchly conservative regarding LGBT issues), but the swelling pockets of inclusivism in local congregations and regional conferences and the ecclesiastical disobedience of Methodist clergy and bishops signal growing momentum for the cause of inclusion. After years of IRD and other conservative opposition to the innate progressivism of the ecumenical denominations, those church bodies have emerged from the fray more solidly progressive than ever. The neo-conservative intention of thwarting the social justice impulses of progressive Christianity has been a singular failure.

The media is noticing. The religious editor of the Huffington Post suggests the knee-jerk media response of running to the nearest evangelical with a bullhorn may be over in an article entitled, The Stunning Resurgence of Progressive Christianity.

*Quoted in Queer Clergy: A History of Gay and Lesbian Ministry in American Protestantism.

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)

California, here I come

Here’s my itinerary for a week-long speaking and book signing tour out west. Presumably, weather won’t interfere like it did for my recent Chicago tour.

Old First Presbyterian San Francisco

The tour starts with a visit to a historic congregation in the heart of San Francisco. Organized in 1849, Old First claims to be the oldest Protestant congregation in California. Pam Byers, formerly executive director of the Covenant Network of Presbyterians and a congregational elder, is handling the arrangements. I’ll be there Monday, March 31, at 7:30 pm.

Pacific School of Religion Berkeley

On Tuesday, I’ll cross the Bay to Berkeley and climb “Holy Hill” to the Pacific School of Religion where I’ll be hosted by the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Ministry and Religion (CLGS). CLGS will soon enter its fifteenth year of “creative scholarship on the interrelations of religion and sexuality / sexual orientation.” I’ll speak in the Bade Museum beginning at 6:30 pm on Tuesday, April 1.

St. Mark Presbyterian Newport Beach

After midweek visits with seldom-seen family and friends, I’ll start a busy weekend in greater LA with a book signing event on Friday, April 4, at 7:00 pm. St. Mark is a thriving, 50-year-old suburban congregation that retains a heart for mission.

Bethel Lutheran Church Los Angeles

For a congregation that features Sanctuary Yoga and Sanctuary Hula, an author book signing may be a bit tame. I’ll visit Bethel on Saturday, April 5, at 7:00 pm.

Claremont United Church of Christ

I’ll preach at both services on Sunday morning, April 6 with informal book discussions after each service. This congregation dates to the nineteenth century when it was the only Protestant church in this college town nestled beneath the San Gabriel Mountains on the eastern edge of Los Angeles County. Many of the parishioners are residents of Pilgrim Place “an intellectually/theologically stimulating, ecologically sensitive, personally active environment.”

Claremont United Methodist Church

I’ll move across town for a Sunday afternoon 2:30 event hosted by the local reconciling community. Several of my contacts recommended this congregation as an appropriate venue because of its strong record of support for the LGBT community.

Cast of characters: Janie Spahr

Janie SpahrIn 1991, Rev. Janie Spahr received a call to return to parish ministry, but then the gatekeepers and an overreaching Presbyterian “Supreme Court” stepped in.

She had been ordained a Presbyterian teaching elder (minister of word and sacrament) in 1974 and had previously served in parish ministry in Pennsylvania and California , but then she came out: first to herself, then her family, and then her congregation. She and her husband amicably divorced and remained close friends (she refers to herself as “wife emerita”), but her Oakland congregation asked her to leave. For the next two years, because her own denomination didn’t quite know what to do with this “lesbyterian,” she worked with the Metropolitan Community Church in San Francisco’s Castro district. In 1982, Pastor Spahr co-founded the Ministry of Light, which became the Spectrum Center, in Marin County, California, and she continued to serve as director.

