OP-ED: As Presbyterians Accept Gay Ministers, an Advocate Comes Out

By Advocate Contributors

Originally published on Advocate.com July 11 2011 12:45 PM ET

I have served as an ordained pastor in the Presbyterian
Church (U.S.A.) for 34 years and advocated for the welcome and full inclusion
of LGBT people for even longer. Yet it wasn’t until midlife that I realized I wasn’t just an advocate
for LGBT people, I was one of them. 

Even as a teenager, there was a confusion that flummoxed
me. It was something I couldn’t
quite understand, or explain. This
conundrum confronted me every few years as I followed my call into ministry,
got married, and became a mother. Then I had an awakening. 

As I was admiring a woman standing in front of me in the
Taco Bell line, the word bisexual finally sunk in. The word had, for some time already, joined gay and lesbian in our common parlance, but I had never connected it with myself. I turned to my husband of 18 years and
exclaimed, “I finally figured it out! 
I’m bisexual.” Without
hesitation he replied, “That sounds about right, as I know you.”

Perhaps those of you who initially struggled but then had a
similar awakening can relate to my feeling of energizing relief — to finally
understand yourself in a way that is deeply true.  Perhaps you can also then relate to the fear that begins
growing when you also realize that not everyone in your world will share your
understanding.  For me, I began to
feel afraid in the one place I had previously felt most welcome: my church.

The fear cut two ways. On the one hand, while there were some conservative church people who
thought gay and lesbian Presbyterians might be acceptable — if they chose
to be celibate — I found out right away they didn’t feel the same about
bisexuals. When I shared this new
understanding of myself as bi with colleagues in ministry, they immediately
presumed me to be promiscuous. Being bi is cemented in their minds as a purely sexual thing. To them, bisexuals are sinners pure and
simple, and if you are a married bisexual, you therefore must be violating the
Seventh Commandment against adultery, making you unfit for ministry or
even membership in the church. Though nothing had changed outwardly — I was the same person, still
married and faithful to my husband — I became afraid of this judgment from my
peers and of their condemnation.

On the other hand, I was also afraid of not being accepted
by the LGBT community. Being
bisexual was something I understood inside me, but not something people could
see since I was (and continue to be) in a long-term committed marriage to a
person of the opposite sex. And I
knew that my marriage gave me something that LGBT people in the church didn’t
have — protection. It allowed me to comply with the established rules of the
church that were put in place to discriminate against LGBT faithful. I feared being shunned for not sharing
the same consequences faced by my gay, lesbian, and transgender sisters and
brothers.

It took me years and many candid conversations to conquer
these fears and grow — spiritually and emotionally — to the place where I am
now, a place where I understand that my “bi-ness” extends beyond sexuality to
my spirituality. I now see that God has given me an ability to delight in the
place where opposites are true at the same time.

I have also come to a place where I fear no more within the
Presbyterian LGBT community. The thousands of conversations we’ve all had with our families, friends,
and congregations have helped to articulate our faith as LGBT people, leading
us to a landmark moment when, on Sunday, our church began
allowing the ordination of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender members.

This is the level ground on which all Presbyterians can
share our sense of call to ordination, rooting us in scripture and our church
traditions. It is truly a moment
where “gay or straight” has been added to Paul’s exclamation in Galatians 3:28
that “There is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male and female, for all
of you are one in Christ Jesus.”

This is indeed a positive move for my church. Still, I must counsel caution toward
the PCUSA and the church in general. While More Light churches and those churches with a rainbow flag
proudly flying at the door will welcome you with a warm embrace, the rest of
the church has a way to go. 

I know that eventually they will catch up to the fullness of
the gospel. God made us all good. And as more and more friends in church and
colleagues in ministry come out, all will begin to see the way the Holy Spirit
also blesses LGBT believers. The
love of God will shine through Scripture, casting out the darkness of judgment.
For God’s truth is this: The gospel’s good news is for LGBT people too.

Released from my own fears and embracing God’s love, I am
eager to shepherd the PCUSA into a new day, which started this weekend. There
will be no safe welcome until every LGBT person can step out of the house on
Sunday morning and head to the nearest church, fully expecting to be hugged at
the door.

 

TheReverend Janet Edwards is a Presbyterian minister in
Pittsburgh and blogs
regularly at www.timetoembrace.com.