“Our pastor is gay! Our pastor is gay! How can we possibly continue being Christians now?!”
Okay, fine: I don’t actually know what the two people said to their fellow parishioners at Bethany Presbyterian when, in the spring of 1990, they decided to out their head pastor, Scott Anderson. But they did out Anderson, who as a result did feel compelled to leave the Sacramento church he’d been serving since 1987 — a church he had served so well that soon after he departed from it, for instance, Bethany received the Presbyterian General Assembly’s Ecumenical Service Award for its outstanding collaborative work in meeting the needs of people throughout the Sacramento area.
Awesome pastor? No problem!
Gay awesome pastor? Problem, indeed: Anderson was pushed out of the closet and straight into the unemployment line.
“Getting outted at Bethany was both the best and worst moment of my life,” Scott told me over the phone. “On the one hand, it was so freeing and empowering to finally be honest about the truth of who I am. On the other hand, it forced me to step away from my passion. The gay issue had never been part of my ministry at Bethany; it hadn’t played any role at all in our conversations there. When out of the blue it became the conversation, I thought it best if I voluntarily resigned from Bethany. I didn’t want the tumult caused by my staying to ultimately prove disruptive to the life of the church.”
Anderson planned on returning to college full-time, getting a master’s degree in public policy, and then, as he put it, “disappearing into the blessed anonymity of the vast government bureaucracy.” He thought he was forever finished with leading ministries.
Apparently God, however, had a different idea. Soon after leaving Bethany, Anderson was offered a job as an administrative coordinator for the California Council of Churches, an advocacy organization in Sacramento that, according to its mission statement, “is to be a prophetic witness to the Gospel by advocating in the public policy arena for justice, equity and fairness in the treatment of all people, in particular those most vulnerable in our society.” He could work at CCC part-time while attending full-time at Cal State Sacramento.
Perfect! So that’s what he did.
Anderson, who earned his M.A. in Public Policy and Administration in 1992, served the California Council of Churches for twelve years. He spent six of those years as the CCC’s Associate Director before being elected its Executive Director in September 1996.
He also served six years on the governing board and executive committee of the National Council of Churches, was president of the Sacramento Interfaith Service Bureau, president of the National Association of Ecumenical and Interreligious Staff (NAEIS), and chair of the General Assembly Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Concerns for the Presbyterian Church (USA). Now a resident of Madison, Wisconsin, Anderson is Executive Director of the Wisconsin Council of Churches.
Hard to imagine such a person disappearing into bureaucratic anonymity, isn’t it?
In 2001, Anderson joined Presbyterian U.S.A.’s Theological Task Force on Peace, Unity, and Purity of the Church — or PUP, for short. In 2006, PC (USA)’s General Assembly adopted a recommendation of PUP’s that would allow a candidate for ordination to submit along with their ordination application a “scruple,” or an objection, to the PC (USA)’s ordination standards, based on conscience. The governing body responsible for that candidate’s ordination must then determine whether or not their objection in any essential way violates Reformed faith and practice; if not, that candidate can be ordained.
Perhaps you see where this is headed.
The “scruple” that Anderson wrote and submitted as part of his 2010 application to be re-ordained into the Presbyterian church (his first ordination was “set aside” after he was outed from Bethany) is as elegant, succinct, and persuasive a document as you’ll ever read. Though today relatively few have even seen it, I believe history will remember it as seminal in the evolution of gay rights. See if you agree: read “Scott Anderson’s Objection Based on Conscience.”
The administrative, legislative, and deliberative process by which Anderson ultimately became the first openly gay person ordained for ministry by PC (USA) is so dense and abstruse it would take a master’s degree in public policy and administration to track and/or explain it. Just looking at my pages of notes on the matter makes me want to climb into a giant maze and take a nap. His case has been winding its way through church-courts for the past two years. (Not hurting his cause at all was PC (USA) officially allowing the ordination of gay and lesbian candidates as of July 10, 2011.)
But he did it. Anderson, who because of his sexual orientation was in April 1990 essentially forced out of his Presbyterian (U.S.A.) church, will, this Saturday, October 8, at 10:30 a.m., in Covenant Presbyterian Church in Madison, Wis., become the first openly gay person ordained in the history of PC (USA) — largely due to his own work modifying the ordination process.
“I’m very excited, humble, and surprised by all this,” Anderson told me. “As Christians, we say that we are all made in God’s image. We say that God loves us all equally. We say that we were created to be in relationship. Well, this is the church’s way of fully living into that message. I believe the Presbyterian church will be much, much stronger for having seen this process through. It means that we can now bring true authenticity to our relationship with gay and lesbian people. What a blessing that is to all people who look to the church to find a God who loves them.”
Anderson has been with his life-partner Ian MacAllister for twenty years. I do not know how he and MacAllister will spend the evening of the day on which Anderson is ordained. I imagine at some point they will sit together in the living room of their home, beaming broadly at one another. Eventually they will pad off to bed, where they will cuddle up together, and perhaps dream of a world in which a gay man or woman being ordained for ministry in the Christian church isn’t considered newsworthy.