The Presbytery of the Genesee Valley approved the 1991 call to serve as co-pastor of Downtown United Presbyterian Church of Rochester, NY, but then a coalition of one elder, fourteen pastors, and the sessions of nine congregations of the presbytery brought charges, which ultimately wound their way to the Presbyterian “Supreme Court.” At that time, the policy of the Presbyterian Church was summed up in the “definitive guidance” dating to Bill Silver’s failed attempt at ordination and the actions of the 1978 General Assembly. This 1978 “definitive guidance” stated, “homosexuality is not God’s wish for humanity” and “unrepentant homosexual practice does not accord with the requirements for ordination.” Yet, as part of the same assembly and the same action, a “grandparent clause” had been added that said that the definitive guidance “shall not be used to affect negatively the ordination rights of any United Presbyterian deacon, elder, or minister who has been ordained prior to this date.” Rev. Janie Spahr had been ordained four years “prior to this date.” Despite the clear language and intent of the “grandparent clause,” the ecclesiastical court blocked the call to parish ministry by ruling that the clause only applied to repentant homosexuals, who would receive “amnesty for past acts but not license for present or future acts.”

Undeterred, the congregation called Spahr to be a roving evangelist for the cause of full inclusion, and she became the Presbyterian poster lesbian going forward, building and leading an organization/movement called “That All May Freely Serve.”

In the following decade, Spahr would again have her ministry litigated by the Presbyterian courts, and the reason was her persistent willingness to officiate at same-gender weddings. To summarize the winding trail through the thicket of Presbyterian jurisprudence, the Presbyterian Supreme Court issued its final decree, calling upon her local Presbytery of the Redwoods to censure her. The presbytery meeting was scheduled for May 16, 2012. The presbytery voted 74 to 18 to defy the determination of the highest Presbyterian court. The presbytery would not censure the Rev. Dr. Jane Adams Spahr and instead voted to support her. It would be the most extreme act of ecclesiastical disobedience in the entire history of the PC(USA). Never before had a presbytery openly defied a ruling of the highest court.

At the next General Assembly of the church in Detroit in 2014, marriage equality will be front and center of the plenary sessions.

The book is now available!

This is the sixteenth 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 Clergy. As with all these posts, this is merely a summary of the full story, which is woven into an overarching narrative in the book. This is the first installment following the release of Queer Clergy, which is now available here or from your favorite online bookstore.

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)

Cast of characters countdown: Chris Glaser

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.

Chris GlaserGlaser’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)

Catching up with two lesbian pilgrims: Amy DeLong and Lisa Larges

Rev. Amy DeLong and Lisa Larges, two pilgrims who are featured prominently in Queer Clergy: A History of Gay and Lesbian Ministry in American Protestantism, popped up in Facebook links today.

Methodist Pastor Amy DeLong, whose ecclesiastical trial fills later pages of the book, offered a Youtube video following her monitoring of the weeklong Methodist Council of Bishops. She was disappointed in their failure of leadership. “We need to start calling them followers and not leaders,” she said. In an earlier writing, which is quoted in the book, she noted ecclesiastical handwringing and used the metaphor of the “weeping executioner.”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UIW8Rh8fAHw

Lisa Larges was also the subject of ecclesiastical judicial wrangling—twice. Her path toward ordination in the Twin Cities Presbytery was thwarted by the Presbyterian courts in the nineties. Fifteen years later she tried again, and her attempt was bottled up in the courts once more, but then the General Assembly finally eliminated LGBT clergy exclusion thereby rendering the court case moot, and she is again on track for ordination. She penned a poignant retrospective in a guest blog post on ecclesio.com which reflects upon the Presbyterian wandering in the wilderness for forty years. Her post begins:

What I’m wondering now, some two years after the vote in my denomination, (the Presbyterian Church U.S.A.) to remove the bar to ordination for lgbt persons, what I’m wondering now as someone who is a part of that lgbt community, what I’m wondering now, even as we live out the denouement of that struggle, with churches leaving and the question of marriage for same gender couples still before us, what I’m wondering now, remembering those forty some years of conflict—remembering the parliamentary maneuverings and high stakes votes and judicial actions and attempts toward dialogue and church-wide studies and appointed task forces and—what I’m wondering now, feeling the weight of the needless pain that we, as a church inflicted, what I’m wondering now is: Could we have done it better? Across that forty-year span, could we have worked out our differences with less rancor and divisiveness and objectivizing and bad behavior and fear of one another?

