The midwestern governing body of the Presbyterian Church has upheld a decision by area church leaders to allow the ordination of an openly gay Madison man in a committed relationship.
The judicial commission of the Lakes and Prairies Synod voted 7-2 Saturday in favor of the ordination of Scott Anderson, 55. The synod is one of 16 such governing bodies in the Presbyterian Church (USA) and covers six states, including Wisconsin.
Opponents of Anderson's ordination plan to appeal the decision to the church's national governing body called the General Assembly.
The decision could have far-reaching implications within the church. Currently, the church's constitution bars non-chaste gays and lesbians from the ministry. However, candidates for ordination can file objections to church rules based on conscience, which Anderson did.
In February, area church leaders voted 81-25 to ordain Anderson. Supporters said Anderson's departure from official teaching was not serious enough to overshadow his ministerial gifts. The leaders make decisions for the John Knox Presbytery, a local governing body representing 61 churches in parts of Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
Anderson is believed to be the first gay person in a long-term relationship to be approved for ordination by the denomination. However, his ordination will remain on hold until the national body takes up the issue, likely next spring.
An appeal of the initial vote was filed by the board of Caledonia Presbyterian Church, a 60-member church in rural Portage, and its pastor, the Rev. Paula Bremer. Their attorney, Whitman Brisky of Chicago, said Monday the group will appeal the synod's decision to the judicial commission of the church's General Assembly.
"We were disappointed in the outcome, but we were gratified that two of the commissioners filed a dissent that agreed with the positions we'd taken," Brisky said.
The basis of the appeal is the church rule prohibiting the installation of a minister "who is engaged in an extramarital, sexual relationship," Brisky has said.
Anderson is a former Presbyterian minister who voluntarily gave up his ordination in 1990 after two parishioners at the church he was serving in Sacramento, Calif., outed him as gay. He currently is executive director of the Wisconsin Council of Churches in Sun Prairie.
Saturday's decision came after a three-hour trial in Eagan, Minn.
"This is one more hurdle we've crossed," Anderson said Monday. "I'm feeling good."
The national body vote is difficult to predict, he said.
"It's just really hard to say. I think we have a good case, and we'll do the best we can."