Perambulating the Bounds

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Amendment 10-A

The Presbyterian Church in its inimitable way has found a way to wrap a passionate, critical and potentially divisive issue in the driest possible of coverings, a vote on a small change in wording to our Book of Order, a document organized in sections and subsections that lays out how to run the denomination and the churches within in. We are organized in a kind of federal structure, with local bodies (presbyteries) that are parts of regions (synods) that come together in the national General Assembly. When we change the rules, we have to get a majority of the presbyteries to agree.

Tonight the Twin Cities presbytery voted to change the standards for ordination, giving the amendment the majority vote it needed so it now reads

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
That seems pretty straight-forward. The thing is that it replaces language that stated that anyone ordained (ministers, elders and deacons) needed to live in "fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman or chastity in singleness." In other words you couldn't be gay. But now that's gone. By taking out those words, we have decided to let gay men and women become ministers!

The denomination has been arguing about this for years, decades really. As a mainline denomination, we are pretty liberal but have conservative members and churches as well. We've been trying to avoid the collision of these two points of view for many reasons, but a practical one is that we've been losing members and one assumes that some people and congregations will bolt with this decision. We've already had some of the more conservative churches spin off in separate denominations. But every year that went by with this unresolved was more untenable to people like me. When I without question believe that gay people should be full members of my church, my society, my friendships, everything, how could I continue on in a church that wouldn't acknowledge that? Now we have. Some people had gotten frustrated waiting and had joined the Congregationalists, who are theologically similar to us. Now I feel good about sticking around.

One thing that's particularly heartening is that my Presbytery, Middle Tennessee, was expected to vote no but voted yes. It was kind of close, but it was a yes. Overall, the amendment has passed relatively easily. We seem really ready for this. It doesn't feel like an ambivalent endorsement.

As far as I'm concerned, this decision allows the Presbyterian Church (USA) to be who it truly is, and to realize the best things it has to offer the world. To manifest and live God's Kingdom more.


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