Read the rest here.

Cast of characters countdown: David Bailey Sindt

Is Anybody Else Out There Gay?

David Bailey SindtRev. David Bailey Sindt, a gay Presbyterian pastor, provoked the 1974 General Assembly of the United Presbyterian Church when he asked this question with a sign held high. Pastor Sindt’s sign was no mere whim. It was part of a calculated strategy, a “ministry of presence,” that Sindt and other LGBT activists within the ecumenical denominations would pursue. By their openness and their presence, they implicitly proclaimed, “We’re here, we’re queer, and we’re Presbyterian (or Lutheran, or Episcopalian, or Methodist, or UCC), but we’re not merely the gay issue; we’re flesh and blood human beings.”

Pastor Sindt’s assertive coming out serves as the pan-denominational theme for the seventies, and his courageous action at the General Assembly is credited as the birth of More Light Presbyterians. In the heady movement days of the early seventies, Sindt and Rev. Bill Johnson served on a task force originating with the San Francisco Council on Religion and Homosexuality and recognized by the National Council of Churches. The task force served as resource for the startups of denominational advocacy groups. In 1975 Sindt met with the organizers of the first gathering of gay Methodists, and Sindt was present as resource person during the first national gathering of Integrity, the Episcopal advocacy group, that same year. Three task force members served as resource persons at the 1974 Minneapolis gathering that birthed Lutherans Concerned.

As the decade wound down, Sindt was joined by gay seminarians Bill Silver and Chris Glaser as leaders of More Light Presbyterians. Silver’s request for ordination in the New York Presbytery was kicked upstairs to the General Assembly for “definitive guidance.” The General Assembly responded with the creation of a task force that included Glaser as a member. The task force eventually submitted a gay-friendly report to the 1978 General Assembly, but commissioners (delegates) rejected the report and overwhelmingly rendered definitive guidance that stated, “homosexuality is not God’s wish for humanity” and “unrepentant homosexual practice does not accord with the requirements for ordination.” Subsequent decades would witness ecclesiastical trials that extended the scope and effect of this “definitive guidance.”

Pastor Sindt continued his advocacy efforts until his life was cut short as an early victim of the AIDS epidemic in 1986. David lived alone, but his church friends formed a team to care for him in his home during the last months of his life. Each evening, someone prepared dinner, and they shared the meal. His former congregation continues this ministry by taking a Sunday evening meal to the residents of a Chicago House facility. David’s own home became the first Chicago House residence owned by the agency. More Light Presbyterians has named their annual service award after Pastor Sindt. He was one of 13 persons inducted into the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame at a ceremony on Wednesday, October 25, 1995, at the Cultural Center in Chicago.

 

This post is part of the series Cast of characters, 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 full list of these 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)

2012 R. Guy Erwin (gay professor elected as ELCA bishop)

T minus thirty days and counting

Queer Clergy cover jpg

We are now at thirty days and counting until Queer Clergy: A History of Gay and Lesbian Ministry in American Protestantism is launched by Pilgrim Press. If you have paid attention to earlier posts, you are aware that this book is a chronicle of the journey to full LGBT inclusion within the mainline denominations, including the UCC, the Episcopal Church, the ELCA, the PC(USA), and the UMC. The narrative recounts the pioneer journey along twisted paths that have recently reached the downslopes, and the churches have accelerated toward full inclusion.

The book is already available for pre-sale through online bookstores. The list price is $27.00, but the online vendors offer discounts; for instance, Amazon.com is currently offering the book for $24.30 plus shipping. The book is also available for pre-orders through the publisher, Pilgrim Press, and Cokesbury, the bookstore of several of the featured denominations.

As the author, I will offer autographed and personally inscribed copies for pre-order. The price will be $24.00 plus shipping with discounts for multiple copies. Use the order form to the right to pay by credit card. Or, simply send me an email, and I will send you an invoice for payment by check. Direct email correspondence is probably the best method for larger orders. Of course, I will need a mailing address and the name(s) of the person(s) to whom the book should be inscribed.