The two-hundred twenty-first General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) met in Detroit earlier this month and made some policy changes that will have a direct impact upon the lives of its members once the Assembly adjourned. Some churches will now choose to stay or leave the denomination based upon the decisions made by this Assembly. The decision that directly affected my life in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, was approval of an Authoritative Interpretation of our Constitution that allowed ministers of the denomination--like me--to officiate at wedding services for same sex couples in states where such marriages are legal.
In the coming months, various geographical Presbyteries will vote on a possible change in the denomination's Constitution regarding the official definition of marriage that would include "two persons" alongside "traditionally a man and a woman." As a Presbyterian pastor who is in a long-term relationship with a partner of the same sex for almost two decades, this immediate change made me giddy with laughter after I received the great news. After the Constitutional change made by the Presbyterian Church (USA) two years ago that established that I could remain an ordained pastor who is openly gay, news of being able to officiate at a wedding of a same sex couple, along with the broadened definition of marriage, gave me an overwhelming sense of sheer relief. For the first time in my thirty-one years of ordination, I felt safe and more at peace with my Church than ever before.
While many of us who are thankful for the changes recently made that are more inclusive of families like mine, and acknowledging there is still work to be done until those of us who are LGBTQ and ordained in the denomination have equal access to all the rights and privileges of the Church as do straight ordained leaders, there are those who are critically of the changes. From the Presbyterian Lay Committee: "This is an abomination;" the Presbyterian Coalition: "The Presbyterian church now abandons its Reformed heritage;" the Institute on Religion and Democracy: "the PCUSA is only accelerating its already fast-paced demise;" Naming His Grace Blog: "The Scripture is filled with admonitions against sexual immorality which afflicted the Biblical church." For over thirty years of my life I allowed these conservative voices who would call my life "an abomination," "sexually immoral," and responsible for the demise of the Church, push me into my gay closet. For years I lived with fear and shame in my closet. I knew I was called by God to be an ordained minister in the PCUSA, but I also knew that if I were to be honest with myself and others about who I was in my personal life I would not be ordained by my church, serve a church as pastor, not be allowed to teach at certain seminaries, never allowed to explore and use my teaching gifts in a religious context, certainly not married to the man of my dreams, nor even dream of having children in our lives. All that will now be different thanks to the significant changes in the policy of the PCUSA.
While I live in a state that amended its constitution to define marriage by religious morality rather than constitutional law, making it impossible for my partner and me to marry in North Carolina, at least my Church appreciates the many ways that love and marriage can be defined. After all, we are just two persons in love.