Moving toward ordination
|For earlier items on
the issue of ordination and
|For items on
"Living with the Authoritative
For a variety of items relating to issues of
gender and justice >>
"Why LGBT Equality Leads to a
More Missional Church"
The Rev. Dr. Jack Rogers, Moderator
of the 213th General Assembly, has just posted a
thoughtful and helpful essay observing that the actions of the 218th
GA, this past June, offers a new way “for all of us to move forward
together in mission as one church.”
He notes that there were two main themes of the
Assembly’s actions: becoming more fully a “missional church,” and
becoming more inclusive by granting “ equal rights to our church
members who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT).”
While one theme may seem the concern of
conservatives, and the other the focus of progressive support, in
fact they can be mutually supportive. He writes: “Think about it –
if the goal is for the church to be woven into the very fabric of
society – we can’t have preconceived notions about our neighbors. We
have to go out with open hearts to preach and practice the message
that we are to love God and love our neighbor as ourselves.
Affirming the equality of all God’s people is a prerequisite for
reaching out in Christian service to all God’s people. So the GA
approved overtures to grant equal rights to people who are LGBT and
also approved steps to create a more missional church. In so doing,
I believe the Assembly found a new way forward.”
So the new version of G-6.0106b will not only
advance the cause of fairness and love in our church; it will also
be a vital step toward becoming a truly missional church as well.
Read his essay >>
"Ordination Question" in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
Eugene TeSelle, Witherspoon Issues Analyst
[7-28-08 -- updated 8-4-08]
Presbyterians prepare to consider in their presbyteries the
proposed amendment to the Book of Order, which would broaden and
deepen the notion of conditions for ordination – and would
eliminate the narrow ban on homosexuality which was put in place
in 1997 – it may help to have a sense of the long and winding
path the church has followed in dealing with the question of
sexuality and ordination.
Gene TeSelle has prepared this brief chronology to help us
navigate that path.
PCUS (the "Southern Church") calls for decriminalization of same-sex
acts between consenting adults.
of the Presbyterian Gay Caucus in the UPCUSA (the "Northern Church,"
actually nationwide after reunion with the majority of the
Cumberland Presbyterian Church in 1903).
New York presbyteries ask for "definitive guidance" about ordination
of self-professed homosexuals; General Assembly appoints a task
Force to consider the question.
Task Force report favors ordination (there is also a minority
report); Lay Committee and other organizations stir up grassroots
opposition; Thomas Gillespie chairs GA subcommittee, which supports
the minority report, but Gillespie notes that it is "guidance," not
"law," and affirms the role of the presbytery in ordination; GA
(a) defend full civil rights for gays and lesbians,
(b) welcome them as members, but
(c) discourage ordination.
Stated Clerk W.P. Thompson rules that the Assembly, although it
intended only to issue a "definitive guidance," had rendered a
binding "constitutional interpretation" (he would later change his
position on this).
General Assembly issues statement similar to UPCUSA's.
for Gay Concerns renamed Presbyterians for Lesbian and Gay Concerns.
Light Churches Network organized.
of PCUS and UPCUSA to form PC(USA).
Judicial Commission rules against installation of Jane Spahr and
ordination of Lisa Larges.
issues "authoritative interpretation" (AI) against ordination of
"self-professed, unrepentant homosexuals."
of That All May Freely Serve (Jane Spahr).
of Shower of Stoles (Martha Juillerat).
proposes addition to Book of Order (G-6.0106b), sent to the
presbyteries as "Amendment B":
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
vote to add G-6.0106b to Book of Order.
proposes amendment to reword G-6.0106b (first dubbed "B-plus," it
goes to the presbyteries as "Amendment A"):
these standards is the requirement to demonstrate fidelity and
integrity in marriage or singleness, and in all relationships of
life. Candidates for ordained office shall acknowledge their own
sinfulness, their need for repentance, and their reliance on the
grace and mercy of God to fulfill the duties of the office.
of Covenant Network of Presbyterians to secure passage of "Amendment
of "Amendment A" in the presbyteries.
