In a recent conversation about same-sex marriage with a pro-LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer) advocate who is an ordained teaching elder in the Presbyterian Church (USA) she disclosed that she persisted in performing gay marriage ceremonies even though she understands the denomination’s clear prohibition of the act. It is legal in the state where she resides, and it is right in her own eyes. That trumps the denomination’s constitutional definition and the many rulings by the General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission on the matter.
When I asked if she understood herself to be a person under authority she answered “yes.” She says that she sees herself as under the authority of Christ and as a pastor under the authority of the PCUSA. If that does not make sense to you, you are not alone. However, my conversation partner is not alone in her self-perception. There is a growing anarchy in the ranks.
Patrick Evans, the interim executive director of More Light Presbyterians, a pro-LGBTQ movement of PCUSA churches, wrote in a May 18 post, “We urge sessions and clergy to have conversations now about whether or not officiating at and/or hosting same gender marriages will be part of their ministry and if so, to be clear in that proclamation and witness.”
MLP maintains a list of pastors who have publicly proclaimed their dis-allegiance on this point to the mutually agreed upon standards in the PCUSA constitution which they have vowed in ordination vows to uphold. These church officers, who are in clear violation of the constitution, expect to be brought up on ecclesiastical discipline charges. However, that seems unlikely in the current environment of the PCUSA. There has been more than ample time for such charges to have been brought against any of a number of pastors who have made their disregard for the rules very public in the past year.
Charges have been filed against a pastor in the United Methodist Church. MLP recently shared the news that an ecclesiastical trial is scheduled in that denomination for a minister who performed the same-sex marriage of his son. The article features the comments of another UMC minister, the Rev. Kathryn Johnson, who wrote, “Let this serve as my notice that I intend to totally ignore the unjust laws of the church related to sexual orientation and same-gender weddings from here on out.”
“It’s time to clean the UMC closet. It’s embarrassing every time we wear one of those things out in public. Should someone file a complaint against me I think I’ll just ignore it. Should my bishop call me in to account for my actions (in so far as it relates to performing same-gender weddings) I have a hunch I just won’t go. Should a trial be scheduled, I’ll be hard pressed to participate and would ask my clergy colleagues to refuse to serve on a jury to convict me for breaking a law which is so clearly unjust to begin with. In fact, let’s have a pot luck clergy party. I’ll bring the chocolate chip cookies. Anyone else in? …”
The gathering storm of anarchy is upon us. We now face the reality of a self-elevated class of clergy who do not submit to the mutually agreed upon standards of the church’s constitution. Indeed, they have become an authority unto themselves, openly mocking the very institution that gives them credentials and paychecks, pulpits and voice.