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.