A gay elder in the Presbyterian Church (USA) says the recent rule change that removes any doubt over the legitimacy of her position makes the church more accepting, though intolerance still exists in many areas. Beth Van Sickle was ordained in her Ohio congregation in the 1980s and faced challenges to her post. But yesterday , the church’s constitution was changed to allow unmarried, noncelibate clergy. Van Sickle says it makes the church appear more accepting to young people, who may be questioning the conflict between their religion and their sexuality.
“People will come to the church because they recognize it can be a safe place,” she says. “Certainly people will need to do some research on whether the church they’re going to attend is a safe place. Because not all Presbyterian churches are going to agree with this.”
Just as Van Sickle’s congregation did not firmly adhere to the previous rule on LGBT ordination, congregations don’t have to follow the updated rule. It’s up to each regional presbytery to decide how to handle requests for ordination. That’s how other rule changes have been treated, and Van Sickle says it’s led to gaps in how various minority groups fit into the PCUSA.
“Our church, in my opinion, still has issues around racism. There are churches in the PCUSA who still will not ordain women. We have a long way to go even within the ways that we have already voted in acceptance,” she says.
Van Sickle says some group within the church will always seek equality. She expects the approval of same-sex marriage to be the next step toward greater acceptance. The church’s General Assembly has not yet taken up the issue.