By Rev. Heidi Peterson
The General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission (GA PJC—the highest court of our church) recently ruled in two separate cases on matters affecting the openness of the church. The first case (Presbytery of Newark vs. Rev. Laurie McNeill) involves an ordained minister (Laurie McNeill) who married her life partner in a jurisdiction where same gender marriage is a civil right. The GA PJC ruled that her act of marriage did not violate the church’s constitution. Presbyterian ministers are prohibited from performing same-gender weddings. However, nothing prohibits gay ministers from being married. Rev. McNeill’s ceremony was performed by an Episcopal priest. The decision offered the observation that it is a “tortuous place in which the PCUSA finds itself on the matter of same-gender marriage.”
A second case involved the Presbytery of Los Ranchos. A majority of the presbytery objected to the church’s dropping of heterosexuality as a requirement for ordination, and sought to adopt a local resolution that would in effect, restore the prohibition on ordination of gay and lesbian persons. The GA PJC ruled that the presbytery exceeded its authority by attempting to depart from mandatory provisions for equality in our constitution, and said that the “resolution would have the practical effect of discouraging those seeking ordination or membership.”
For me one of the most profound messages of Advent and Christmas is that God’s ways are not our ways. The Spirit appears in surprising places: in a dream, in a maiden’s womb, in a stable. The Spirit works through the lives of ordinary people: John the Baptist, Mary, shepherds. The Biblical figures who are vexed by the unfolding events are those who are full of themselves, who look for love in all the wrong places, and desire love’s power for all the wrong reasons, like King Herod.
Very persistently and over a long time, ordinary people of faith have urged the church to open its eyes and hearts and doors to the Spirit. Scripture alerts us to the truth that the Spirit will come to make God’s prodigious love for us known in some unexpected places and people. This season, let us welcome the glad surprise of the Spirit, trust love’s power for good, and live into the reality of being a church as loving as God’s heart.
The Reverend Heidi A. Peterson serves as Co-Moderator on the National MLP Board. She was ordained by the Presbytery of Chicago in 1983 and became pastor of Central Presbyterian Church in Kansas City, MO in 2000. Throughout her ministry, Heidi has been active in the wider church. She has served as moderator of both Blackhawk and Heartland Presbyteries; as moderator of the 208th General Assembly Church Order Committee; as a member of the Board of Pensions and many presbytery committees.