Presbyterian Church (USA) Amendment 10-A
May 6th, 2011
People of faith tend to take their faith seriously. They are not casual or whimsical, they do not respond to readily trends or opinion polls. In their efforts to know truth, they are careful and cautious. And those who join together in denomination genuinely strive to coalesce around a shared agreement over God’s divine will and how Man should respond.
Those of us who see institutionalized rejection and mistreatment of gay people coming from denominations can be impatient. We marvel how people who see themselves as the hands of Christ can be so very unlike the Christ they serve. While a good many Mainline Christian denominations are in the process of debate over gay Christians and gay citizens, we wonder what is taking so long, what could possibly be the holdup?
But we should be mindful that among Protestant faiths, the development of church policy is very different from civil politics.
Change comes slowly in a community that is unwilling to demonize brothers and sisters who disagree. Those who have come into a more contextualized understanding of where gay people fit in the fabric of life, of community, of the church approach things differently than do activists.
While we seek to win, to get votes, to defeat those who would hurt us, communities of faith are as concerned about those who will be hurt by the change as they are about those who are hurt now. It grieves gay Christians when anti-gay Christians feel that denominational change contradicts their convictions. So much more emphasis is give to persuasion, to prayer, to contemplation.
But when change occurs, it is real and permanent.
Because they are aware that change leads to hurt feelings and division, many church leaders will only adopt change when they are convinced that it is absolutely necessary. Often those who are personally committed to equality will vote against change because they believe that dissent and division is more disruptive to the Body of Christ than are indignities experienced by those whom they support. So when they vote for change, it is not just out of political expediency, but because they believe that they are called to do so by God.
Perhaps the most important thing that we must recognize about supportive churches and religious organizations is this:
Those communities of faith which support us do not do so despite their beliefs; they do so because of their beliefs.
And change is occurring. Significant, major change – the sort that defines “the Christian perspective” and which informs culture. The kind of change that moves the paradigm from “Christians v. gays” to “Conservative Christians v. Mainline Christianity.” The change that says that voting for gay rights is not “against God” but just against tradition.
One such change is within the Presbyterian Church (USA).
Currently gay ministers are allowed to be ordained by the church and to serve as pastors to those congregations that select them. However, as Christian theology has traditionally considered sexual expression outside of marriage to be sinful and has only recognized marriage to be a union of a man and a woman, this resulted in policy that excluded gay men and women who were in relationships.
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.
But within the Presbyterian Church there became a growing awareness that such rules – while supportable by traditional interpretation of specific scriptures – were inconsistent with the way in which the church understood Scripture and how it instructed believers to interact with each other. It placed dogmatic interpretations of prohibitions above viewing God’s servants as people, making the following of rules more important than justice and mercy.
And so, in July of 2010, the General Convention of the PC(USA) voted to change the language to
Standards for ordained service reflect the church’s desire to submit joyfully to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in all aspects of life (G-1.0000). The governing body responsible for ordination and/or installation (G.14.0240; G-14.0450) 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 requirements as expressed in the constitutional questions for ordination and installation (W-4.4003). Governing bodies shall be guided by Scripture and the confessions in applying standards to individual candidates.
This change would allow local bodies to be “guided by Scripture and the confessions” in applying standards. But it is universally understood that the purpose for this change was to allow for the ordination and service of gay Presbyterians in positions of leadership within the church.
However, as the Presbyterian Church is designed to be democratic, a majority of the regional affiliations are required to approve such a change. And it finally appears that such approval is now likely. Before it can become effective, the change must be ratified by 87 regional presbyteries. So far, 80 have already done so and 33 are yet to vote.
The Presbyterian Church narrowly opted not to change its definition of marriage in 2010 from “man and woman” to “two persons”. But the significant support for gay ministers in committed relationships bodes well for such a future change.