The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) ordained its first openly gay minister, Scott Anderson, this weekend in Madison, Wis., amid protests by members of Westboro Baptist Church, known for its aggressive campaign against gays and lesbians.
Anderson’s ordination ceremony was held at the Covenant Presbyterian Church in Madison Saturday, even as nine members from the Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church staged a protest outside the building.
In May, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) became the fourth Protestant denomination in America to give the ordination rights to openly gay and lesbian clergy by ratifying a constitutional amendment.
Anderson’s ordination Saturday marked his return to the denomination two decades after he was rejected by his congregation in California. He left the Bethany Presbyterian Church in Sacramento and quit the ministry in 1990, to be with his partner, Ian MacAllister.
“[Saturday] was a big day for me and also for the Presbyterian Church,” Reuters quoted Anderson as saying. “It was very healing for me and for many people there. It was very celebratory. Presbyterians don’t cheer very often, but there was some cheering.”
But outside the church, Anderson was greeted by Westboro church members carrying signs saying, “God Hates Fags,” and “God Hates America,” The Badger Herald reported. Megan Phelps-Roper, granddaughter of Westboro church founder Fred Phelps, said the group was in Madison to remind people of what the group believes to be the consequences of homosexuality.
However, about 50 people from churches around Madison held a counterprotest against the Westboro group and chanted, “We are standing on the side of love.”
The Westboro church had also threatened to picket the funeral of Apple Inc. co-founder Steve Jobs last week. It is suspected that Steve’s family held the funeral in private to evade the protest.
Anderson, an official with the Wisconsin Council of Churches since March 2003, had been trying to return to the PCUSA for five years. “It just so happened that I was the first in line, I didn’t intend to be the first,” he said. “What a great privilege and honor and humbling to be the first.”
Anderson attributed his ordination to a cultural shift in organized religion as well as public policy in America.
Last week, Presbyterian Action Committee Chairman Gary Green said in a statement that the decision to remove sexual conduct from the denomination’s ordination vows was “symptomatic of a deeper, ongoing struggle within the church over the authority of holy Scripture.”
“This action stands in contradiction to the PCUSA confessions of faith, which continue to teach that faithful Christians have the choice either to be faithful in marriage or chaste in singleness,” added Green, whose group defends and promotes biblical values within the PCUSA.