After years of debate, the Presbyterian Church (USA) appears likelier than ever to drop its national ban on the ordination of sexually active homosexuals.
The church’s General Assembly voted 373-323 in July to stop requiring church leaders to uphold “chastity in singleness” and fidelity within the bonds of a heterosexual marriage.
But the change to the church’s constitution will only take place if a majority of the church’s 173 regional bodies, known as presbyteries, vote to approve the change.
As of early this week, 47 presbyteries had voted to scrap the chastity/fidelity language, while 35 had voted to keep it, the conservative Presbyterian Lay Committee reported. Ninety-one presbyteries were still awaiting their vote.
If the measure, known as Amendment 10-A, is approved by 87 presbyteries, it will become binding church law.
Supporters of full inclusion for homosexuals have repeatedly tried to remove the Presbyterian Church’s 1997 bar on ordaining sexually active gay people.
Four times they’ve brought votes to the presbyteries. Four times they’ve failed.
But this year, for the first time, supporters of full inclusion for gays have taken the lead.
“The trend is toward its approval,” said Parker T. Williamson, editor emeritus of the theologically conservative Presbyterian Lay Committee’s newspaper — The Layman. “The momentum is clearly toward removing our sexual behavior standard from the constitution.”
Nationwide, nine presbyteries that voted “no” on openly gay ministers in 2008-09 have voted “yes” this time, according to Michael Adee, executive director of the gay-rights group More Light Presbyterians. Only one presbytery that voted “yes” in 2008-09 has voted “no” this time, he added.
Meanwhile, some Presbyterian churches have already begun ordaining homosexuals as deacons and elders.
“We stand at a historic moment,” said Adee, an openly gay elder at First Presbyterian Church in Santa Fe, N.M. “I am absolutely hopeful … I really do believe that God is doing a new thing in our church.”
If Presbyterians allow homosexual conduct by their clergy “it will be tantamount to a public announcement that the Presbyterian Church (USA) has turned its back on biblical faith and ethics, another nail in the coffin of a dying denomination,” said the Presbyterian Lay Committee’s Williamson.
Jack Haberer, editor of the independent Presbyterian Outlook, says there’s “some serious anxiety” about what will happen to church unity if Amendment 10-A passes.
“There’ll be great rejoicing, but there’ll be great anguish among those who just cannot countenance same-sex behavior in church leadership,” Haberer said.
Jerry Andrews, senior pastor at First Presbyterian Church in San Diego and a leading conservative, said passage of Amendment 10-A would usher in “a time of reassessment for some Presbyterians on whether or not this [denomination] remains a home for them.”
The vote could spark an exodus — not just individual churches, but entire presbyteries. “It’s possible,” Andrews said. “It’s rumored and it’s possible.”