General Assembly backgrounder: ordination standards

Some call for return to “fidelity and chastity,” others acknowledge variety of viewpoints

June 21, 2012


Amendment 10-A — which removed a Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Book of Order provision flatly prohibiting the ordination of sexually active unmarried Presbyterians as church officers — was ratified by a majority of presbyteries in 2011 after being approved by the 219th General Assembly (2010).

In the first Assembly since then, seven presbyteries have submitted overtures proposing to essentially reverse that decision.

Overtures from the presbyteries of Stockton, Central Florida and Washington all explicitly propose submission to “fidelity in the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman or chastity in singleness” as a requirement for ordination. The “fidelity and chastity” standard was  placed in The Book of Order following action by the 1996 Assembly. A similar standard had been church policy but not law since 1978.

Sacramento, Chicago and Twin Cities Area presbyteries have submitted overtures calling for respectful dialogue and honoring Christ in relationships within the church. These overtures acknowledge the variety of viewpoints surrounding sexuality and ordination standards.

Two presbyteries — Stockton and Santa Barbara — have submitted overtures calling for freedom of conscience for councils regarding the ordination of “practicing homosexual persons.” Both overtures propose that no disciplinary action should be taken against presbyteries (in the case of ministers, called Teaching Elders) or sessions ( in the case of elders, called Ruling Elders, and deacons) who vote not to ordain a candidate on those grounds.

Matters related to ordination will be considered by Assembly Committee 7 ― Church Orders and Ministry.

The committee will also consider an overture from the Presbytery of Santa Fe regarding terminology. The 219th Assembly approved a new Form of Government, which included terminology changes from “Minister of Word and Sacrament” to “Teaching Elder” and from “elder” to “Ruling Elder.” The Santa Fe overture seeks a return to the former language.

  1. Seems like we have heard this somewhere before....The question should not be about rewriting these back into scripture, the question should be why did we take them out. "Did God actually say, "You shall not eat of any tree in the garden? ....You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be open and you will be like God.....". Human nature just does not change. Fortunately for us, neither does our God.

    by Bill

    June 29, 2012

  2. What matters in the long run is Scripture and science. Scripture is strongly agains sexual relationships outside of a covenant of marriage between a man and a woman. As it relates to science, there has never been any genetice research that demonstrates a causal relationship between genetics and homosexuality. Nor has any research demonstrate that same sex attraction is immutable. As it relates to psychology, it cannot show a causal relationship. Question: what argument can one use, other than personal opinion, that polygamy is wrong, especially since those who practice it attest that it is God's will for them?

    by earlstewart

    June 25, 2012

  3. While there may be a variety of viewpoints in the society, the only acceptable viewpoint for the body of Christ is His, as recorded in Scripture. Why this should even be controversial is mind boggling, except that we do live in a fallen world. Nonetheless, I call the church I was raised in and married in to stand up for her Lord and stop flirting with childish and very harmful errors that could lead many astray.

    by sepatton

    June 24, 2012

  4. I'm not convinced that God has "ordination standards" -- or Scripture either. God called prophets and Jesus called disciples, but ordination seems to be something humans cooked up to distinguish those they considered legitimate from those they wished to reject. By most denominational standards, few Bible leaders would make it into "the club." Probably not even Jesus.

    by Lawrence Reh

    June 23, 2012

  5. Rewriting these lines back into the scripture would encourage harmful judging mentalities. It is unrealistic and in many instances unhealthy to expect any American in today's to keep complete chastity in singleness. Reversing the decision would take us further away from our commandments to love and accept others no matter what. We must strive to overcome our own fears and prejudices. We must actively open our minds to the love and acceptance we were meant to share as children of God.

    by Lifelong Member

    June 22, 2012

  6. The only thing that I will say is SCRIPTURE ALONE. What does God say? I think we forgot that two years ago when we changed things. Will the PC(USA) ever return to God? I hope so.

    by Caleb

    June 21, 2012