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An Essential Distinction: Response to ‘Reconsidering Definitive Guidance’

A. J. McKelway's article offers to make distinctions that, it is agreed, are often so helpful when considering issues before the church, but one distinction, essential to the conversation, remained unspoken -- a distinction the church has rightly made.

McKelway understands homosexuality — that is, one’s “affectional preference” — as involuntary, and that homosexuality is no more or less a sin than the “original and universal sinfulness in which we all participate.” Agreed, but he never distinguishes homosexual “situation,” “orientation” and “identity” from homosexual “life,” “lifestyle” and “practice.”

The church distinguishes, on the one hand, between the inclinations of the sinner — sinful, fallen and universal (and thus involuntary), and, on the other hand, the practices of the sinner — often, but not always, sinful, fallen and individual (and thus voluntary). Is anyone really arguing that when a man lies with another man this is an involuntary act? The church welcomes into membership and ministry any and all sinners, “there being no other candidates,” as McKelway states, but it rejects sinful behaviors, practices and choices, because there is no other way for the church to be obedient to her Lord. We are a church in which everybody is welcome, but not every behavior. The church knows the distinction.

Furthermore, McKelway does attempt to distinguish between, on the one hand, the “imposition” of homosexuality on the church by the ordination of a self-affirming homosexual, which requires the church to “embrace” homosexuality at the intention of the candidate; and on the other hand, something else — an ordination which permits the church knowingly to ordain an individual engaging in homosexual acts without any intention of repentance — and which thus implicates the church in tolerating the sin. Frankly, I don’t get it. This “something else” remains undefined and undefended.

The church rightly judges that homosexual practice is sinful, that sin is to be repented, and that it is neither embraced nor ignored. Knowingly to ordain a candidate practicing homosexuality violates the church’s understanding of the will of God as expressed in Scripture.

The church, in its ordination, is making public witness, affirming not only the gifts but the life of the candidate, so it concludes, in the Definitive Guidance, “that unrepentant homosexual practice does not accord with the requirements for ordination.”

McKelway’s article looks for a time when the questions will be referred to the presbyteries and Definitive Guidance will be modified or rejected. I humbly submit: the presbyteries asked for Definitive Guidance and when the question has been put to them, have affirmed it.

The church has made and kept an essential distinction between people and the things that people do. The one will be redeemed, the other judged. The church knows this. It is an essential distinction.


JERRY ANDREWS is pastor of First church, Glen Ellyn, Ill., and moderator of the Presbyterian Coalition.

Responses to ‘Reconsidering Definitive Guidance’