By: John Dart
CENTURY’S news editor
P RESBYTERIANS, TORN BY DIVISIONS OVER HOMOSEXUALITY FOR NEARLY THREE DECADES, AGREED IN JUNE, 2006 TO A DELICATE COMPROMISE.
The impetus behind the decision to allow exceptions to the ban on ordaining gay clergy----—in the case of otherwise qualified candidates who disagree in conscience with the ban----—was poignantly pressed at the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) General Assembly by former church moderator Marj. Carpenter.
“I’m against the ordination of homosexuals a though I love ‘em,” said the church elder from Big Spring. Texas. “But we’ve been fighting in this church for 28 years and the ditch is getting deeper .”Hcr voice breaking during her plea June 20 from the convention floor in Birmingham, Alabama, Carpenter said, “It’s starting to affect onr mission work, our youth mininistry and our evangelism, and I’m ready to try something else.”
Shortly afterward, 57 percent of the voting delegates approved (298 to 221) an “authoritative interpretation of the denominations constitution to permit the regional presbyteries and congregations to ordain homosexual Christiamis as ministers and lay elders.
The measure took effect immediately. Supporters of the change were uncertain how many gay and lesbian candidates might seek ordination in coming months.
Some delegates objected to the fact that the 3.2-million-member denomination has kept its requirement that clergy live in “fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman or chastity in singleness.” But in a lopsided vote, 405 to 92, with four abstentions, the assembly rejected a resolution to strike the filelity/chastity requirement from the PCUSA Book of Order. Eliminating the ban would have broken trust with conservative Presbyterians, one pastor said, by jeopardizing the compromise crafted over four years by a theologically diverse, 20-ember task force.
“We were not instructed to solve any of the issues included in our mandate.,” said retired pastor Gary Demarest, co-moderator of the task force. “We know that winner-take-all solutions will only perpetuate the conflict.
Conservative groups and delegates objected to what they saw as inconsistent moves by the assembly . To permit local license” to deviate from national standards was “a wrong turn,” said David Miller of the Tampa Bay presbyterv. Other opponents characterized the change as “a glacial shift” and a “blind quantum lea.
But two theological task force members defended the compromise as based on Presbyterian precedent in distinguishing hetween national standards and “essentials” of faith.
William Stacy Johnson of Princeton Theological Seminary cited a 1729 act in Presbyterian history that allowed ordination candidates to declare a scruple , or moral exception, to standards, which might be permitted unless it constitutd a failure to adhere to “the essentials” of’ faith.
When asked at a June 20th news conference exactly what the essentials are, another task force member , Mark Achtemeier of the University of Dmubuquie Theological Seminary demurred. “Presbyterians serve a living God .... . . [who] cannot be reduced to a checklist,” said Achtemeier, alluding to the reluctance by Presbyterian leaders to definc’ the essentials of faith aside from historic’ Reformed and Presbyterian confessional statements. Even the standards of’ the church “don’t get applied in cookie—cutter fashion.
Clifton Kirkpatrick, the PCUSA’s top officer, told reporters after the votes that our standards have not changed , but that the process adopted encourages a more pastoral approach. Disputed ordinations , Kirkpatrick added, “are always open for judicial or administrative review by higher governing bodies.”
CHRISTIAN CENTURY Magazine
July 11, 2006 (Pg. 8)
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