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Local Presbyterian Pastor Becomes Advocate For Gay Rights


Probably the most volatile fault line in America’s shifting opinion on gay rights is in churches. Both those who support gay rights and those who don’t claim that their beliefs are supported by their church’s teachings.  

At the same time, many of the faithful are just trying to keep the issue from splintering church communities.

In Parkville, these issues recently came up when the pastor of a Presbyterian church came out to his congregation.

Brian Ellison has been pastor at the Parkville Presbyterian Church since 1999.  He recently announced to his church that he would be leaving to become the executive director of The Covenant Network of Presbyterians, an LGBT advocacy organization, and at the same time, came out to his congregation.

Ellison’s announcement was made easier by a change in the Presbyterian Church constitution in 2011, which removed the provision that prevented gays and lesbians from being ordained to serve openly in the church. As a member of the Board of Directors for the Board of Pensions, Ellison voted earlier this year to extend domestic partner benefits to same-sex partners of planned members of the church.

Still, Ellison knew his congregation would be surprised by his new job, so he wrote an open letter to the church community, coming out and announcing his new job. So far, he says the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. In his new position, Ellison plans to continue advocating for LGBT members of the church.

He sat down with KCUR’s Alex Smith to talk about his coming out to the church, as well as his plans for the future.

Brian Ellison has also been a regular contributor and host for KCUR since 2008.  He's been a producer for The Walt Bodine Show, assistant producer for Up to Date and is a regular substitute host on both shows.

Interview Highlights

“There are some members of the congregation who, out of their faith and biblical interpretation, genuinely believe it’s wrong. They are not necessarily homophobic or hateful; they just believe it’s wrong and it’s troubling for them. And I respect that. I love those people. I disagree with them about this. I think it is possible for a gay or lesbian person in a committed relationship to faithfully express who they are.”

“I’m thinking of a conversation I had in the past week where a member of the church expressed to me their own sort of pain at learning that we had talked about this issue, and I had not disclosed to them my own sexuality; my own sexual orientation. I had to admit that was incredibly painful for me as well. But given the conflict I feared would occur in the church if I was to make that an issue--I just didn’t think I could.”

“The response has been truly, overwhelmingly positive and affirming. And just to be honest, I don’t recall any more meaningful days of ministry than these past few days. The church has really been, for me, everything the church is supposed to be: A place of warmth, hospitality, and true community--full of people who have expressed love and care.”

“There was a time when Presbyterians would defend slavery using scripture. Over time, the church came to say, 'We no longer are going to apply scripture that way. We think the message of the gospel is something different than that.' So yes, I think our views have evolved, but I would call that God working on us and bringing us to new understandings. I think it is right for our views to continue to open up to how God is leading us on an issue as important as this.”

This story was produced for KC Currents, which airs Sundays at 5pm with a repeat Mondays at 8pm. To listen on your own schedule, subscribe to the KCCurrents podcast.

As a health care reporter, I aim to empower my audience to take steps to improve health care and make informed decisions as consumers and voters. I tell human stories augmented with research and data to explain how our health care system works and sometimes fails us. Email me at alexs@kcur.org.
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