LGBT in the PCUSA
A year ago the Presbyterian Church, USA General Assembly voted to approve the ordination of LGBT persons. At that time Rev. Paul Mowry, one of the first openly-gay ministers ordained following that decision, spoke with us on State of Belief. Rev. Mowry joins us again this week to take a look back at this very important year for his ministry, and to offer some thoughts on new developments in the Church, including the very narrowly-failed initiative to approve marriage equality at this year’s General Assembly. On Sundays, you’ll find Rev. Mowry at the Sausalito Presbyterian Church, where he serves as pastor.
RUSH TRANSCRIPT: Rev. Paul Mowry[REV. DR. C. WELTON GADDY, HOST]: Welcome back to State of Belief Radio. I’m Welton Gaddy.
Just around this time last year, I had a conversation on this show with Paul Mowry, whose family has deep roots in the ministry of the Presbyterian Church USA. We spoke that time just after the Church voted to begin allowing the ordination of LGBT persons. Since then, Paul has been ordained and is now the pastor of a church in Sausalito, California. Meanwhile, this past week, the Church General Assembly narrowly voted not to change its definition of marriage. So it seemed like the perfect time to have Paul Mowry back on the show to talk about this life-changing year for him, and also to talk about the outcome of the General Assembly. Paul, I really appreciate you coming back to State of Belief Radio.[REV. PAUL MOWRY, GUEST]: Well thank you so much, I really appreciate that you’re there every week. It’s a great show, and you guys do wonderful work. [WG]: Thank you. It would be much better to talk about this in Sausalito together, but we’ll do it this way this time. [PM]: Well, it’s cool and sunny here, unlike most everywhere else. [WG]: Well, yeah, it’s hot and I won’t say other things here. The last time we spoke, the Presbyterian Church USA General Assembly had just voted to allow ordination for LGBT persons. Can you take us back to last summer, and just review how your own personal life has changed since then? [PM]: Well, you know, it was a remarkable hand of God moment, because – you know, my call story is long; I felt, always, called to the ministry. I came out to my mom when I was eighteen, and she was completely embracing and loving and supportive, but said: “You know, I just feel bad you’ll never, you know, you won’t be a father, and you know the Presbyterians don’t ordain gay people.” And I went off and did lots of other really interesting things that both taught me a lot about life and deepened my spiritual path; and then I went into seminary not really knowing what I would do with it because the Presbyterian Church was not ordaining gay people when I went into seminary. And just a couple years after getting out and looking for a call, the Church voted, finally, after thirty years, to open its doors. And Sausalito Presbyterian Church, just a few months after that, called me to be their pastor. So it’s been this amazing crossing Jordan moment, you know, after wandering in the desert – I’m fortunate, the Jewish slaves from Egypt had to wander for forty years, I just had about thirty years, so I got off with, you know, ten years for good behavior or something – and I’ve now been able to answer my call. And it’s been absolutely thrilling and so just, you know, deeply moving for myself and my family, my partner and my daughter Ellie who’s five. We all are out here and just feeling so loved and excited by our relationship with the Church. [WG]: Paul, you’ve started down the road of a question I wanted to follow up with and that is: what has it meant to you to become a pastor of a church? [PM]: My first thought to that question is – everything. I mean, it’s been something I felt called to even as a small child, and to come into a community – and Sausalito Presbyterian Church has been, especially, very warm and really welcoming community, and when I say welcoming, you know, in the congregation we have traditionalists and agnostics and atheists and Catholics and Jews – I mean, it’s really a lot of people who come together, who value the polity of Presbyterianism and the fidelity of seeking to be in relationship with God and each other; and for me it just means waking up and can’t wait to get to work. You know, to get into what’s waiting for me in the day, and to be building, just, lots of relationships inside the church community and just in the community around us and knowing that, you know, I am one of these very, very blessed and also lucky people who get to spend my days trying to witness to the love of God in any way that I can think of and it’s just, it’s a wonderful way to spend one’s life, you know? [WG]: You know, I say this with great respect, but I know people who would not understand what you’re saying because that’s not the way they look at church; I think after fifty years in the Church I probably have a praise critique of the Church, and my mind, as you talked, went back to a book I’m sure you know by Henri Nouwen called “The Wounded Healer” – and you came to the Church not with people saying: “You need to go to the Church, you need to be a pastor, you need to do that” – you came with the door closed. [PM]: Yeah. [WG]: And so, your perspective, I think, is very different from that of some other people, and it comes out in what you’re saying, because you know the hurt the Church can cause, but you also know the joy it can bring. [PM]: Well, I