Arguably, the most controversial issue in the Presbyterian Church (USA) is homosexuality. And in recent years, the PCUSA – like many other mainline groups – has waded deeper into this controversy as “gay-friendly” and “actively gay” ministers began filling the church's top ranks.
At the 216th General Assembly, the 8,000 participating Presbyterians yet again voted for a pro-gay elder as their titular head, and many members watched as a controversial speaker introduced the “fantasy” of experiencing a “queer eye for the Presbyterian Church.”
The past head of the General Assembly was Susan R. Andrews. The moderator, as the denomination’s spokesperson and supposed leader, has the role of enforcing the church’s standards and laws and making sure the codes of discipline are kept.
However, this year, Andrews herself was charged for violating the church disciplines by supporting the ordination of an actively gay man. The complaint was made only hours before she ended her term as the moderator of the 215th General Assembly of the PC(USA).
Andrews, a long-time advocate of gay ordinations, had repeatedly lobbied for the repeal of the denomination’s current ordination standards, which prohibit active homosexuals from serving as ministers to the church. She also allegedly participated in the installation of a homosexual member of her church staff – associate pastor Eric Scott Winnette.
Paul Rolf Jensen of California, who filed the complaint, said Andrew’s advocacy runs contrary to her obligation to "present, strengthen and encourage the church." He also said she "has abandoned that obligation and her ordination vows, by first participating in, and, second, supporting the continuation in office, of her associate pastor at Bradley Hills.” In the past, Jensen had filed nearly two-dozen complaints against Presbyterian officers for similar charges.
Andrews said she was “saddened” by the charge and said she will follow all judicial processes involved in her case.
Meanwhile, the Assembly participants voted for yet another “gay-friendly” Presbyterian as its moderator. Rick Ufford-Chase, a 40-year-old church elder, won on the second ballot, defeating the Rev. David McKechnie of Grace Presbyterian Church in Houston and K.C. Ptomey, pastor of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Nashville, Tenn.
Chase said he is grateful for the election, and said he would do his best in promoting church growth through evangelism and mission.
''I am grateful to be elected moderator,'' said Chase. 'I've been dreaming about this opportunity for two full years.''
Chase also explained that while he supported the ordination of practicing homosexuals, "it would not be appropriate for me to share my opinion” as a moderator.
Ufford-Chase is an elder at Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson, Ariz.- an church affiliated to the pro-gay More Light Presbyterians group. Chase is also the co-founder and co-director of BorderLinks, a cross-border (U.S./Mexico) mission to migrant workers and others affected by economic and immigration policies.
Chase was elected on the first night of the 216th General Assembly, Saturday, June 26.
That same night, the More Light Presbyterians group, in conjunction the Shower of Stoles Project and That All May Freely Serve – three advocacy groups in the PC(USA) that call for the ordination of gay individuals - listened to a controversial speaker who contended, “Gay is morally neutral.”
"You don't lose points if you are gay, and you don't gain points if you are straight,” said Dr. Marvin Ellison, an ethics professor at Bangor Theological Seminary in Portland, Maine.
Ellison titled his speech, “Queer Eye on the PC(USA): Marriage, Morals and Other Makeovers” – a parody of the television show “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” where five gay men (the fab five) give makeovers to straight heterosexuals.
"Queer," Ellison said, "is not another word for gay. Not every 'queer' is LGBT (Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transsexual). Queer means something like, 'God is calling us to engage in creative deviance.'"
"Queer folk have fantasies,” continued Ellison. “My recurring fantasy is that the Fab 5 would make a surprise visit to the Presbyterian Church and do a complete makeover." What would happen, he asked, "if the PC(USA) opened its doors to the Fab 5? 'Be Presbyterian – only better!' "
Ellison also told the attendees that “The church should not promote marriage,” but rather “encourage egalitarian partnerships. Justice-love – a very queer virtue – should be the normative expectation of all our relationships."
The participants to the General Assembly will be voting on a resolution that calls on the PC(USA) to support the Federal Marriage Amendment.
The General Assembly, which began on June 26, will last through July 3. The Assembly is gathered at the Richmond Coliseum in Virginia.