Several years ago a gay male couple came to St. Stephen with their son, seeking to have their son baptized. They shared that they’d had an unfortunate experience at the large Houston church they’d previously attended. Both had been deeply involved at the church for years. Both had taught Sunday school or served on important committees. It was known in the church that they were a couple, but they never felt ostracized until they went to the church’s leadership, the Session, and asked to baptize their son.
They were sent to a female associate pastor, who told them that the session would not baptize their child because his parents were a homosexual couple, and homosexuality is a sin. (By the way, by refusing to baptize the child of members of the church in good standing, regardless of sexual orientation, the session was violating Presbyterian rules.)
This couple soon found themselves ostracized in other ways. They were no longer allowed to teach Sunday school. They got the cold shoulder from former friends. Finally they left the church. Eventually they moved to Fort Worth.
Their question to the leadership of St. Stephen was simple: will you baptize our son?
The session was outraged and compassionate. Of course we will, they said.
This family is now a beloved part of the church.
One of the things I love about St. Stephen Presbyterian Church is that the saints here don’t just care about themselves, they care for others. St. Stephen has active, hands-on outreach to the homeless. St. Stephen has welcomed new families with open arms and active programs. St. Stephen has welcomed gay and lesbian couples, as couples, to be themselves and to serve as leaders in the church.
Recently, the Presbyterian Church (USA) overturned a rule that limited ordained leadership–whether clergy or church members–to those who were in a faithful marriage relationship between a man and a woman, or celibate in singleness. As of July 10, 2011, churches can now, according to their own lights, ordain as church officers those they feel are qualified; and likewise regional governing bodies can decide to ordain as pastors those they feel are qualified, based on our constitutional standards–but not based on any pre-existing rule about sexual behavior.
If a church or a presbytery believes sexual orientation matters, they may consider it. But churches like St. Stephen can continue our long-standing practice of inviting officers to serve based on their qualifications to lead, their adherence to their ordination vows, and how much they love the Lord.
While some Presbyterians are upset, I think this is a faithful expression of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. One way or another, what I hope is that it’s a message to those of you who aren’t in church:
When St. Stephen says, “God is love,” we mean it.
And that goes for most PCUSA churches, as well.