could not have said it better myself. That’s… I love how you just said that, because I think that is true – and we were doing, we were having a four-week series on the gospels, and we met last night, and one of the things I’ve said is I think, just, for thousands of years, you know, the Church has preached the bad news. [WG]: Mm-hmm, that’s right. [PM]: And you know, it has just – if you look at the Good News, well of course you’ll certainly understand why Christianity grew and why people were so, you know, excited and transformed and willing to suffer absolutely horrible oppression because this great good news of this gospel of deep radical love is thrilling. And when I was in the ordination process and I had to go from, you know, the status of being an inquirer – which is your entry status into the ordination process – to becoming a candidate, which is where you’re moving to a much more serious level of commitment -I said it to the presbytery that I was under care of: “I know what it’s like to love the Church, and I know what it’s like to leave the Church, and I know what it’s like to come home to the Church.” [WG]: Right, right. That’s a great gift. [PM]: And I could tell people I never think there is a good reason for oppression or injustice; but the fact that I actually got to go through that experience of not being able to come into my call, really has shaped a lot of who I am and what I now feel is so important to bring to the Church – or bring out in the Church. [WG]: I’m not surprised. Let’s broaden the lens now for a moment. We know what it meant to you; how do you see, broadly speaking, the process of bringing LGBT people into the ministry of the Presbyterian Church USA – how has that gone in the Presbyterian Church in the first year? [PM]: Well, I think it’s still a mixed bag, you know, I think that there were some people in the Church who were afraid of this move and envisioned, you know, hundreds of gay ministers! You know, the fact is that the Church is a national body that still operates locally and you know, change – though this was a dramatic change – came after a long struggle, and so it continues to move, slowly, because now the door is open, but it’s still is going from presbytery by presbytery. And I think that there are still people who are in presbyteries that do not think it’s a good idea to have lesbian and gay pastors, and who will not call somebody or even move them forward in the ordination process. And yet others, you know, Scott Anderson and Scott Clark and others who are able to move forward very openly; so you know, like any kind of change, socially or religiously, it’s a process, and for some it’s going way to fast, and for others it’s just going way to slow. [WG]: And I’m sure you’ve got comments on the action of the General Assembly this year, moving in the opposite direction on LGBT issues with a close vote, very close vote, defeating an attempt to include marriage equality in the life of the Church. What are your thoughts on that? [PM]: Well, the one thing I would say right off the bat is: I would not necessarily characterize this as the Church going in the opposite direction, because this is actually the first time that marriage equality has made it to the floor and to a vote. Four years ago marriage equality didn’t get out of committee; two years ago it got out of committee but was thwarted by a parliamentary maneuver. So this was the first time that it got to the floor – and as you’ve said, the vote was very close; I think, you know, thirty-some votes. I think that’s really remarkable. And you know, speed is a value in our society today, where everything just needs to happen right now. And so it’s hard to say well, you know what, in two years or four years, this is going to be, we’re going to have moved forward on this; but it’s hard to sit and wait for that. But I think that’s definitely going to be the case. I mean, you know, life moves forward and I think, you know, God’s revelation moves forward and our relationships within the Church are moving forward – the fact that so many presbyteries last year or two years ago had decided that, you know, we trusted each other enough that we could have theological differences, and trust each presbytery to make up its good – use its good God-given wisdom to assess their candidates for ordination. That was very dramatic and very powerful. And the fact that this – which is, I think, in some ways at this point even more challenging than passing the ordination issue could come out for its first run with a vote that was so close is very, very encouraging. [WG]: I’m glad you made that point, because institutionally speaking, that really is occurring at a rapid speed. [PM]: That’s right. And it’s hard for us to, in this day and age, it’s hard to sometimes understand or tolerate the speed – or the lack of speed – that institutions exhibit when they’re making dramatic changes. [WG]: I think it’s safe to say that mainline denominations are going to move in the same direction, probably, but at different speeds. The Episcopal Church voted to include the Sacrament of Marriage as an offering to same-gender couples, also approved the ordination of transgender persons. Do you see major bumps in the road ahead for Presbyterian USA, or do you think it’s going to move pretty steadily? [PM]: I think it’s going to move pretty steadily, because I think the social fabric is just changing every day. You know, ten years ago, I don’t even