PC(USA) relaxes constitutional prohibition of gay and lesbian ordination
Change reaffirms historical practice of ordaining bodies determining fitness for office
May 11, 2011
A majority of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s 173 presbyteries have ratified an amendment to the church’s constitution that removes a provision flatly prohibiting the ordination of sexually active unmarried Presbyterians as church officers.
The 87th vote in favor of the measure ― dubbed Amendment 10-A after it was approved by the PC(USA)’s 219th General Assembly last summer ― was cast today (May 10) by the Presbytery of Twin Cities Area.
The unofficial tally now stands at 87-62, with 24 presbyteries still to vote. The change takes effect July 10 ― one year from the adjournment of the 219th Assembly.
The action replaces the current G-6.0106b in The Book of Order with new language. That provision, which was placed in the constitution following the 1996 Assembly, requires of church officers “fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman or chastity in singleness.”
As a result of the vote, ordaining bodies ― local church sessions for elders and deacons and presbyteries for ministers ― will have more flexibility in determining individual candidates’ fitness for ordained office in the denomination.
“Clearly what has changed is that persons in a same-gender relationship can be considered for ordination,” General Assembly Stated Clerk Gradye Parsons told the Presbyterian News Service. “The gist of our ordination standards is that officers submit to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and ordaining bodies (presbyteries for ministers and sessions for elders and deacons) have the responsibility to examine each candidate individually to ensure that all candidates do so with no blanket judgments.”
In its entirety, the former G-6.0106b states: “Those who are called to office in the church are to lead a life in obedience to Scripture and in conformity to the historic confessional standards of the church. Among these standards is the requirement to live either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman (W-4.9001), or chastity in singleness. Persons refusing to repent of any self-acknowledged practice which the confessions call sin shall not be ordained and/or installed as deacons, elders or ministers of the Word and Sacrament.”
The new G-6.0106b states: “Standards for ordained service reflect the church’s desire to submit joyfully to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in all aspects of life. The governing body responsible for ordination and/or installation shall examine each candidate’s calling, gifts, preparation and suitability for the responsibilities of office. The examination shall include, but not be limited to, a determination of the candidate’s ability and commitment to fulfill all the requirements as expressed in the constitutional questions for ordination and installation. Governing bodies shall be guided by Scripture and the confessions in applying standards to individual candidates.”
All other ordination standards are unchanged, Parsons said. Specifically, he noted, “the questions asked of all candidates at the time of their ordination remain the same.”
The presbyteries have previously voted three times on proposed amendments to G-6.0106b. They retained the “fidelity and chastity” language by votes of 114-57 following the 1997 Assembly, 127-46 following the 2001 Assembly and 95-78 following the 2008 Assembly.
To date, 19 presbyteries have “switched” their votes from “no” last time to “yes” this year. Two presbyteries switched from “yes” to “no.”
Parsons offered four possible factors that led to the passage of the amendment this time around:
- Some congregations have left the denomination ― including large congregations in some presbyteries ― thus changing the “balance” of voting in some presbyteries.
- Some Presbyterians and presbyteries “are ready to get past this argument, which has been going on since at least 1978” (when policy prohibiting gay/lesbian ordination was first adopted).
- American society has become more tolerant of same-gender relationships, evidenced, for instance, by a number of states legalizing same-sex marriage.
- “The wording of this particular amendment is more acceptable to more Presbyterians than previous proposals.”
The Office of the General Assembly has a variety of resources on its Web site, including a press release, “Frequently Asked Questions” about the amendment and its implications, liturgical resources for congregations and a churchwide letter from Parsons, General Assembly Moderator Cynthia Bolbach and Vice-Moderator Landon Whitsitt and General Assembly Mission Council (GAMC) Executive Director Linda Valentine.
The letter to the church acknowledges that “some will rejoice while others will weep” at the voting results. “However, as Presbyterians, we believe that the only way we will find God’s will for the church is by seeking it together ― worshiping, praying, thinking, and serving alongside one another,” the four leaders wrote.
