It only took 33 years—or about as long as Jesus lived—but the Prebysterian Chuch (U.S.A.) has decided to change its constitution and allow sexually active gay clergy. Just two years ago, the majority of the church’s regions, called presbyteries, had voted against ordaining openly gay candidates. But 19 of the 173 presbyteries had a come-to-gay-Jesus meeting and switched sides. The Twin Cities presbytery (Minneapolis and St. Paul) cast the deciding vote when it met on Tuesday. God Bless Minneapolis/St. Paul!
Considering the glacial pace of change, the deciding vote was amazingly low-key. “Everyone was civil,” Cynthia Bolbach, moderator of the church’s General Assembly told The New York Times. “There was no applause, no cheering. It was just reflective of the fact that we are moving forward one other step.”
Previously, the Church allowed gay ministers as long as they lived, in the Church’s quaint language, “either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman” (i.e., the closet) or in “chastity in singleness.” Would-be ministers in same-sex relationships had to stay in the pews.
“I’ve had young people who have been exemplary, obviously good candidates for the ministry,” said Rev. Heidi Vardeman, senior minister of Macalaster Plymouth United Church in St. Paul and a spokeswoman for the pro-gay group More Light Presbyterians. “But then you have to have this weird conversation in which you say that, umm, because they might be gay or lesbian, it’s not going to work. But now we’re free! We can endorse and propose and assist and elect those whom God has called.”
The Presbyterians join the United Church of Christ, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Episcopal Church in recognizing that gay clergy don’t have to be celibate to be pastoral. The big holdout: the United Methodist Church, the largest Protestant denomination in the U.S. (As for the Southern Baptists and Roman Catholics—don’t hold your breath.)
Of course, the fight in the Presbyterian Church is far from over. Next up is recognizing gay unions. The Church has been tied up in ever-so-polite knots about that subject. When lesbian minister Jane Spahr married 16 couples when California briefly legalized gay marriage, the Church took her to task for violating its Constitution and then commended her for her “compassion.” Seems that the Church doesn’t know yet if it should be following the law or the Spirit.