November 17, 2011

Something To Get Excited About

So, in case you haven't heard, the Presbyterian Church (USA) announced in October that it plans on ordaining its first openly gay priest (Scott Anderson). The church's standards for ordination were also revised, eliminating a longstanding ban on gay ordination in the church. The Presbyterians (after the Episcopalians, the Lutherans, and those in the United Church of Christ) are now the fourth mainline Protestant denomination to allow gay ordination.

Of course, this has sparked a massive debate that will not be easily settled, and the Westboro Baptist Church recently posted on their website that they plan to picket the ordination. These are the actions of people that know they are fighting a losing battle.

The Presbyterian Church is a large organization, representing well over 2 million people. Although not all of these people agree with the official position of the church, that such a massive entity has decided to lend its support to the LBGT community is a powerful and hopeful message. The Presbyterian church's decision, however, is much more than a declaration of support and reaffirmation by a large group. It is indicative of a much wider, more fundamental cultural change, and that's what is really important.

The world is changing, and becoming more aware of and sympathetic to the LGBT community, and the decision of the Presbyterian church is just one more indicator of that. People are tired of their religion being used to spread intolerance, and they won't have it anymore. The Presbyterian church is leading the way into a new era, and will likely be the impetus for further cultural change. The LGBT community gained a powerful new ally this month, and it is likely to get many more in the near future due to the influence of the Presbyterian Church and the cultural change its actions represent, and that is definitely something to get excited about.

As Scott Anderson (the soon-to-be-ordained) said in an interview with Reuters, "Institutional religion has not always been a helpful conversation partner with the wider culture and my hope and prayer is that, with this action of the Presbyterian Church, we will increasingly become a more constructive player in the wider cultural discussion about gays and lesbians."


  1. Not to be overly negative about this one Jonathan, but the way the Presbyterian church structure isn't actually eliminating intolerance in the church. When I'm at home my parents make me go to church with them, and the church we go to is Presbyterian. One of the big issues of discussion this spring was the change in wording of the ordination clause of the Presbyterian rulebook (I can't remember the name of it). The way the Presbyterian church is doing this is that they're playing it safe by allowing each church to decide for themselves whether or not they will accept the change in the wording of the rules. My church, for one, has decided that they will not accept the rule change. I actually went to a congregation meeting to ask questions and make points to try to show them that their argument of the, "The Bible describes it as sin" is not a sound argument due to the acceptance of female priests when that once was unthinkable. Problem is, it's more about the people in the church than what the religion or book says, so they stuck to their homophobic guns. Personally, it seems like the Presbyterian Church should just go all out or do nothing at all, because now they've adopted a halfway stance where you can walk into really LGBT friendly churches and pretty homophobic churches (like mine) and they'll both be called Presbyterian. Just something I wanted to put out there to give everybody the whole picture.

  2. Well yeah, they're leaving room for personal choice, as an organization they have to play their politics safe, but if you are gay and you want to be ordained, you can be, and the more gay ministers there are, the more visibility and acceptance the lgbt community will get in the church, and that's what's important. It is a change, it is a statement of solidarity with the lgbt community, it is an example for other religious communities, and that's the best you can do. You have to let people change at their own pace, the world isn't going to change overnight, so we need to get excited about those changes that will eventually change the world.

  3. Jonathan, I want to challenge you. Granted, I'm not Christian, so I can't speak to the specifics of this case, but as someone who identifies with the Conservative Movement of Judaism, I can speak with some authority about a religion that "recently" began ordaining openly LGBTQ officials (December 2006).

    While the Conservative seminary ordains and recognizes LGBTQ rabbis, Conservative synagogues get to make their own policies as to whether they will recognize the rabbi's ordination, hire them, and how they want to include LGBTQ members. I was excited when the seminary began admitting openly LGBTQ students and ordaining them, but I have a really hard time with the flexibility that the policy allows. In many ways, it is more problematic to me than the Orthodox movement that will not ordain (out) LGBTQ rabbis.

    The difference is that Orthodox folk believe that they are bound by Jewish law and so cannot ordain LGBTQ rabbis. While that may be frustrating, if they feel that their hands are legally tied, I can't argue with that. The Conservative Movement, though, has a different interpretation and way of reading Jewish law and has found a way that makes it permissible to ordain LGBTQ folk. In that case, if we can 'legally' do it, then there is no excuse for a synagogue not to recognize the ordination/hire them. Equality is not something you should be able to 'opt' out of--which is precisely the system that the Conservative movement has set up, and that (from my understanding) the Presbyterian church seems to also embody.

  4. I'm thrilled about this. My grandfather was a minister his whole life (and also gay). I'm very excited to hear the church I went to when I was little is starting to take tiny steps towards becoming more accepting.