Scott Anderson left the Presbyterian Church twenty-one years ago after coming out to his congregation. This weekend, the Presbyterian Church came to its senses and made him Rev. Scott Anderson.
News reports tout that Anderson is the “the first gay minister” ordained by PCUSA, but that’s not the case. Plenty of gay and lesbian ministers have been ordained in the PCUSA before him – the difference is Anderson is the first openly gay person to be given the title. Those who were ordained in their closets long before Anderson may now come out – and they are to be credited for laying the groundwork for Anderson’s achievement.
To cheers and a standing ovation, Rev. Scott took his rightful place in the Presbyterian clergy at an ordination service in Madison, Wisconsin. Right now, he is the executive director of the Wisconsin Council of Churches, but he could seek another pulpit – something he may do in a few years.
Outside of Covenant Presbyterian Church were familiar anti-gay faces – members of Westboro Baptist Church.
”That’s when the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ comes to the scene and says it’s not okay to be gay and that sin will destroy this nation,” said Margie Phelps, daughter of Fred Phelps, founder of the Topeka, Kansas-based church which coined the phrase “God hates fags.”
The man who delivered the sermon at Anderson’s re-ordination used to feel that way. Just two years ago Rev. Mark Achtemeier of Dubuque, Iowa, was leading the charge against the ordination of gay and lesbian ministers – but stunned his followers with an about-face on the issue:
In an interview, Achtemeier, 56, said friendships with gay Christians caused him to re-evaluate what the Scriptures say about homosexuality. He concluded God designed people to live in “intimate fellowship” with one another, and a committed, same-sex relationship “is simply an alternative form which this gift takes from time to time.”
In his remarks Saturday, Achtemeier said he hopes Anderson’s ministry will bring “healing good news” to all those who have felt “ostracized and alienated” from the church.
The ordination comes because of some “healing good news” the denomination delivered to its LGBT members when it removed the “fidelity and chastity” rule that required clergy to be heterosexually married or chaste in singleness.
In another “healing” moment – a stole that Rev. Anderson had retired when he was ejected from the clergy all those years ago was returned to him. The stole had become part of a project called “The Shower of Stoles” that collects stoles from LGBT people who have been defrocked by their various churches and denominations for their sexual orientation or gender identity.
“Today, for the first time in the life of this collection, a stole is being returned, and in so doing, it is transformed from a symbol of loss to a symbol of hope,” said David Lohman, the project’s director, who personally returned the stole to Anderson.
Of course, there are those who are not happy with Rev. Anderson’s return to the pulpit and there are threats to split the denomination over it.
Anderson, though, thinks the move will make the church stronger.
“It really says to the wider culture, here we have a church that not only talks about being created in the image of God and you’re all created to be in relationship with one another, but also wants to live that message,” he said. “That’s going to give the Presbyterian church a lot more integrity in its witness to the Christian faith.”