Lesbian pastor’s widow sues church over refusal to pay pension

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The widow of a pastor is embroiled in a battle to have the Presbyterian Church pay her pension because she is a lesbian.

Letty M Russell, an author who trained at Harvard, was the pastor of the Presbyterian Church of the Ascension in East Harlem from 1959 to 1971 her widow Shannon Clarkson says.


Russell was also one of the first female teachers at the Yale Divinity School.

But after she died in 2007, despite naming Clarkson as her beneficiary, the pension of $600 a month was cut off.

The couple had been together for 32 years when the pastor died aged 77.

“Had Letty Russell been a man and had she not been a lesbian, Shannon Clarkson would have received pension benefits,” says Clarkson in a lawsuit against the church.

The Church’s pensions board continued to deny the pension was rightfully Clarkson’s even after the Church began to recognise same-sex unions back in 2013.

“I think it’s a matter of justice,” Clarkson told The New York Post.

“If you don’t recognise people for who they are, you’re not treating people as children of God. It seems like it’s an unjust position.”

Court papers name Russell as “one of the leading feminist Christian theologians in the world.”

“She was very energetic,” Clarkson added.

“She was a sailor. And if she said she would do something, she did it.”

“I’m not just doing it for me, I’m doing it because I think it’s the wrong decision,” Clarkson said, admitting that she has a fight on her hands.