Light Presbyterians formed by union of Presbyterians for Lesbian and
Gay Concerns and More Light Churches Network.
creates Theological Task Force (TTF) on the Peace, Unity, and Purity
of the Church (PUP), to deal with "Christology, biblical authority
and interpretation, ordination standards, and power."
proposes amendment to book of Order deleting G-6.0106b, expanding
G-6.0106a, and revoking all previous authoritative interpretations (AIs).
It goes to the presbyteries as "Amendment O."
of Amendment O in the presbyteries.
Committee approves the Des Moines overture to revoke previous AIs
and send to the presbyteries an amendment to the Book of Order; on
the floor, the GA votes to take no action, noting that the TTF is
dealing with the issue and will report in 2006.
different sets of overtures are sent from presbyteries, amending
G-6.0106b and/or revoking previous AIs. The committee approves one
of these overtures, but in plenary session the GA defeats this by
four votes. It urges the church to pray for the TTF and "engage
faithfully in the process of discernment as led by the Task Force."
TTF issues its report in two parts, one on July 19, the other, with
the much-awaited recommendations, on August 25. It focuses not on
G-6.0106b but on G-6.0108, which says that
• ordained officers "shall adhere to the
essentials of the
Reformed faith and polity";
• that freedom
of conscience in the interpretation of Scripture is to be
maintained as long as there is not "serious departure" from these
• that the judgment whether a person has departed
from the "essentials," and how seriously, rests with the
TTF recommends that the 2006 General Assembly adopt an authoritative
interpretation (AI) of this paragraph. It states that standards are
established by the whole church, and thus local governing bodies
"cannot set their own standards or set aside the church's
standards." And yet there is flexibility, since any examination
involves determining, "on a case-by-case basis," whether the person
adheres to the "essential and necessary articles" and, if there is
any "departure" from them, whether it is "serious." This is based on
the Adopting Act of 1729, reaffirmed in a number of Presbyterian
reunions and explicitly affirmed by the General Assemblies of 1926
approves this recommendation by a 57% vote.
presbyteries (including Middle Tennessee) develop guidelines for the
examination of candidates in the spirit of the new AI.
of these presbyteries (including Middle Tennessee) send overtures
asking that the 2008 General Assembly direct the Office of the
Stated Clerk to gather these "best practices" and make them
available to all governing bodies. The GA responds positively to
meantime, the Permanent Judicial Commission (PJC) has ruled that
G-6.0106b is still binding and cannot be "scrupled." The GA takes
corrective action and adopts another AI, declaring that the
provision about "scruples" or "departures" applies equally to all
ordination standards, whether they involve doctrine, polity, or
also approves an overture to replace the language of G-6.0106b with
new language, declaring that judgments about ordained service are to
be based on the whole range of the
ordination vows. This now goes to the presbyteries, and it can take
effect only after a majority of presbyteries votes to approve it
before June 28, 2009.
Assembly in the same action adopts a new AI declaring that the past
AIs prohibiting ordained service by homosexual church members
(starting with the "definitive guidance" of 1978/79 and including
the AI of 1993) have "no further force or effect."
sending the amendment to the presbyteries the Assembly adds
a "comment," urging presbyteries to discuss it in ways that will
foster understanding and discernment.
what the current situation is under "Presbyterian law," with all
these AIs and revocations and proposed amendments, you could check
Advisory Opinion #22, online at
author invites your
additions and corrections
to this chronology.
Just send a note,
and we'll add it here.
The 218th General Assembly
has opened doors to a new future for the Presbyterian Church
Let’s help the PC(USA) move through those doors!
Gene TeSelle, Witherspoon Issues Analyst
If you have ideas or
about how we might help our church
move toward healthier and more inclusive
please send a note,
to be shared here.
