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Openly gay man fights to be ordained


By Jamie Hersch - bio | email | Twitter | Facebook

MADISON (WKOW) -- A Madison man has spent the last 20 years trying to be ordained as a Presbyterian pastor.

There's just one problem: he's gay.

In February, a regional body voted to allow Scott Anderson's ordination, which was supposed to take place in May.  

But several churches challenged the ruling, saying the Bible does not condone homosexuality and neither should the church.

If ordained, Anderson would be the first openly gay Presbyterian pastor in the country.

"It really is about my sense of call to serve God as a parish pastor," said Anderson. "It really was the most fulfilling thing I've ever done in my life, serving in the congregation."

It's a call Anderson can't ignore. A call that led to his ordination in the '80s. A call that was put on hold when church members discovered he is gay.

"I was put in a position where I had to resign, so I set aside my ordination at that point and went back to school to get re-tooled for a new career. And that was 20 years ago," said Anderson.

Still, the call persists.

On February 20, the John Knox Presbytery, made up of 61 churches in the Midwest, voted to allow Anderson's ordination.

"He's the most gifted individual I've met in a long, long time. I've heard him preach, I've heard him lead worship, I've seen him work with people... There's no question he has the gifts," said Ken Meunier, John Knox Presbytery executive director.

But Caledonia Presbyterian Church near Portage disagreed with the vote and joined other churches in appealing to the larger Midwest body in Minneapolis.

"Scripture is pretty clear as to the place of sexual relationships to human relationships and I think our church and the individuals I represent are trying to uphold that basic principle," said Whit Brisky, the attorney representing Caledonia.

There are only seven verses in the Bible that deal with sexuality but these seven verses have the power to divide an entire religion, and the Presbyterian church is not alone in dealing with this issue.

Dozens of Lutheran churches like Calvary in Brookfield are considering forming a new denomination called CORE (Lutheran Coalition for Renewal), to return to more traditional values.

"It more or less feels like we're not leaving the church; the church is leaving us," said Phil Nybroten, pastor at Calvary Lutheran.

The primary issue behind this split: human sexuality.

Mark Chavez is the man behind this national movement to preach what he calls the absolute truth: homosexuality is a sin.

"Sexual relationship is for lifelong marriage of a man and a woman, period. You'd say the same thing to an adulterer, you'd say the same thing to a theft, you'd say the same thing to an alcoholic or someone who's caught up in greed or consistently bears false witness and lies behind people's backs: this isn't good for you, it's not good for your neighbor, and it's not good for God's creation," said Chavez.

Others say the church should welcome gay and lesbian people, just not ordain them.

"There's enough love from Jesus for everyone, but that doesn't mean that we preach or espouse something that is contrary to scripture," said Nybroten.

It all comes down to how Christians interpret the Bible: as the literal, timeless word of God, or a metaphorical guidebook set in the context of its time.

Anderson believes the latter and does not see homosexuality as a sin.

"We're looking at that ancient document, or set of documents, in light of a whole new set of cultural circumstances that simply were not part of the biblical world. I grew up with the sense that God is a loving God and accepts each of us unconditionally," said Anderson.

Nobody really knows the answer so the question remains, putting churches across America in a tough position.

"We will lose members, I'm sure. Either way," said Meunier.

It leaves countless gay people like Anderson wondering if their call to ministry will ever be answered.

"I mean, I've been waiting 20 years, so six months or a year is really not that long when you think about it. I think one has to sort of look at the bigger picture here and not say it's all about me. It isn't; it's about a larger struggle of which I'm a small part," said Anderson.

The national church court will hear Anderson's case for ordination in February.

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