“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 or chastity in singleness. Persons refusing to repent of any self-acknowledged practice which the confessions call sin shall not be ordained an/or installed as deacons, elders or ministers.”
“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 bodies responsible for ordination or installation shall examine each candidate’s calling, gifts, reparation 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 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.”
What this means
The responsibility for ordaining ministers in the PC(USA) has always resided at the Presbytery level. Responsibility for ordaining elders and deacons has always resided at the congregational level. The old language, adopted in 1996, was a rare imposition of a national standard on this local process. The new language removes the national standard, giving presbyteries and congregations full authority to decide whether a candidate “receives and adopt the essential tenets of the Reformed faith as expressed in the confessions of our church as authentic and reliable expositions of what Scripture leads us to believe and do, and is instructed and led by those confessions as they lead the people of God?” It also gives the presbyteries and congregations the authority to decide if those essential tenants are inclusive or exclusive of practicing homosexuals in committed relationships. In short its up to the presbyteries and congregations. Nobody has to ordain practicing homosexuals. But if enough people in the presbytery or the congregation believe that to ordain practicing homosexuals is in line with scripture and the confessions, they can.
- This changes everything: Some are saying that the removal of the “fidelity and chastity” language around ordination, especially when combined with new language in the new form of government (should it pass), will put the church on the path of fully embracing homosexuals in all areas of ecclesiastical life. They see this as a new day and a hard fought victory.
- This changes nothing: Others are saying that both scripture and especially the church’s confessions explicitly and undeniably affirm that marriage is between a man and a woman and that homosexuality is sinful. In short, the “fidelity and chastity” amendment just reinforced already clear church policy (a major complaint against its initial adoption was that it was repetitive) and its removal does not change what is clearly stated elsewhere. Nowhere does scripture, the confessions or church law as it currently exists state that marriage is anything but between a man and a woman or that homosexuality is acceptable.
How it will play out on the ground
I do not believe that there will be a mass exodus of congregations or members from the church. One of the reasons the amendment passed is that the congregations that were going to leave already left (about 100 out of about 11,000). Individual members tend to care more about what it going on in their local congregation than national policies.
I do believe that this debate has been sapping the life out of our denomination and diverting precious energy and resources that should be going to evangelism, mission, congregational development and dramatic ministry. If we can put the debate behind us, hopefully we can focus more on living out our faith as the body of Christ than on bickering over who may be part of that body.
Many, many congregations are already ordaining practicing homosexuals – usually well respected members of the congregation in stable, long-term relationships who are seen to be blessed by gifts for ministry. Hopefully now these congregations will no longer risk the chance of being dragged into church court by anonymous and often far distant accusers. The same is true for presbyteries. These congregations and presbyteries will continue as they have been, confident in their interpretation of scripture and the confessions.
Despite the passage of the new language, many, many congregations and presbyteries are still reluctant to ordain practicing homosexuals. They will continue as they have been, confident as well in their interpretation of scripture and the confessions.
And some congregations will find that a gay couple wanders into their church and stays a while. They share in worship. They bring good food to the pot luck. They participate, or maybe even help lead, a Bible study. The nominating committee will meet and someone will say, how about her or him. And somebody else will say, why not. The slate will go before the congregation. And only later will they realize they have done something that a few years before could have landed them in church court.
Official PC(USA) Announcement
Article in the Presbyterian Outlook, an independent Presbyterian newspaper
Pastor Fritz's sermon on homosexuality and the church from September 2009
The blog posting on this topic two years ago