The actions of the 2008 General Assembly suggest that the tide has
turned in the Presbyterian Church. It elected a progressive and
forward-looking Moderator, and a Stated Clerk who represents a
continuation of the approach taken by Clifton Kirkpatrick. It
approved a number of measures that move the church toward greater
justice in dealing with candidates for ordination (more on this in a
moment). And in spite of persistent opposition from the Institute on
Religion and Democracy, it affirmed a strong social witness by large
majorities. These included an important new "Social Creed for the
21st Century" and strong policy statements on energy policy and
global warming, homelessness and affordable housing, public
education, voting rights and electoral reform, single-payer
universal health care system, and voting rights and electoral
Some Background on a Complicated Issue
decades, a major issue at the General Assembly has been the
ordination of gay and lesbian church members as deacons, elders, or
ministers. In 1978 (1979 in the Southern church) a "definitive
guidance" was issued, giving a negative answer but calling itself
guidance, not law; but then it was treated as law. In 1993 the
General Assembly issued an "authoritative interpretation" (AI) to
make it definite. And in 1996-97 the Book of Order was amended to
prohibit ordination of persons in same-sex relationships (this is
"Amendment B," or G-6.0106b in the Book of Order).
Theological Task Force met from 2001 to 2006. It represented people
from across the entire spectrum of opinions, and it became a model
of mutuality and consensus-building. It did not deal directly with
same-sex relationships. Instead it focused on another paragraph in
the same chapter of the Book of Order (G-6.0108). This follows an
old Presbyterian tradition that allows persons being ordained to
state their "scruples" or "departures" from the confessions and Form
of Government, as long as these do not affect "essentials." The
ordaining body (the session or the presbytery) is responsible for
making that judgment. The 2006 General Assembly approved this
recommendation, issuing an "authoritative interpretation" (AI).
the 2008 GA, four further actions were taken.
the spirit of this new AI, many presbyteries developed
guidelines for the examination of candidates, hoping to
facilitate the process and avoid confusion. Several of these
presbyteries sent overtures to the 2008 General Assembly, asking
that it direct the Office of the Stated Clerk to gather these
"best practices" and make them available to all governing
bodies. The GA responded positively to this proposal.
the meantime a complication arose. Early in 2008 the Permanent
Judicial Commission (PJC) ruled that Amendment B was still
binding and could not be "scrupled." This was too much for many
people, including members of the Theological Task Force, who
felt that the PJC's decision was unwise, based, perhaps, on
misplaced legalism. The 2008 GA has now taken corrective action
and adopted another AI, declaring that the
provision about "scruples" or "departures" applies equally to
all ordination standards, whether they involve doctrine, polity,
or practice. Future judicial decisions must be made on this
The recent Assembly also approved an
overture to replace the language of G-6.0106b with new language,
declaring that judgments about ordained service are to be based
on the whole range of the ordination vows, not singling out the
clause dealing with sexuality, which has caused so much
dissension in the church and so much damage to persons. As an
amendment to the Book of Order, this now goes to the
presbyteries; it will take effect only after a majority of
presbyteries votes to approve it.
The Assembly also adopted a new AI
declaring that the past AIs prohibiting ordained service by
homosexual church members (starting with the "definitive
guidance" of 1978/79 and including the AI of 1993) have "no
further force or effect."
sending the amendment to the presbyteries the Assembly added a
"comment." Since some presbyteries might be tempted to vote hastily
and prematurely, the Assembly urged them to discuss it in ways that
will foster understanding and discernment.
The Assembly's actions have
caused consternation among conservative organizations.
Presbyterians for Renewal characterized the AI and the recommended
amendment as "local license" (when in fact they require examining
bodies to be more careful and more comprehensive than in the past)
and drew up an explicit list of strategic goals, promising to work
defeat the proposed amendment in the presbyteries;|
bring a new AI regarding homosexual practice to the next GA;|
pursue a revision of the property provisions, to allow
congregations to depart with their property;|
encourage congregations to contribute to ministries "beyond the
current forms of the PCUSA" and pursue missional partnerships
"within and beyond the PCUSA"; and|
reshape the denomination in hopes that a formal split will not
be necessary, by instituting non-geographic presbyteries and
synods based on "affinity" - agreements about both doctrine and
mission. (This approach has been encouraged by the so-called New
Wineskins movement.) |
Some congregations have already broken away, and the Evangelical
Presbyterian Church has set up a "transitional" non-geographical
presbytery for these congregations. Most of these congregations are
trying to take their property with them, despite the "trust"
provision in our constitution (G-8.0201). Thirty-three of the 39
current lawsuits in secular courts have been initiated not by
presbyteries seeking to retain property but by departing churches,
usually without any discussion with their presbyteries.