know if Massachusetts had voted on marriage equality; now we’ve got six or seven states and the District of Columbia. You know, as a people we’re just moving and opening up so quickly on understanding the relationships and the love of lesbian and gay people, and I think whether you’re in the Church or talking about civil society, it’s really a very encouraging forward – and sociologically speaking, lickety-split march forward. [WG]: Well, that’s well said, and I think the Sausalito church is very fortunate to have you there. [PM]: Oh, you’re very kind. [WG]: We’re just about out of time but I’ve got one more question I want to ask you. I’m so pleased you’re as pleased as you are in the pastoral ministry. If I call back a year from now and interview you again, what would you like to be able to say to me then that we can’t say today? [PM]: Ah, oh my partner and I are getting married in two months and I hope you’ll come to the wedding. [WG]: Well thank you, thank you. [PM]: We’ve been together, you know, twenty five and a half years, my partner Joe Silverman and my daughter Ellie, you know, has just turned six and we know that we are blessed to have the family that we have. It will be nice when we can invite our friends and community into a ceremony where the Church openly blesses it as well. [WG]: Rev. Paul Mowry is the pastor of the Sausalito Presbyterian Church, he’s one of the first openly gay persons ordained in that denomination, and he is always a most welcome guest right here on State of Belief Radio.
Paul, I really thank you for being with us again, and I wish you continued success in your ministry there.[PM]: Thank you so much my friend and take good care. [WG]: You too.
State of Belief is based on the proposition that religion has a positive and healing role to play in the life of the nation. The show explains and explores that role by illustrating the vast diversity of beliefs in America – the most religiously diverse country in the world – while exposing and critiquing both the political manipulation of religion for partisan purposes and the religious manipulation of government for sectarian purposes.
Each week, the Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy offers listeners critical analysis of the news of religion and politics, and seeks to provide listeners with an understanding and appreciation of religious liberty. Rev. Gaddy tackles politics with the firm belief that the best way to secure freedom for religion in America is to secure freedom from religion. State of Belief illustrates how the Religious Right is wrong – wrong for America and bad for religion.
Through interviews with celebrities and newsmakers and field reports from around the country, State of Belief explores the intersection of religion with politics, culture, media, and activism, and promotes diverse religious voices in a religiously pluralistic world.
Author of more than 20 books, including First Freedom First: A Citizen’s Guide to Protecting Religious Liberty and the Separation of Church and State, the Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy leads the national non-partisan grassroots and educational organization Interfaith Alliance and serves as Pastor for Preaching and Worship at Northminster (Baptist) Church in Monroe, Louisiana.
In addition to being a prolific writer, Dr. Gaddy hosts the weekly State of Belief radio program, where he explores the role of religion in the life of the nation by illustrating the vast diversity of beliefs in America, while exposing and critiquing both the political manipulation of religion for partisan purposes and the religious manipulation of government for sectarian purposes.
Dr. Gaddy provides regular commentary to the national media on issues relating to religion and politics. He has appeared on MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show and Hardball, NBC’s Nightly News and Dateline, PBS’s Religion and Ethics Newsweekly and The Newshour with Jim Lehrer, C-SPAN’s Washington Journal, ABC’s World News, and CNN’s American Morning. Former host of Morally Speaking on NBC affiliate KTVE in Monroe, Louisiana, Dr. Gaddy is a regular contributor to mainstream and religious news outlets.
While ministering to churches with a message of inclusion, Dr. Gaddy emerged as a leader among progressive and moderate Baptists. Among his many leadership roles, he is a past president of the Alliance of Baptists and has been a 20-year member of the Commission of Christian Ethics of the Baptist World Alliance. His past leadership roles include serving as a member of the General Council of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, President of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Chair of the Pastoral Leadership Commission of the Baptist World Alliance and member of the World Economic Forum’s Council of 100. Rev. Gaddy currently serves on the White House task force on the reform of the Office of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.
Prior to the fundamentalist takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), Dr. Gaddy served in many SBC leadership roles including as a member of the convention’s Executive Committee from 1980-84 and Director of Christian Citizenship Development of the Christian Life Commission from 1973-77.
Dr. Gaddy received his undergraduate degree from Union University in Jackson, Tennessee and his doctoral degree and divinity training from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.