Tara was elected as vice moderator on the second day of the assembly, with the support of her running mate, the Rev. Neal Presa of Elizabeth, N.J., despite a difference of opinion between Neal and Tara regarding marriage equality. Three days later, however, after what she described as “pervasive poisonous activity” in the church surrounding her election, Tara resigned from that office over concerns that the conflict would distract the assembly from its important work.
For congregations such as my own in Washington’s Dupont Circle neighborhood, this was a painful moment revealing just how far we have to go in the struggle for full acceptance of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in the life of the church. Just last year, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) revoked the prohibition to ordaining gay and lesbian clergy in partnered relationships, giving discretion in the matter to local governing bodies. The church left intact, however, the traditional definition of marriage as a “civil contract between a woman and a man.” We thus have the untenable situation where it is now permissible for gay clergy to be ordained in the church but not yet permissible for clergy to officiate at a same-sex wedding.
In explaining to the assembly both why she resigned and why she felt called to officiate at a same-sex wedding in the first place, Tara said: “I am a pastor. That is who God has called me to be. As I reflect on what’s happening now, I think I am embodying the reality of a growing number of pastors who find ourselves caught. We are caught between being pastors— being with couples in those sacred moments when they make their vows to one another— and having a polity that restricts us from living out our pastoral calling, especially in states where it is legal for everyone to be married.”
In the days following Tara’s resignation, the assembly went on to consider several overtures to change the definition of marriage in the church’s “Directory for Worship,” shifting the language from “a woman and a man” to “two people.” Sadly, the assembly voted instead for two years of “serious study and discernment” regarding Christian marriage. A measure that would have allowed for discretion for pastors in jurisdictions, such as the District, where same-sex marriage is legal, was also narrowly defeated. (Though, in a sign of changes to come, young adult advisory delegates voted overwhelmingly in favor of change.)
As a pastor in the District of Columbia, I know that Tara is not the only Presbyterian minister caught between their pastoral obligations to gay and lesbian couples and the confines of our polity. Nor is Tara the only pastor who has chosen, in an act of ecclesial disobedience, to defy the polity and stand with gay and lesbian couples despite the prohibition. We do this as an expression of the love and justice of Jesus Christ, at the same time urging the church to recognize the inherent worth and dignity of same-sex relationships.
In the Presbyterian Church it is customary to stand when the moderator enters the room, in recognition of the moderator’s office. For the next two years, I will also be standing with Tara.
Rev. Jeff Krehbiel is Pastor at Church of the Pilgrims in Washington.