Conversation with Scott Anderson
For the next installment of my occasional Conversations series where leaders share their perspectives on the place of GLBT people in communities of faith, I recently spoke with Scott Anderson, the Executive Director of the Wisconsin Council of Churches. Scott was recently approved for ordination after declaring a scruple that was deemed a non-essential departure from church rules by the John Knox Presbytery. A complaint has been filed against John Knox Presbytery for their decision, postponing ordination until the PCUSA church courts rule on the matter.
What is one of the defining moments in your life as a Christian?
In my second year of seminary, I came out to myself and had to make the decision which faces all LGBT candidates for ministry: to follow my call and stay closeted or be an honest and open person about who God made me to be. God’s call trumped every other consideration for me. In 1990, after 8 years of ministry, I was forced to come out as gay. That was the best and the worst moment of my life. It felt like I gained my humanity back and my integrity. It was very freeing to share with people I care about who I fully am.
How has your personal journey to a second ordination in the PCUSA strengthened or challenged your faith?
My personal journey strengthened me over all. Coming to accept my sexual orientation when I was in seminary was not a crisis for me; my progressive PCUSA upbringing taught me that God’s love is for all, including me. When members of the church I was serving in 1990 outed me as gay I did not feel that God abandoned me, but it was painful to realize how very human the institution of the church is.
After leaving ordained office, I found a ministry in the ecumenical setting where I have served for twenty years. The distance this ministry has given me from the PCUSA church family helped me to heal and has allowed me to participate in the PCUSA conflict in a more constructive and life-giving way.
Is there a prayer or meditation that helps you make it through trying times?
I have a daily regimen of primarily intercessory prayer. And I have Biblical texts in my hip pocket, so to speak, that I draw on for strength. The raising of Lazarus, John 11, sustains me as a gay man, because coming out was such a resurrection experience for me. In the past year, my partner’s father and my mother died. The assurance in Romans 8 that nothing can separate us from the love of God comforted me in the midst of all that.
In your mind, what are the Biblical foundations for LGBT inclusion in the church?
I mentioned the Lazarus story in John 11 already. The Creation Story in Genesis 2 is also very important. The literal Hebrew in Genesis 2:18 means that God created us “for partnership.” Being in partnership with another is a central aspect of our being made in the image of God. Of course, Acts 10-15 teaches us that God knows no partiality. And Paul uses the image of Christ and the church in Ephesians 5 to help us understand the bond between spouses. Paul uses the example of husband and wife, but nothing limits the image for the covenant between Christ and us to a man and a woman.
Do you have a story of a person who embodies Christ’s teachings?
The person who comes to my mind is the journalist, Andrew Sullivan, whom I have never met. I am moved by his writing and his immense integrity. His politics as a Republican are more conservative than mine, but I see him as a bridge builder who straddles worlds (Republican, Catholic, gay) and is able to negotiate between them in a remarkable way. There was a period in which I was a fiery advocate for political change in the PCUSA but I did not find it very effective. I shifted to building personal relationships and find that more effective for me.
What would you say to those Christians who have a different view on inclusion?
At this point I have no interest in fighting. In the three-year process to seek ordination again in the John Knox Presbytery, the great thing is that we have gotten to know each other well as persons. We have a relationship even in the midst of our disagreement on some things. The important thing is to behave well with one another.
Change is not linear or intellectual. It is more a conversion experience. Arguing about what the Bible says is not helpful. Change is the work of the Holy Spirit among us in the midst of community.
What can we do to foster dialogue and build bridges with people with different views on inclusion?
By offering. We need to create every opportunity to talk in order to get to know one another better. We are compelled to offer the invitation to join in community all the time. And then hope that the other will accept the invitation.