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Christian Stempert July 5, 2012
More than 250 gathered at the Westin Hotel in Pittsburgh on July 2nd to celebrate the fifteenth anniversary of the Covenant Network of Presbyterians. The Convenant Network began as an idea hatched in the basement of the convention center in Syracuse, New York, and has grown into one of the largest LGBTQ advocacy groups within the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
The newly elected Moderator of the 220th General Assembly, Rev. Neal Presa of Elizabeth Presbytery in New Jersey, gave a brief word of encouragement to the people attending the largest non-plenary event at Assembly. According to Presa, it is because of the work of groups such as the Covenant Network in “critiquing the tradition” of the PCUSA that the denomination is involved in “healthy discussion” on same-sex marriage.
After recognizing Pam Byers, who is leaving Covenant after fourteen years as Executive Director, Co-Moderator of the Board David Van Dyke introduced Rev. Brian Ellison as her replacement. Ellison is a graduate of Harvard University and Princeton Theological Seminary, and currently serves as the pastor of Parkville Presbyterian Church in Missouri. He is also currently the Chair of the Committee on Mission Responsibility Through Investment and as a Director of the Board of Pensions. In addition to his church-related duties, Ellison hosts a radio program on Kansas City’s NPR affiliate.
Ellison took the opportunity to express his excitement for the Covenant’s future. “The church wants to be inclusive,” he said, “and what we’re about is helping the church to be what it wants to be.” The pastor, who was ordained more than thirteen years ago, went on to introduce a man named Troy, his domestic partner of nine years. This was their first coming-out at an official church-related event. The revelation received a standing ovation.
Following Ellison, the featured speaker was Rev. Scott Anderson, the first openly gay minister to be ordained in the PCUSA. “The time has come,” he said, “to address ancient prejudices and right ancient wrongs." More and more people within the Presbyterian community, he claimed, are experiencing the cognitive dissonance that results from realizing that the church’s teaching doesn’t line up with their life experiences. The “disordered sexuality described in the Scriptures simply doesn’t line up” with what so many Presbyterians see every day. According to Anderson, the Bible condemns “sexual idolatry,” not loving relationships between members of the same gender.
Finally, the Covenant’s National Organizer, Tricia Dykers Koenig, laid out the organization's expectations for the current General Assembly, and the years to come. Their primary goal, she said, it not turning back the “progress made at the last G.A.," namely the overture that allowed openly homosexual ministers to be ordained. Their new goal is to stop the PCUSA from “imposing one interpretation of Scripture” on everyone that keeps the church from being able to fully care for their LGBTQ members. According to Koenig, under current church policy, many pastors are being forced to violate their consciences by being able to bless same-sex unions, but not performing civil marriage ceremonies.
“We do not want to impose our view on those who do not share it,” she insisted. “The PCUSA is big enough for all of us.” Coming to a new understanding on the issue of same-sex marriage is crucial to the “health and vitality of the church. The Covenant Network is committed to working for the unity of our denomination” and “justice and equity for all.”
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