Scott Anderson

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?

Let’s talk!

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.

One Response
  • Ray Bagnuolo on March 20, 2010

    Dear Janet,

    Thanks for this interview and thanks to Scott for his dedication to the radical message of the gospel, made even more radical because we have moved so far from it in so many ways. I couldn’t agree more about fighting, especially over Scripture. Still…

    … if Jesus could flip the tables of the moneychangers on end…how much more might he respond in the face of our sisters and brothers paying the price of exclusion and bearing the brunt of the complicity of a church in its teachings? Teachings that impact the broad society, and in this instance, foster marginalization and violence toward our sisters and brothers who are LGBT, all done in his name? I think the tables, at least, would fly again.

    As I see it, for a church to be relevant, it must take the same risks that Jesus did, risks which ended up having him executed. We’re not there, maybe never will be in taking such risks. But the path to such steadfast love is too often littered with the selfish needs of others. In this case, the needs seem to include a requisite comfortability with the LGBT community before we are fully embraced. So, the church accepts, as a matter of course, the destruction of others’ lives until enough people are comfortable for a church, this church, to finally say, “Welcome.”

    I believe that it must be the church that leads the way, and not for the benefit of you, Scott, or me, really, but for all those who see this church as unwelcoming. For those we are turning away. How can we be who we say we are and continue such practices? How can our leadership from the local congregations to the moderator’s office do anything other than publicly and unequivocally call for change now, letting others hear the voice we follow in so many ways? What on earth or in the heavens are we afraid of? Maybe, better question, what are we afraid of losing for speaking out with such conviction and risk?

    This is not just about polity. It is about witness and about execution: an execution now being done by some in the name of Jesus.

    That’s got to be enough to turn some tables over…

    Ray Bagnuolo, Minister Word and Sacrament
    Ordained and openly gay in 2005
    Serving Jan Hus Presbyterian Church and Neighborhood House
    New York City
    Board Member of More Light Presbyterians, speaking only for myself.

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