The Real PCUSA Shocker

Lots of comment on the web about the decision of the Presbyterian Church of the United States of America to change the rules under which candidates for ordination and church office are assessed. The Huffington Post’s headline sums up what most people have understood the decision to mean.

Presbyterian Church Votes To Allow Openly Gay And Lesbian Clergy

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) passed a historic measure Tuesday evening allowing openly gay men and women in same-sex relationships to be ordained as clergy.

The move reflects a monumental shift in the 2.8 million-member church, which, along with other mainline Protestant denominations, has had increasingly contentious debates and struggles over issues pertaining to gay and lesbian members and clergy. A majority of the church’s regional bodies, or presbyteries, defeated a similar measure to allow gay clergy two years ago.

“This is quite a day of celebration,” said Michael Adee, the executive director of More Light Presbyterians, a Minnesota-based church group that has pushed to allow openly gay clergy in recent years. “We’ve restored the longstanding Presbyterian understanding of ordination: that the most important qualifications are related to faith, not marital status or sexuality.”

This has been the general tone of the reporting, concentrating on the GLBT aspect. However, this is not what has really happened through these changes in the church’s Book of Order. The changes the PCUSA have made are more fundamental then that.

This is what the old section of the Book of Order said.

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.

Compare that to what the changed text now says.

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.

Do you see what has happened? This isn’t about the permission of GLBT ordination and ministry candidates in permanent, faithful, stable relationships. What the edits to the Book of Order have done is remove any canonical requirement for any (Gay, Straight or otherwise) Presbyterian candidates’ sexual relationships to be permanent, faithful or stable. The reference in the old instruction to covenant and fidelity has been completely erased. It is quite possible for a Presbytery to appoint a candidate regardless of sexuality to a position if he or she admits to being in an “open” relationship.

You might argue that no presbytery would do such a thing, but the issue isn’t what they might do but what the rules legally let them do. The nod to “guided by Scripture and the confessions in applying standards to individual candidates” has no force whatsoever, for the definition of what the PCUSA believes Scrpture and the confessions say on this subject has been erased from the Book of Order at this point.

What PCUSA did yesterday has nothing to do with just GLBT clergy and everything to do with all their clergy. At a stroke the PCUSA have torn up their doctrine of marriage and that will affect every single candidate presenting for ordination and ministry, not just the gay ones.

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