Is There a Way Out?

Amendment A, overturning the "fidelity-chastity" requirement for ministers and church officers, must be defeated by those voting in the presbyteries in the coming months. There are several reasons why conscientious presbyters, who will be called to vote on this and other amendments approved by the 213th General Assembly (2001), should vote no.

First, it is the wrong proposal at the wrong time. By an overwhelming majority the commissioners approved appointment of a task force to study the reasons for unrest and division in the church, including the deep division over standards of sexual behavior for ministers and church officers. The passage of Amendment A would completely undermine this bipartisan effort to continue a difficult conversation.

Second, far from ending the controversy in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the passage of Amendment A would greatly deepen the existing divisions. Already it has produced an angry polarization of opinion that makes reasoned discussion almost impossible.

Third, the passage of Amendment A would undoubtedly split the church; indeed, it would prompt individuals, congregations, and possibly even whole presbyteries to find a way to leave the denomination. Proponents of Amendment A say there would be but a relatively small group that would leave. On the contrary, there is credible evidence that a significantly large group would probably attempt to leave. It would precipitate not a mere “splintering,” but a split. Moreover, such a split would not merely affect those who leave; it would affect the whole church, including its seminaries and other institutions. It would touch the life of each congregation, perhaps leading to splits, not just between congregations, but within congregations. The PC(USA) depends upon all its members and constituencies, indeed the full spectrum of opinion and faithful Christian witness, to be a vital denomination. A substantial defection would be highly detrimental to our health and mission. But more to the point, it would violate the desire of Jesus “that they may all be one.”

Presbyterians take the Bible and their confessions seriously. It is not appropriate to change the church’s theology by a mere change at the level of its polity. Without a theological consensus on the matter it is inappropriate to change the church’s polity standards on human sexuality. Given the good-faith questions that have been raised about the traditional teaching, however, it is incumbent upon the church to devote further time for study and discernment either to anchor that conviction more deeply or to make adjustments believed to be the will of Christ for his church. It is also incumbent on the church not to apply the standards hypocritically or unfairly. That so many are turning their gaze so judgmentally against such a small group of people in the church is certainly unjust and a cause for concern.

Fourth, the pain of those who feel that an egregious injustice is being perpetrated on a particular group must be balanced against the pain of those who believe that widespread rejection of traditional standards of human sexuality will be the occasion for the judgment of God on the church. There is equal pain on both sides. Pain cannot decide the issue, though the very mutuality of this pain should tell us that a solution beyond the polity wars is called for.

Fifth, the unity of the church is one of the foundational principles set forth in Scripture and the confessions. To break it before every avenue to prevent it has been explored may well be an offense against God, and also be the occasion for the judgment of God.

The 213th General Assembly wisely approved the appointment of a task force to inquire into the causes of the disorders and disunity of the church. That task force has been appointed and its composition is accepted by the church as fair and its members competent to complete the assigned tasks.

Amendment A must be defeated so that this task force can carry out its mission over the next four years, with the hope that the church’s convictions regarding human sexuality will be thoroughly reviewed in the light of Scripture and the confessions, and that a strong consensus will emerge.

If that be the end result, then those whose consciences cannot allow further association with this denomination may consider their options, in accordance with longstanding Presbyterian tradition as incorporated in our Constitution.

In the meantime, patience, restraint, speaking the truth to one another in love, should be our way of honoring God and of expressing our deep and abiding love for our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and his church, of which we are a part — and for one another as brothers and sisters in Christ.

Amendment A must be defeated, if the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is to have an opportunity to move beyond the current impasse.


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