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October 10th, 2011
03:49 PM ET

First openly gay pastor ordained in the PCUSA speaks

By Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

(CNN) - It was nearly three decades in the making, but the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has ordained its first openly gay pastor. The Rev. Scott Anderson was ordained Saturday at Covenant Presbyterian Church, in Madison, Wisconsin.

"It's an exciting time for me personally to be the first openly gay person ordained in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), and it's a big moment for our church that has has excluded gays and lesbians for so many decades, so it's a new day for us," Anderson told CNN's Suzanne Malveaux.

Anderson had previously been a Presbyterian pastor but left the ministry in 1990 after he was outed by congregants.

At the time, the church required pastors, deacons and elders "to live either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman, or chastity in singleness," according to its constitution, known as the Book of Order.

Anderson was in a homosexual relationship that violated the church's policy at the time.

"I had been a Presbyterian pastor for eight years, and when I left, I never thought this day would come in my lifetime. God has brought a variety of surprises to my life, and this certainly is the biggest one," Anderson said.

The PCUSA formally changed its ordination policy after a majority of presbyteries, or regional groups of churches, approved the change. The move went into effect in July.

An amendment was passed at the General Assembly, or churchwide governing meeting, last year to remove the marriage language from the church's constitution and insert, "Standards for ordained service reflect the church’s desire to submit joyfully to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in all aspects of life."

A letter from church leaders posted on the church's official website explaining the changes called the matter "a Presbyterian family struggle."

The move led Carmen Fowler LaBerge of the Presbyterian Lay Committee, which opposed changing the ordination standards, to set aside her ordination. She wrote in a commentary posted on the committee's website, "I will joyfully serve as your sister in Christ in the PCUSA without the benefit of institutional ordination credentials and without the burden of a denomination’s corporate guilt. I hereby humbly set aside my ordination as a matter of conscience before the Lord."

"I think what's happening in the Presbyterian church is happening also in the Christian church across our nation right now," Anderson told Malveaux. "Our church is recognizing there are a variety of viewpoints on scripture. There's no longer a right viewpoint and a wrong viewpoint but several faithful viewpoints, one of which includes me in terms of being a minister in the Presbyterian church. So we're honoring a diversity of viewpoints in our church."

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- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Belief • Christianity • Church • Content Partner • Homosexuality • TV-CNN Newsroom

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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.