‘Out of Order’. How Are LGBTQ Pastors Being Accepted in the Presbyterian Church USA?
“More than a story about faith, religion or LGBTQ rights, this is a simple story about humans who wish to stand up for what they believe is right, to be accepted and to lead with integrity, courage and honesty.” (Amanda Bluglass, Director.)
Can LGBTQ individuals be ordained ministers? Many Christian denominations around the world are currently struggling with this very question, while others will not even entertain it. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) provided their answered formally in 2011 by dropping its own ban on gay clergy. However, this still remains a difficult issue for many in the church as homophobia and transphobia are far from being defeated.
A forthcoming independent documentary entitled “Out of Order” tells the unique stories of four young LGBTQ pastors.
The feature-length film chronicles the individual path they are creating for themselves – and the church’s reaction to them – as they live out their vocation as ministers in the PC(USA) while they fight for acceptance. We interviewed the film’s Director and one of its main subjects for their up-to-date insight on the state of LGBTQ pastors.
One of the film’s main subjects is Rev. Mieke Vandersall, 37. Rev. Mieke is currently Executive Director of Presbyterian Welcome, a non-profit group in New York City which works to promote the path to ordination for all people regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.
She has created three programs: the Future Pastors Retreat, which has nurtured over 100 LGBTQ leaders in the Presbyterian Church, Not So Churchy, a new worshiping community which has caught the attention of the denomination as a model for new emerging congregations, and a Youth Program for LGBTQ and allied young people in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and beyond.
In addition to Rev. Mieke, the film also features 27 year old openly gay Pastor John Russell Stanger, who was ordained in 2013, Alex McNeill, 31, who came out as female-to-male transgender during his ordination process and Kate LeFranc, 31, who, in addition to being an openly queer pastor, is also an artist and roller derby enthusiast.
British director and former BBC journalist Amanda Bluglass, who is directing the film, foresees completing production in September 2014. When asked to describe the project, Ms. Bluglass explained that, ““Out of Order” is about a great struggle facing many Christian churches in the USA, highlighting deep divisions over the appointment of gay pastors and same-sex marriage.
Despite being one of the largest mainline Protestant denominations in America, the Presbyterian Church (USA) is in decline, with numbers falling every year. Some blame the exodus on continued acceptance of LGBT people, most recently expressed through a rule change in 2011 which permitted the ordination of gay clergy. Others are angered because they believe that this is just the tip of the iceberg. Further reform, allowing for same-sex marriage, could be just around the corner.
Meanwhile gay candidates are finding it hard to get hired. Is homophobia blocking the ordination of queer candidates? And why would LGBTQ clergy want to be the spiritual leaders of a church which doesn’t welcome them? In pursuit of these answers, “Out of Order” examines the hidden intolerance and silent rejection at work in the pews of America, and uncovers a surprising story of empowerment.”
Rev. Mieke had an inkling of her vocation at a young age. “I was in junior high school when I realized that I might have a call to ministry. The Church had become very important to me, it was a safe and nurturing place for me, and I began to think I might want to be in the church for my life’s work. When I was in high school that call began to really form and I spent those years exploring theology and how it informs our practice.
I knew then I needed to be a pastor. I came out when I was in college, which was at the same time that the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) put its most recent discriminatory policies in place prohibiting LGBTQ ordination. I knew then that I had to work to change the church so I could work for the church I so dearly loved. My call was further clarified and I have spent my ministry not only working to change church policies but more being a pastor to those who have been so deeply affected by church policies.”
Rev. Mieke met the film’s Director, Amanda Bluglass, by chance at a party in 2012. “We hadn’t met before but she was attracted to my story and to the work we were doing for LGBTQ future pastors.
One thing led to another and next thing I knew Amanda and her crew were at the retreat [for future LGBTQ pastors] we lead each year. Before then, the retreat was 100% anonymous but we worked with each person to determine if they were comfortable to be on film. It has been beautiful to watch them travel through our journeys the last two years as life has unfurled and I can’t wait for the world to be able to see it.”
In concluding the interview, Rev. Mieke answered three pointed questions.
How would you respond to the provocative question posed in the film’s teaser? [Why did you knowingly accept the terms of a call when you knew that being a lesbian constitutionally prohibited you from serving in this capacity? Wasn’t that dishonest at the time?]
This question has been asked of me a few times, in varying ways. The reality is that I was not constitutionally prohibited from being ordained in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) when I was, according to my understanding, and many others’ understanding, of church law at the time.
The church decided that I was called to ordination and we made that journey together. In addition, Christ calls us to push rules that are unjust, more than we are called to submit to unjust rules. My ordination is connected to the call from Christ to respond to my Christian convictions.
What is the PC (USA)’s current position on LGBT people, same-sex relationships/marriage and ordination of LGBT individuals?
LGBTQ people can be ordained in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). The church has finally made this crystal clear. However, at this moment, same-gender loving couples are not allowed to get married in the Presbyterian Church.
If pastors officiate at the weddings of same-gender loving couples there is the possibility that they will have their ordination revoked. Despite this, many pastors, myself included, have officiated same-sex weddings because we believe it is the just, Christian, and right thing to do.
What future do you see for LGBT people in the PC (USA) and within Christian churches in general in the US?
I think that in some places there is a lot of hope for the full participation of LGBTQ people in the PC(USA) and Christian churches in general. Things are swinging in the right direction in some places. However, there is significant anti- LGBTQ backlash as well in many Christian denominations. Only with a lot of time, and a lot of patience with the Christian church as a whole, will it be a place of acceptance that so many of us desire.
Ms. Bluglass plans to release the documentary to film festivals and make it available for purchase online globally.