After my wife Cat and I had spent six years as members of our very first church home–a Presbyterian USA church—we were asked to sign a document asserting that under no circumstances should anyone involved in a same-sex relationship be allowed to hold “any position, of any authority whatsoever” at that church.
We had both been elected deacons of the church—which is how we learned that you couldn’t actually become a deacon at our church until you signed this document.
I actually thought the Deacons Committee lady was kidding when she laid copies of the anti-gay statement before us. We knew this lady. She was in the weekly small group Bible study Cat and I had attended for years. We liked her.
“Wouldn’t it be funny if there really was such a document?,” I laughed
Looking slightly confused, our friend said, “But there is. That’s this document right here.” She nudged the papers a little closer to our side of the table. “You have to sign this.”
I looked at Cat, whom I saw was already looking at me.
Whoops. Now boarding for Crazy Town.
We both silently bent to read the document.
Done with that, I asked our friend, “Do we really have to sign this in order to become deacons? Are you actually not kidding?” I’m a fairly private person. Plus, I’m sane. So I like to keep to a minimum signing my allegiance to clumsily articulated amalgams of theological proclamations and discriminatory hiring policies.
“No, I’m not kidding.” She smiled sweetly. “You have to sign it. All deacons have to sign it.”
“But … that doesn’t really make sense,” I said. “Why would we have to sign something like this before we’re deemed worthy to man the donuts table between services, and to help pass around the collection plate? That’s a little … draconian, don’t you think? Actually making someone sign their name to something? Isn’t that just a little too … Joe McCarthy? You understand how that feels a little extreme, right?”
She did not understand this. At all.
“Plus, Cat and I have been members of the church for six years. In all that time, I’ve never once heard anyone associated with this church say a single thing about homosexuality. Never a word about it from the pulpit; never in a meeting; never in a class; never in the bulletin; nothing on our website; never a word about it in our Bible study class. Total silence. And yet this issue is so important to the church that you can’t become a deacon here unless you sign something specifically about it. Doesn’t that seem a little weird to you? If we’re going to believe in a position about something as strongly as we clearly believe in our position on this matter, shouldn’t we, at least every once in a while, say something about that belief? If we believe it, we should preach it. People in the congregation have a right to know the rules of the club they’re in. It’s not fair that we’re just learning about this now.”
“But we’re talking about being deacons, right?” piped in Cat. The slight hint of maniacism I detected in her voice almost made me feel sorry for the woman across the table. “It’s not like we’re being named pastors of the church. We’re talking about being deacons. Visiting shut-ins. Helping put out chairs at meetings. That sort of thing, right? Nothing that has anything whatsoever to do with who should or shouldn’t be hired at the church. Just deacons, right?”
But, alas, our choices turned out to be exactly two: Either sign the “no homosexual should be so much as a door greeter or janitor at our church” document — or, by virtue of not signing it, fail to qualify as deacons.
“Please let us be deacons without signing the paper,” we later begged the powers-that-be at our church (almost all of whom were in our Bible study group). “We love this church. We’d love to help with it. It’s not like we’re going to be in a position of hiring anyone at the church anyway. Isn’t it possible to allow us to serve as deacons without our having to sign the paper?”
Yeah, that’d be a no.
Which put my wife and me in the weird position of being members of a church we’d been deemed unworthy to be deacons of.
Don’t you just hate it when you’re reduced to the status of second-class citizen in your own church?
The Sunday following the week in which I tried to get anyone in our church to just talk to me about the whole gay issue, the pastor of the church — someone I considered a personal friend, whose house Cat and I had often visited, with whom I’d been going to lunch once a month for years — placed in the lobby of our church, right beside the doors leading into the sanctuary, a stack of stapled copies of a paper he wrote about how people who don’t hold the “correct” view on homosexuality are heretics.
Everyone knew perfectly well for whom the message of his paper was intended.
And just like that, Cat and I were understood to be heretics.
Pretty soon thereafter Cat and I left that church, which had always meant so very much to us.
Cat cried for weeks.
[Update: Some ten years later, I had the distinct pleasure of writing Meet Scott Anderson, Soon To Be the First (Openly) Gay Minister Ordained by Presbyterian U.S.A.]