Preaching at the Covenant Network of Presbyterians conference here Nov. 4-6, the Rev. Katie Morrison encouraged the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to let the "scales fall from your eyes" in the area of its ordination standards.
Morrison, a lifelong Presbyterian and open lesbian, left the PC(USA) five years ago to be ordained by the United Church of Christ. She could not be ordained by the PC(USA) because of its constitutional requirement that ordained officers practice "fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman or chastity in singleness" (G-6.0106b).
Founded in 1997 following the passage of G-6.0106b, the Covenant Network is a national group "working for a church that is simultaneously faithful, just, and whole," according to its website. It especially works for the removal of the "fidelity and chastity" provision from The Book of Order.
Her experience growing up in the PC(USA) was "unusually exceptional," Morrison said. Her family was extremely close with the pastor's, and her parents were both elders and members of the choir. Her best friend was the pastor's daughter.
But when she came out during her freshman year of college, that relationship changed.
Although she'd been asked to speak at other Covenant Network gatherings, Morrison said she always turned down those opportunities because she wasn’t ready to step back into the Presbyterian world. And before she could speak in Houston, she had two phone calls to make.
Morrison first called one of her seminary professors. At a past General Assembly, her church asked members to speak about their experiences, and as a member of the congregation who had always felt safe and comfortable there, Morrison wanted to participate.
But, knowing she was a lesbian, the professor advised her not to. "I had never experienced that kind of outright exclusion and I had experienced it first in the church," she said. "What a loss of innocence that moment was."
And just three days before the Covenant Network conference, Morrison said she made the hardest phone call she's ever had to make — to her former pastor.
When she came out, he told her she was just going through a phase. And when she was considering seminary, he refused to visit prospective schools with her. The close relationship between the two families was forever changed.
During her pre-conference phone calls, both the professor and the pastor apologized and expressed regret that they didn't support her back then.
"This is a sermon about circling back, a sermon about asking forgiveness," Morrison said.
Preaching on Acts 9:1-19, Morrison told the story of Saul being stopped in his tracks by Jesus as he was on his way to persecute followers of Jesus. For three days, he is blind and doesn’t eat or drink.
But what happens after that? Morrison wondered. The text doesn't speak to what happens to the people Saul had harmed, nor does it say if Saul got the opportunity to circle back to right the wrongs he had committed against them.
Morrison got the rare opportunity to circle back, she said, but she thinks about the people without her tenacity or the family support she has.
"There are so many in this denomination who have been hurt," she said. "Have you always been in the supportive position you're in today? Are there any Sauls here?
"Presbyterian Church, church of my upbringing, may the scales fall from your eyes. May you be re-baptized. May you break bread together."