2008 GA set up a voluntary $2 million fund "for the purpose of
sharing the costs of legal fees defending our Constitution against
the New Wineskins non-geographic presbytery of the Evangelical
Presbyterian Church." As many as forty presbyteries face lawsuits of
Agitation by conservative organizations is nothing new. We are
familiar with the various attempts to impose new restrictions at all
levels, whether in the congregation or the presbytery or the General
Assembly, and, in order to achieve these goals, the use of power
plays, ranging from withholding of per capita payments to threats to
withdraw from the church.
We keep hearing criticism of the "Louisville bureaucracy" in general
and personal attacks on individuals, especially if they can be
linked with wedge issues.
This year the tactics have become even more threatening. Those who
want to leave the church are filing lawsuits in secular courts,
while those who are prepared to stay, at least for the time being,
seem to be doing what they can to destroy the church in order to
2008 Assembly was not willing to be intimidated. Its actions
indicate that it has lost patience with these tactics and is ready
to move in new and more constructive directions.
church has experienced a number of divisions in the past. These led
eventually to reunions in which each group acknowledged the
legitimacy of the other. Now we are threatened with division once
There is "a more excellent way" (cf. I Cor. 12:31). The Theological
Task Force modeled it in their deliberations, and they recommended
it to the GA and the church at large.
AI adopted in 2006 and reaffirmed in 2008 urges us to learn to live
together and respect the diversity of gifts given by the same Spirit
(1 Cor. 12:4). We have every reason to believe that this approach
will be affirmed in the presbyteries as they consider its more
generous, inclusive, and open-minded way of examining and ordaining
deacons, elders, and ministers.
But it's important to be aware of a
time limit in this process. According to G-18.0301,
presbyteries must vote on amendments by one year from adjournment.
That means June 28, 2009. (Polity wonks please correct any
is the time for Witherspooners – and the many others committed to
justice and true peace in the church – to help us all move forward
We will be providing more information and reflection soon, but here
are some documents that you may find helpful.
The PC(USA) Department of
Constitutional Services has offered advisory opinions on the GA
Department of Constitutional Services, part of the Office of the
General Assembly, has issued an Advisory Opinion which states what
actions of the 218th GA, dealing with Book of Order provisions
G-6.0106b and G-6.0108, are taking effect immediately, and which
ones, as constitutional amendments, must be approved by a majority
of the presbyteries before they might take effect.
Briefly, the new Authoritative Interpretation of G-6.0106b has gone
into effect immediately following the Assembly. That means that
earlier AIs, beginning with 1978 and 1979, which state that “[f]or
the church to ordain a self-affirming, practicing homosexual person
to ministry would be to act in contradiction to its charter and
calling in Scripture,” are no longer in effect.
However, the “fidelity and chastity” requirement set forth in
G-6.0106b does remain in effect, until it is removed from the Book
of Order by the approval of a majority of the presbyteries. That
action must be taken within one year from the conclusion of the
218th General Assembly.
Authoritative Interpretation of G-6.0108 also takes effect
immediately. This allows a candidate for ordination to declare a
departure (or “scruple”) from a standard of either belief or
practice on grounds of conscience. It is still a matter for the
examining body to “give prayerful and careful consideration, on an
individual, case-by-case basis,” to any such departure – but the
recent GAPJC decision in the case of Bush v. Presbytery of
Pittsburgh, which rejected any departure in matters of behavior, is
The full statement from the Department of Constitutional Services >>
New Authoritative Interpretation of G-6.0108
“to ensure proper application of ordination standards.”
05-12 On Adopting an Authoritative Interpretation of G-6.0108 to
Ensure Proper Application of Ordination Standards.
full text >>
This was approved by the Assembly by a vote of 375 in the
affirmative, 325 negative, and 4 abstentions.
