It didn’t take long for the next bit of strategy to emerge.
John Knox presbytery, responding to a recent decision of the General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission, has passed an overture which, if approved, could allow candidates to state objections based on conscience to the sexual behavior standards of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
On Feb. 11, the General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission (GAPJC) — the highest court in the PC(USA) system — issued a decision which said, in effect, that candidates for ordination must comply with those sexual behavior standards, even if they disagree in conscience with them. The PC(USA) requires that candidates for ordination or installation as minister, elder or deacon practice fidelity if they are married or chastity if they are single.
An authoritative interpretation the General Assembly approved in 2006 does allow a candidate for minister, elder or deacon to declare a “scruple,” or an objection based on conscience. The examining body must then decide whether that departure from the standards could be permitted — or whether it would violate an essential of Reformed faith and polity, and could not be allowed.
The assembly adopted that authoritative interpretation in response to recommendations from the Theological Task Force on the Peace, Unity and Purity of the PC(USA).
But the GAPJC, in its Feb. 11 ruling, determined that the “fidelity and chastity” standard is “a mandatory standard that cannot be waived.”
John Knox presbytery, in response, passed the overture on Feb. 16 asking the General Assembly which will meet in June to adopt another authoritative interpretation.
That proposed authoritative interpretation states that the procedure for granting scruples would “apply equally to all ordination standards” of the PC(USA).
It states that the Book of Order “requires examining bodies to give prayerful and careful consideration, on an individual, case-by-case basis, to any departure 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 sacraments).”
This proposal would not differentiate between departures of conscience related to belief and those related to behavior, as the GAPJC decision did.
In the time since the GAPJC issued its ruling, reaction has come from across the spectrum of the PC(USA).
But those who want the “fidelity and chastity” standard dropped from the PC(USA)’s constitution, contending that it pushes aside the gifts for ministry of gays and lesbians who live in committed relationships, have renewed their calls for change in the church.
The co-moderators of Covenant Network of Presbyterians called the decision “profoundly disappointing” and “deeply hurtful.”
More Light Presbyterians declared it “time for this policy and church law to be removed for the sake of the soul of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
And That All May Freely Serve said the ruling “perpetuates mistaken and destructive prejudice” against gays and lesbians.