Will the New Amendment B get ratified by the presbyteries?
Answer: It could go down to the wire.
If it does get approved, more than thirty years of definitive policies for the sexual behavior of church officers will suddenly become much less specific.
Seventy-nine presbyteries have voted thus far. Thirty-four have voted in favor of the new amendment. Forty-five have voted their opposition.
Ninety-four presbyteries will be casting their votes over the next three months’ time.
A simple majority – 87 presbyteries – is needed for the new amendment to prevail.
To borrow from the CNN playbook – following the lead of commentator John King – we have sorted through the past voting patterns of the presbyteries to form our own categories of red – solidly conservative; blue – solidly progressive; and purple – on-the-bubble – presbyteries.
Of the 34 presbyteries that have voted their support for the New B, just 17 came from blue presbyteries. Thirteen came from purple, and four came from red – historically conservative – presbyteries . This bodes well for those pushing ratification.
Of the 45 presbyteries that have voted their opposition to the New B, 36 were already solidly red presbyteries, nine purple, and none have been blue – historically progressive. In one of those purple presbyteries, Cincinnati, they prevailed by a tie: 83-83.
In other words, the voting is trending strongly away from the 73.4% to 26.6% margin of victory conservatives enjoyed in the last vote, taken on the “local option” amendment in 2001-02.
Then again, those promoting passage, such as the Covenant Network of Presbyterians, have a big mountain to climb. The voting patterns on the previous amendment referenda produced 77 presbyteries to be red, 58 to be purple and just 38 to be blue. Adoption of the New B amendment will require all the remaining blue presbyteries (21) to approve, plus 32 out of the 36 purple and/or 37 red presbyteries to vote in the affirmative.
On the other hand, if those opposing the amendment simply hold on to the 37 yet-to-vote red presbyteries and add just five purple presbyteries, they will prevail.
The vote reversals from red to blue came as stunners. The first presbytery to tilt was Western North Carolina; it is home to the Presbyterian Lay Committee, which publishes the passionately-conservative newspaper, The Layman and distributes it free of charge to nearly a half-million Presbyterian homes. Also in the area are the Montreat Conference Center and the homes of many retired ministers and elders.
The Presbytery of Charlotte, the fourth largest presbytery in the country, had voted by a nearly two-to-one margin its support of the fidelity-chastity rule in 1997 and supported it against the “fidelity-integrity” amendment the following year. But this year it approved the new proposal by a margin of 133-124.
The Presbytery of Greater Atlanta has supported the fidelity-chastity rule, but by closer margins. This purple presbytery tilted the other way, 243-233.
The presbytery of Sheppards and Lapsley, in central Ala., always has voted its support of the traditional position by a two-to-one vote, but this time it went the other way by a narrow margin of 77-75.
The proposed amendment to the denomination’s Book of Order (G-6.0106b) reads as follows:
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.
This language would replace the following paragraph, ratified in 1997:
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.”
While neither paragraph mentions same-sex relationships, the policy adopted 12 years ago was formed to preclude from ordination any person engaging in sexual relations outside a heterosexual marriage. The new language, along with the negation of judicial rulings and authoritative interpretations, means that Presbyterian church law precluding ordination of sexually active heterosexual, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered individuals would become a possibility – to be considered on a case-by-case basis.