For those interested in the Presbyterian Church (USA), get ready for a barrage of news reports. I expect by late spring or early summer the more responsible news outlets will write headlines with something to the effect of, “Presbyterian Church approves ordaining gays” while the more incendiary news outlets will print headlines like, “Presbyterians approve ordaining unrepentant homosexuals!” For those who have not been following it so closely, the Presbyterian Church’s last General Assembly approved an overture which would give ordaining bodies the authority to determine whether candidates are fit for ordination. This is nothing new. Amendments have been proposed doing such at every General Assembly since the specific prohibition against “unrepentant homosexuals ” was inserted in the late 1990s. What is new is that this year is that a majority of the presbyteries are voting to approve. If current voting patterns continue, the change will soon come into effect.
What this means is that ordaining bodies (churches in the case of elders and deacons and presbyteries in the case of lay ministers and minsters of word and sacrament) are now the ones who will determine if a potential candidate is “joyfully submitting to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in all aspects of life.” This means governing bodies will no longer be specifically tasked to focus on one aspect of a person’s life (their sexuality) while not being specifically tasked to focus on others (choose one of myriad items our confessions call sin). In practice, what this will mean is that some churches and presbyteries will likely see some gay candidates for ordination as achieving the standard while many others will still see someone living an active homosexual lifestyle as not meeting the standard. We won’t be in lockstep uniformity on this issue.
Conservative congregations (and presbyteries) probably won’t see this issue directly come forth before them frequently, if at all. For progressive congregations and presbyteries, it will open the door to what has been specifically barred.
I have good friends who are both for and against this amendment in the church. I respect both. Nevertheless, I am glad the amendment passed. I was never comfortable with specifically lifting up “the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman or chastity in singleness” as a requirement for ordination when the purpose was to aim it at less than 10% of the population while bypassing the other 90+ percent. In all my time as a minister, I never have heard of G6.0106b being used to question a heterosexual. I strongly suspect in the church we have far more heterosexual church officers failing to abide by this standard than homosexuals. It is just a basic fairness issue.
I hope that with this change, we can move forward together, even if some brothers and sisters (and even some congregations) move to other branches of Christ’s Church. Again, in effect, I don’t see this changing what most people experience in their local churches. Nevertheless, I see this as a step forward for Presbyterians.
What do you think? Until next time,