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

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

1janetedwards

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.

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