Tell It All, Sister! NJ Female PCUSA Pastor Gets Married—To Another Woman!

Imagine the scene: It’s the November 14 meeting of the PCUSA Presbytery of Newark (New Jersey). Business, we can imagine, is being conducted in a relatively unexciting and mundane way, the same as with most Presbyteries. Then comes announcement time.

A female pastor, The Rev. Ms. Laurie A. McNeill of Central Presbyterian Church, an average PCUSA congregation in Montclair, stands up to make an announcement. She wants to share some exciting news with her fellow ministers and elders in attendance.

We can imagine most Presbyters aren’t really paying that much attention, thinking maybe she is going to announce some upcoming event in the life of the Central congregation.

McNeill has been at the Central congregation as Pastor for several years. According to her bio on the church’s website, McNeill is a North Carolina native, a 1982 graduate of Wake Forest University and received her Master of Divinity from Princeton Seminary. She was ordained in 1989, served once as moderator of the body before which she stands and was once a commissioner to the denomination’s General Assembly.

Her announcement, as reported by The Presbyterian Outlook on Wednesday, November 18: she got married.

PCUSA pastors get married all the time. What made this announcement so significant was that McNeill, a female, married another woman. The ceremony, conducted by a UCC minister who grew up in the same North Carolina Presbyterian church as did McNeill, was held at Cape Cod on October 17.

What also makes this announcement so significant is the fact that the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church USA requires that church officers (which in that denomination would include ministers, elders and deacons) live in “fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman or chastity in singleness.”

Often touted as an anti-gay stance, the clause places requirements on heterosexual officers as well; that they don’t have sex unless they are married to a member of the opposite gender (assuming that binary approach to gender). It does so without defining what a sex act is and could be, one could suppose, construed as to forbid solo sex, too.

What will happen now remains to be seen. It is indeed possible, and recognized as such by McNeill, according to the Outlook report, that someone may institute some sort of judicial proceeding against her. We’ll just have to wait and see.

 

More importantly, however, the announcement — and the recent case of Lisa Larges in San Francisco Presbytery — focuses attention on that pesky “fidelity and chastity” clause. Not only does it raise the issue of conflicts between state definitions of marriage and ecclesiastical ones, it raises the issue of what exactly “chastity” is.

It also raises fundamental questions of sexual ethics for those who look to the collection of documents we call “The Bible” for guidance in such matters. One can assume that the “fidelity and chastity” clause is based on a particular theological/ethical construct which sees sexual activity as permissible only within the confines of a legally sanctioned marriage between a man and woman.

But is that position to be found in a serious study of sex and ethics in the Bible? One can, without much effort, argue that it is impossible to develop a sexual ethic from the Bible other than “do no harm.” If that is the case, then some other justification for the PCUSA’s prohibition needs to be developed.

Read the original article in Religion Dispatches

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