COGA weighs 10-A responses from partner churches

Stated Clerk Parsons receives letter of support from Desmond Tutu

October 11, 2011


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)

  1. Shameful. That's all I can say about PCUSA now. You have shifted the focus of this church from spreading and following God's will to a pseudo-religious ACLU. I guess that's what happens when you allow religious "scholars" to control a church which should be led by believers.

    by Tim Brandon

    December 27, 2012

  2. Desmond Tutu now agrees with us. We must be right because Desmond Tutu agrees with us. Sigh.

    by Rev. Tim Dodenhoff

    October 28, 2011

  3. I'm very excited that the famous and revered Desmond Tutu wrote to us. Makes me feel like we're doing something right!

    by Kelly

    October 16, 2011

  4. Interesting that the focus of this article is on Bishop Tutu. He has made great contributions to world Christianity, but he represents a miniscule minority in the church of the Global south on this issue. However, many in the PC(USA) prefer his voice over those that disagree with us. In fact, the overwhelming majority of the world's Christians disagree with us. We have joined a tiny minority of dramatically declining denominaitons in the western world that still think that we are the normative Christianity. Our 10-A action was the most anti-ecumenical behavior ever exhibited by the PC(USA) which has always prided itself on being an ecumenical leader. It would have been more helpful if the article had asked Roder Dermody and Michael Weller to report on their meeting with our Ethiolpian church partners. The Ethiopian witness is not so convenient to our bias that "democratic votes" can redefine revelatory faith to fit the preferences of the moment.

    by David Dawson

    October 15, 2011

  5. Whoa. A distance lies between fair and balanced, and justice. Fox News is fair and balanced, treating even big lies as worthy of a hearing. The Bible advocates justice, with preference given to those alienated from the hospitality assumed by the rest of us. Confusing these two leads to our human tendency to discount the reconciling Word of God that can shock, dismay and scandalize those of us who presume we have the inside track to God's approval.

    by Sam Massey

    October 14, 2011

  6. I have no problem with gay/lesbian in the pastorate. I do have a problem with the wording "Non-celibate unmarried persons". To be sexual is to be in a relationship unified by God as the third party.. it is called HOLY Martrimony... With this wording any couple, unmarried, can lead the church and thereby set an example of a sexual relationship without the sanction and marriage of God. There in is the problem with this ammendment.

    by Trel Lowe

    October 13, 2011

  7. Fantastic letter form someone who most of the free world holds in high honor for his consistent stand on justice. There are those both inside and outside the PC-USA that will remove themselves from associating with it, but in time some will see the fault in their thinking and the others will continue their conservative, narrow way of seeing the love of Christ for only a few who interpret scripture as they see it.

    by Ron Jones

    October 13, 2011

  8. Thank you for posting this timely and thoughtful letter from one of the most respected Christian voices in the world today. His is a deeply considered and thoughtful view, based upon a lifetime of understanding how Scripture has been misused to reinforce social prejudice and condemn certain believers to second-class (or worse) standing in the church of Jesus Christ. I pray everyone would read, comprehend, and come to share the deep sense of justice, and love, which the good bishop here expresses.

    by Donald Saunders

    October 13, 2011

  9. This article by Bethany Furkin for the Presbyterian News Service seems slanted in one direction. Why is it that our own news service can't seem to be fair-minded? Is there no one at COGA that would agree?

    by L. Brown

    October 13, 2011

  10. I commend the Church of Mexico and all other churches and individuals that are taking a stand instead of bowing to social agendas. My heart broke with 10A and as a life long Presbyterian and an elder have had to make the choice to leave my denomination. This article is like so much other rhetoric I have heard and only gives positive spins. When Christians make decisions that are contrary to Biblical teaching and then try to support it with half stories using scripture and especially love to support this it really puts those that are struggling in peril. Jesus always loves the sinner but also always hates the sin. All are sinners but to be non-repentant in sin and then ordained and even celebrated by the church sends such a harmful message to all who struggle with sin in their lives. My pastor said in the last sermon before I left my church that he hoped we would all remember that Jesus said that he who was without sin should cast the first stone. What my minister didn't say was that Jesus also said to go and sin no more. To acknowledge sin is not being hateful. To acknowledge sin and love the sinner is the example of Jesus Christ.

    by Paul Davis

    October 13, 2011

  11. This is a direct quote from the 1975 General Assembly while in session at Cincinnati, OH: "Love the sinner and hate the sin."

    by N. Kogneato

    October 12, 2011

  12. Steve, I'll see your prooftexts and raise you 1 Cor. 14.34 and 1 Tim. 2.12. Unlike our brethren in Mexico and Brazil, I am glad we chose to take a fresh look at Scripture and began to ordain women to all offices in the church. I have a feeling this will be another issue that, 50 years on, we will all be scratching our heads over why we spilled so much ink (so many electrons?) over this.

    by James K

    October 12, 2011

  13. Those who want to hear comments from other than "support" sources must not have used the full resources of this article. Had you clicked on the link HIGHLIGHTED IN RED about the church in Mexico's leaving you would have seen comments from those who do not support this act of justice in the PCUSA

    by Ted Coppock

    October 12, 2011

  14. The two largest presbyterian Churchers from Brazil (more than 1,000,ooo members) don't support the decision of PCUSA) Márcio F. Souza (Presbterian Church of Brazil IPB)

    by Márcio Ferreira Souza

    October 12, 2011

  15. I. Cor. 6:9 and I Tim. 1:10.

    by Steve Karp

    October 12, 2011

  16. Which other partner churches disapprove of 10A? Only the approvals were listed in this news message.

    by Doreen DesJardins

    October 11, 2011

  17. In an article titled about how COGA is "weighing" pro and con responses, why does this article only give a pro communication-and from a heavyweight proponent at that? So much for weighing. More like a hand on the scale, in my opinion.

    by David Hackett

    October 11, 2011

  18. This is unhelpful because you only quoted from Bishop Tutu's letter. We would also like to hear what others have written or stated. A full and complete news story should not be slanted toward the prevailing wing of the church-it should cover the whole story.

    by Viola Larson

    October 11, 2011