Wis. Presbytery Approves Ordination of Openly Gay Man

In a closed meeting, a regional body of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) on Saturday voted to ordain a partnered homosexual.

John Knox Presbytery commissioners voted 81-25 to approve the ordination of Scott D. Anderson, who set aside his ordination in 1990 when he was outed.

Anderson was ordained in the PC(USA) by the Sacramento Presbytery in 1983. He pastored Bethany Presbyterian Church for seven years until two members of the congregation publicly announced that he was gay.

In 2006, Anderson sought to be ordained again as a PC(USA) minister after the General Assembly – the denomination's highest governing body – approved an authoritative interpretation of the church constitution that would allow gay and lesbian candidates for ordination to conscientiously object the ban against partnered homosexuals. The local ordaining body would discern whether the declared objection is disqualifying.

The denomination's constitution states that clergy must live in "fidelity within the covenant of marriage between and a man and a woman, or chastity in singleness."

Saturday's meeting was the final examination of Anderson. He had requested that his current ministry as executive director of the Wisconsin Council of Churches be validated by the presbytery. The approval by John Knox Presbytery leaders means Anderson will return to ordained ministry after a 20-year hiatus.

Anderson told The Presbyterian Outlook that he was surprised by the wide margin of approval and believes the vote gives hope to other gay and lesbian candidates for ministry.

The decision, however, will likely be challenged and head to the General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission – the highest court in the PC(USA).

Whitman Brisky, a lawyer representing opponents to the ordination, argues that the PC(USA) constitution prohibits a person engaged in a sexual relationship outside of marriage from being ordained and installed and the majority of the denomination's presbyteries have supported that, as reported by The Presbyterian Outlook.

In 2008, the General Assembly approved a proposal that would delete the denomination's "fidelity and chastity" standard. But the overture failed to gain the required majority approval by the 173 presbyteries.

Previous efforts to delete the provision also failed at the presbytery level.

The latest "Religious and Demographic Profile of Presbyterians" report, released by the PC(USA), reveals that members and pastors of the denomination are more likely to oppose the ordination of sexually active gays and lesbians as ministers than support it. Thirty-nine percent of members and 49 percent of PC(USA) pastors say the "fidelity and chastity" standard should not be scrapped.