The role of women in leadership continues to trigger heated debates within the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), which currently forbids women from holding positions of authority over men.

During the PCA’s recent 37th General Assembly here — the 300,000-member denomination split off of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in the early 1970s — church leaders voted 446-427 against appointing a study committee to examine women’s roles in the denomination.

The Assembly agreed with its Overtures Committee’s argument that the role of women is not an unstudied issue and that forming a study committee is unlikely to “break new ground or shed new insights.”

Opponents of women in leadership feared a study group would eventually open the way for women ordination.

“Once the box is open, it’s very difficult to close,” said Andy Webb of Central Carolina Presbytery, according to The Layman. “What we are deciding today is whether our sons or our daughters should lead our churches down the road.”

Overtures for a study committee were submitted by the James River Presbytery and Susquehanna Valley Presbytery.

They stated that “the PCA has struggled with the question of how women in the local church are to exercise their God-given gifts within the framework of The Book of Church Order,” which states that only male members can be ordained.

“Many PCA churches are uncertain about how to use appropriately God’s gifts among the many capable women within the membership of those churches,” the overtures further read.

Favoring a study group, George Robertson of Savannah River Presbytery argued, “Clearly this is a problem in our church — at least a perceived problem. Writing this pastoral letter would send a message that we affirm and love [women].”

PCA minister David Coffin, however, said a study committee would not accomplish the goal of creating unity. A report by the study group “could lead to a tyranny of the majority,” he said, according to byFaith, the PCA’s web magazine.

“The lower courts tend to take study committee [findings] as authority — which would mess with our constitutional order and undermine the integrity of the courts,” Coffin noted.

This is the second time the PCA General Assembly has rejected a motion to study the roles of women in the church.