Q: What does the change in ordination standards represent?
A: The Presbyterian Church (USA) has shifted the authority for applying its ordination standards from the national level to the local presbytery and session level. This represents a de-centralization of the church and puts more discernment in the hands of people at the local level.
Q: May congregations now ordain people who are gay or lesbian?
A: The previous standards were never based on a person’s orientation, but on their behavior. The new standards do not list specific behaviors that automatically exclude someone for consideration for ordination. Each examining body is responsible to look at all possible factors to determine if someone is being called into ordained ministry.
Q: Specifically, what was changed?
A: The primary change is the removal of language requiring those ordained “to live either in fidelity in the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman or chastity in singleness.” It also adds language referring to obedience to Christ, and indicates that fidelity to church standards is judged case by case by the examining body.
Q: What practical changes will we see?
A: If ministers who are serving in one area move to another location, they shall be examined by that ordaining body before being able to take up their office, since each presbytery determines its own membership. That presbytery may choose to apply ordination standards differently from the officer’s previous body.
Q: Is the ordination of sexually active gays and lesbians mandated?
Q. Will a congregation be required to change anything?
A: A congregation cannot be forced to ordain or receive pastors or elders or deacons of whom they do not approve. The congregation retains the right to determine who will serve as officers.
Q: May congregations and presbyteries continue to consider sexual activity outside marriage between a man and a woman as impermissible for its officers?
A: Yes, as long as the expectation is applied on a case by case basis. The authority for ordaining elders and deacons is vested in the local congregation, and the authority to ordain ministers is in the presbytery. The new language calls the ordaining body to be guided by Scripture and the confessions in applying ordination standards to individual candidates.
Q: May a congregation or presbytery now ordain or install a sexually active homosexual?
A: Yes, if after a thorough examination, the congregation or presbytery believes the person is called by God to serve as a Minister of the Word and Sacrament, elder or deacon, and is living in accord with the church’s ordination standards, Confessions, and Scripture.
Q. Does the new language give candidates who are sexually active outside the covenant of marriage between a woman and a man the “right” to be ordained?
A: Nobody has a “right” to be ordained. Ordination is based on God’s call as confirmed by the ordaining body.
Q: May questions about a candidate’s sexuality be asked or are such questions forbidden?
A: Assessing the correspondence between each candidate’s responses and the actual ordination standards rests in the governing body doing the examination.