The crucial action reads:
That the 218th General Assembly (2008) to approve the following
authoritative interpretation of G-6.0108 of the Book of Order:
[Text to be inserted is shown with an underline and with
“[The 218th General
Assembly (2008) affirms the authoritative interpretation of
G-6.0108 approved by the 217th General Assembly (2006). Further,
the 218th General Assembly (2008), pursuant to G-13.0112,
interprets] the requirements of G-6.0108 [to]
apply equally to all ordination standards of the Presbyterian
Church (U.S.A.). Section G-6.0108 requires examining bodies to
give prayerful and careful consideration, on an individual,
case-by-case basis, to any departure from an ordination standard
in matters of belief or practice that a candidate may declare
during examination. However, the examining body is not required
to accept a departure from standards, and cannot excuse a
candidate’s inability to perform the constitutional functions
unique to his or her office (such as administration of the
Replacement of G-6.0106b with a new
statement of standards for ordination, and removal of two AIs which
effectively outlawed ordination for LGBT persons
Action 05-09 On Deleting G-6.0106b and Substituting a New
Paragraph in Its Place; on Amending G-14.0240 and G-14.0450; and on
Providing a New Authoritative Interpretation.
The Assembly approved this action by a vote of 380 for, 325 against,
and 3 abstentions. The action was approved with this comment added:
“Presbyteries are strongly encouraged to consider this overture
using a process of listening and discernment.”
The proposed new statement of G-6.0106b reads:
Those who are called to ordained service in the church, by
their assent to the constitutional questions for ordination and
installation (W-4.4003), pledge themselves to live lives
obedient to Jesus Christ the Head of the Church, striving to
follow where he leads through the witness of the Scriptures, and
to understand the Scriptures through the instruction of the
Confessions. In so doing, they declare their fidelity to the
standards of the Church. Each governing body charged with
examination for ordination and/or installation (G-14.0240 and
G-14.0450) establishes the candidate’s sincere efforts to adhere
to these standards.
The action also proposes amendments to sections of G-14, dealing
with preparation and examination for ordained office, and “final
assessment of readiness to begin ordained ministry.”
Further, it enacts a new
Authoritative Interpretation, nullifying AIs set forth in 1978 and
1979, which essentially barred the possibility of ordination for gay
and lesbian Presbyterians.
If you have ideas or
about how we might help our church
move toward healthier and more inclusive
please send a note,
to be shared here.
Some blogs worth visiting
Mitch Trigger, PVJ's
Secretary/Communicator, has created a Facebook page where
Witherspoon members and others can gather to exchange news and
views. Mitch and a few others have posted bits of news, both
personal and organizational. But there’s room for more!
You can post your own news and views,
or initiate a conversation about a topic of interest to you.
for Life" website
Long-time and stimulating blogger John Shuck,
a Presbyterian minister currently
serving as pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Elizabethton,
Tenn., writes about spirituality, culture, religion (both organized
and disorganized), life, evolution, literature, Jesus, and
Click here for his blog posts.
Click here for podcasts of his radio program, which "explores
the intersection of religion, social justice and public life."
John Harris’ Summit to
Theological and philosophical
reflections on everything between summit to shore, including
kayaking, climbing, religion, spirituality, philosophy, theology,
The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), New York City and the Queens
neighborhood of Ridgewood -- by a progressive New York City
Presbyterian Pastor. John is a former member of the Witherspoon
board, and is designated pastor of North Presbyterian Church in
Voices of Sophia blog
Heather Reichgott, who has created
this new blog for Voices of Sophia, introduces it:
After fifteen years of scholarship
and activism, Voices of Sophia presents a blog. Here, we present the
voices of feminist theologians of all stripes: scholars, clergy,
students, exiles, missionaries, workers, thinkers, artists, lovers
and devotees, from many parts of the world, all children of the God
in whose image women are made. .... This blog seeks to glorify God
through prayer, work, art, and intellectual reflection. Through
articles and ensuing discussion we hope to become an active and
Got more blogs to recommend?
send a note, and we'll see what we can do!