Louisville

Since the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) ratified amendment 10-A in May, the denomination has heard a variety of reactions from its partners around the world, said the Rev. Hunter Farrell, director of Presbyterian World Mission, at an Oct. 6 meeting of the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly (COGA).

COGA oversees the work of the Office of the General Assembly, which carries primary responsibility for ecumenical relations with other churches and ecumenical organizations. 

A polarizing provision even within the PC(USA), the new amendment to the Book of Order ratified by a majority of the 173 presbyteries this summer permits the ordination of non-celibate unmarried persons, including gays and lesbians.

“We took action as a whole,” Farrell said, referring to the General Assembly’s voting process. “That’s as close as we can get to discerning the mind of Christ.”

Although individual members might not agree with the amendment’s passage, the church as a whole must respect the GA’s decision, denominational leaders said.

“We have tried to let the PC(USA) make its own discernment and decision, and now we’re trying to manage the consequences,” said Elder Linda Valentine, executive director of the General Assembly Mission Council.

Perhaps the most widely publicized consequence came from the National Presbyterian Church of Mexico (INPM). In August, that denomination voted to end its 139-year relationship with the PC(USA), ending mission partnerships between the two churches in their current forms. 

Staff from the General Assembly Mission Council have also traveled to several countries — including Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Ethiopia and Guatemala — to meet with leaders there.

Several other partner churches have said that they would break off relationships if the PC(USA) changes its stance on Christian marriage or expressly affirmed homosexuality, Farrell said.

But he also shared news of partners in Australia, Britain and Colombia who have sent letters of support.

On Sept. 23, PC(USA) Stated Clerk the Rev. Gradye Parsons received a letter of support from Anglican Archbishop Emeritus and Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu.

“It is incumbent upon all of God’s children to speak out against injustice.  It is sometimes equally important to speak in solidarity when justice has been done. For that reason I am writing to affirm my belief that in making room in your constitution for gay and lesbian Christians to be ordained as church leaders, you have accomplished an act of justice,” the letter states.

World Mission is committed to continued dialogue with its partners, Farrell said.

“We’ve listened to the concerns they have expressed and we’ll continue to listen to them,” he said.

The full text of Tutu’s letter to Parsons:

Dear Brother in Christ,

I am writing you with the request that you share these thoughts with my brothers and sisters in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.):  

It is incumbent upon all of God’s children to speak out against injustice.  It is sometimes equally important to speak in solidarity when justice has been done.   For that reason I am writing to affirm my belief that in making room in your constitution for gay and lesbian Christians to be ordained as church leaders, you have accomplished an act of justice.

I realize that among your ecumenical partners, some voices are claiming that you have done the wrong thing, and I know that you rightly value your relationship with Christians in other parts of the world.  Sadly, it is not always popular to do justice, but it is always right.  People will say that the ones you are now willing to ordain are sinners.  I have come to believe, through the reality shared with me by my scientist and medical friends, and confirmed to me by many who are gay, that being gay is not a choice.  Like skin color or left-handedness, sexual orientation is just another feature of our diversity as a human family.  How wonderful that God has made us with so much diversity, yet all in God’s image!   Salvation means being called out of our narrow bonds into a broad place of welcome to all.

You are undoubtedly aware that in some countries the church has been complicit in the legal persecution of lesbians and gays.  Individuals are being arrested and jailed simply because they are different in one respect from the majority.  By making it possible for those in same-gender relationships to be ordained as pastors, preachers, elders, and deacons, you are being a witness to your ecumenical partners that you believe in the wideness of God’s merciful love. 

For freedom Christ has set us free.  In Christ we are not bound by old, narrow prejudice, but free to embrace the full humanity of our brothers and sisters in all our glorious differences.  May God bless you as you live into this reality, and may you know that there are many Christians in the world who continue to stand by your side.

God bless you.

Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu (Cape Town, South Africa)