“We are neighbors and colleagues, friends and family. Most importantly, we are all children of God, saved and taught by Jesus Christ, and filled with the Holy Spirit.”
The GAMC’s World Mission staff “continue to be in honest conversation with our partners about the proposed change,” particularly in countries where church leaders have expressed the most concern.
The vote tally, as of May 10:
Presbyeries voting “Yes” (87): Albany, Arkansas, Baltimore, Blackhawk, Boston, Cascades, Cayuga-Syracuse, Central Nebraska, Chicago, Cimarron, Cincinnati, Denver, Detroit, Donegal, East Iowa, East Tennessee, Eastern Oklahoma, Eastern Oregon, Eastern Virginia, Eastminster, Elizabeth, Florida, Genesee Valley, Geneva, Giddings-Lovejoy, Grace, Grand Canyon, Great Rivers, Greater Atlanta, Heartland, Hudson River, Indian Nations, John Knox, Lake Michigan, Lehigh, Long Island, Mackinac, Maumee Valley, Miami Valley, Mid-Kentucky, Middle Tennessee, Milwaukee, Mission, Missouri River Valley, Monmouth, National Capital, New Brunswick, New Castle, New Hope, Newark, Newton, North Alabama, Northern Kansas, Northern New England, Northern New York, Northern Waters, Ohio Valley, Palisades, Philadelphia, Plains and Peaks, Redwoods, Riverside, Sacramento, St. Augustine, Salem, San Francisco, San Jose, Santa Fe, Savannah, Scioto Valley, South Alabama, South Louisiana, Southeastern Illinois, Southern New England, Susquehanna Valley, Transylvania, Tres Rios, Twin Cities Area, Utah, Utica, Wabash Valley, West Virginia, Western North Carolina, Western Reserve, Whitewater Valley, Winnebago, Yellowstone.
Presbyteries voting “No” (62): Abingdon, Alaska, Atlantic Korean-American, Beaver-Butler, Carlisle, Central Florida, Central Washington, Charleston-Atlantic, Cherokee, Coastal Carolina, de Cristo (tie), Eastern Korean, Flint River, Foothills, Glacier, Holston, Huntingdon, Inland Northwest, James (tie), John Calvin, Kendall, Lackawanna, Lake Erie, Lake Huron, Mid-South, Minnesota Valleys, Mississippi, Muskingum Valley, Nevada, New Covenant, Noroeste, North Central Iowa, North Puget Sound, Northeast Georgia, Northern Plains, Northumberland, Olympia, Palo Duro, Peaks, Pines, Pittsburgh, Pueblo, Redstone, San Diego, San Fernando, San Joaquin, Santa Barbara, Seattle, Shenandoah, Sierra Blanca, South Dakota, Southern Kansas, St. Andrew, Stockton, Tampa Bay, Trinity, Tropical Florida, Upper Ohio Valley, Washington, Western Colorado, Wyoming, Yukon.
Presbyteries still to vote: Boise, Charlotte, Dakota, Des Moines, Hanmi, Homestead, Kiskiminetas, Los Ranchos, Midwest Hanmi, Missouri Union, New Harmony, New York City, Pacific, Peace River, Prospect Hill, Providence, San Gabriel, San Juan, Shenango, Sheppards & Lapsley, Suroeste, West Jersey, Western Kentucky, Western New York.
Presbyteries that voted “No” last time and “Yes” this time (19): Blackhawk, Central Nebraska, Cincinnati, Donegal, Eastern Oklahoma, Eastern Virginia, Florida, Indian Nations, Middle Tennessee, Mission, North Alabama, Plains and Peaks, Riverside, Sacramento, St. Augustine, San Francisco, Savannah, South Alabama, South Louisiana.
Presbyteries that voted “Yes” last time and “No” this time (3): de Cristo, Lake Huron, Minnesota Valleys.