Coordinating the Coalition’s campaign against Amendment A is Tom Sweets, the pastor of Madeira-Silverwood church in Cincinnati. His congregation has freed him up from his responsibilities there to organize the opposition to Amendment A — a proposed change in the PC(USA)’s Constitution that would eliminate language that currently limits ordination to those who are faithful if they are married, or chaste if they are not. The amendment — which passed the 213th General Assembly last summer — must be approved by a majority of the denomination’s 173 presbyteries in order to take effect.
Traveling the country, Sweet is helping to build regional networks of Amendment A opponents — including people in each presbytery responsible for prayer, for organizing arguments to present at presbytery meetings and for getting out the vote.
Opponents were urged at the Coalition’s national meeting here Oct. 1-3 to identify elders who might be supportive, including those from churches that don’t currently have pastors; to contact sympathetic retired pastors who could vote in presbytery meetings; and to provide child care for minister couples so they can vote, and rides to the meetings for those who might not otherwise get there.
Anti-A video previewed
Presbyterians For Renewal has produced 10,000 copies of a video, called “A Call to Faithfulness,” which the Coalition intends to hand-deliver to as many pastors and church leaders as possible — thinking that a personal contact from an Amendment A opponent would be more likely to get the video played before the congregation’s session than if the video just arrived in the mail.
“A Call to Faithfulness” is, in part, a response to the Covenant Network’s PowerPoint presentation to the General Assembly last summer, which argued that the best course for a church divided about homosexuality would be to let local governing bodies decide which candidates should be ordained.
PFR’s 27-minute video stresses the themes of historic church opposition to homosexuality, based on Scripture, and the need for the church to avoid accommodating to the secular culture.
“The conversation is occurring in the midst of a tremendous effort to redefine sexual ethics in the American culture,” Thomas Gillespie, the president of Princeton Seminary, says on the video. The new sexual ethic, he says, holds that essentially anything goes as long as there is mutual consent and no bodily harm. “Now, the church can go along with that if it wishes,” Gillespie said. “But I believe we’re called to swim against the cultural stream.”
Roberta Hestenes, who was chair of a 1978 General Assembly committee that supported the current standards for ordination, stresses on the video that the church repeatedly has upheld the view that the Bible condemns homosexuality as sinful and that sexually-active gays and lesbians should not be ordained.
On the video, two youth advisory delegates to last summer’s General Assembly say that young Presbyterians today want their church to give guidance in a confusing world. The PC(USA) can demonstrate love for young people by setting an example of morality and pointing out sinfulness, said Matt Robbins, a youth advisory delegate from Stockton presbytery. Many at the assembly asked, “Who am I to tell someone else they cannot serve?” Robbins said. But what he wonders is, “Who am I to oppose the Scriptures, to oppose the prophets and the apostles, to oppose 2,000 years of sound Christian doctrine?”
Also featured on the video is Ken Bailey, a New Testament scholar who lived for years in the Middle East. He says that biblical passages involving homosexuality “mean exactly what the church has always understood them to mean.”
In 1 Corinthians, Paul speaks against the sins of immorality, idolatry, adultery and homosexual practice, Bailey says. “He pretty much covers the bases — he covers swingers who are unmarried, he covers people who have got religion and sex all mixed up, he covers people who violate their marriage vows” and those involved in homosexual relations.
This prompted William VanderBloemen, a Coalition board member and pastor from Montgomery, Ala., to say that “it sounds like a blanket policy” for sexual ethics.
Some also contend on the video that the PC(USA) would be hurt in its evangelism efforts internationally and in trying to start new churches among immigrant groups if the denomination decides to ordain homosexuals — with Bailey saying that many Christians in other countries would be “horrified” and “embarrassed” by the idea.
And the video includes comments from Bob Davies — the director of Exodus, a ministry to people “in a homosexual lifestyle” — about how he used to consider himself homosexual and how God helped him to change, leading him to heterosexuality and marriage.
In workshops on Amendment A strategy, Sweets reminded people that the vote in some presbyteries could be very close — when issues involving homosexuality were previously considered, he said, the outcome in dozens of presbyteries were decided by 10 votes or less. He urged Amendment A opponents to push for secret ballots when the issue is voted on this time around.
“We’re not about anything mysterious, we’re not about anything clandestine,” he said. But the Coalition is asking people, “Would you support the Scripture? Would you support our Constitution? Would you vote against Amendment A?”