A resolution approved by the Presbytery of Los Ranchos that would put candidates on notice that the presbytery expected ordained ministers to live “either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman or chastity in singleness” is not constitutional, the General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission has ruled.
The presbytery passed the resolution by a vote of 125-51 in September 2011 – just three months after the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) removed similar language from its constitution. That action by the General Assembly means the denomination now permits the ordination of sexually active gays and lesbians, although it leaves particular ordination decisions up to local councils.
The commission, which is highest court in the PC(USA), ruled Oct. 29 that the Los Ranchos resolution did not amount to “deliberate defiance by the presbytery.”
But it found that the presbytery had exceeded its authority. It also ruled that the resolution would have the “practical effect” of discouraging some candidates for ordination or ministers seeking transfer into the presbytery from proceeding – before the presbytery could examine them and consider their statements of faith individually.
The commission also ruled that by combining current language from the Book of Order with former language that had been removed, “it created at least a perception of an improper restatement” of the denomination’s constitution.
The resolution Los Ranchos passed said the presbytery affirmed that the Bible, the Book of Confessions and the Book of Order set the constitutional standards for ordination and installation. After the resolution was approved, 21 Presbyterians filed a remedial case challenging it.
In making its ruling, the commission reversed an earlier decision by the Permanent Judicial Commission of the Synod of Southern California and Hawaii, and ruled that the resolution the presbytery had passed was void. The synod court had ruled that the presbytery had not erred and found the language to be constitutional, but warned that “the use of specific language known to be divisive and inflammatory flies in the face of the responsibility to seek the peace, unity, and purity of the church.”