GAPJC hears case of gay Connecticut elder

ATLANTA -- How far must a session go in inquiring into the sexual practice of candidates for elder? If a person has acknowledged that they live in a committed, same-sex relationship, but refuses to answer the direct question if they are sexually active in that relationship, can the session proceed to install them? Or is the examination incomplete?

These are among the questions with which the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission (PJC) must wrestle in deciding the appeal of a case presented to them here (Nov. 30) today. The PJC is expected to make a decision in the case before adjourning this weekend. Mark Tammen, director of constitutional services, said a report of the decision is expected next week.

The case involves the session of First church, Stamford, Conn.; elder Wayne Osborne, who had previously been ordained in 1994 and had been reelected to another term of active service; Southern New England Presbytery and the Northeast Synod. The appeal was brought by Mairi Hair and James McCallum, members of First church.

Walter Baker, counsel for the appellants, argued that two errors were made by the synod PJC. The first error, he said, was that the synod “failed to rule that the session’s examination disqualified the candidate for active service.”

Facts supporting this argument, Baker said, were the candidate’s own words. “He acknowledged, on his own initiative, during the first examination, that he is living a life-long, loving, committed, homosexual relationship with another man, which includes sharing a home. When asked, “is this a sexually-active partnership,” he said, “I decline to answer the question.”

One and a half years later, during the reexamination, the candidate was asked whether he wanted to amend his answer. He said he did not. The question was asked because the synod had ruled it pertinent to his eligibility, Baker said.

By this admission, Baker said, the candidate “manifestly, yet in a discrete manner” informed the examining body that he did not intend to comply with Book of Order G-6.0106b, the fidelity and chastity provisions for installed officers. Baker argued that “the candidate did not have to use more explicit language” and that the session should have understood that this relationship would have included sexual activity.

Baker said, “apparently, the session did not want to hear what the candidate had told them explicitly.” He said the session told the Presbytery PJC “the candidate has not made any public acknowledgment of personal homosexual practice or any practice indicating non-celibacy.Š”

He said the session had previously declared that they could not abide by G-6.0106b.

Baker argued that the synod PJC should have ruled that the presbytery PJC erred in upholding the session’s examination.

The second error, Baker said, was that the synod PJC failed to rule the exam incomplete. He said the candidate twice refused to supply pertinent information. He said the session’s “model” for conducting an examination should be ruled incomplete.

This “model” for an examination should not be allowed to stand, Baker said. He said the candidate told the session he did not intend to abide by G-6.0106b. “How can this candidate respond affirmatively to the question that he will ‘be governed by our church’s polity and abide by its discipline,'” a reference to a constitutional question asked candidates for ordination or installation.

He said the session’s examination model should be ruled incomplete until the pertinent information is on the table, then the session could determine eligibility.

“Synod finds session had to investigate by asking. Session finds the candidate doesn’t have to tell. Why didn’t synod rule this rationale is incomplete, inconsistent with its own finding?” He said when a candidate withholds information that is pertinent, the examination is in “limbo.”

Not a constitutional violation

Three elders on the session of First church, Stamford, served as counsel for the church: John Harter, Deborah Harrell and Meg Nosenzo.

Harter countered that the entire argument of the appellants “rests on the unfounded allegations that Mr. Osborne has self-acknowledged current homosexual practice and has expressed the intention of continuing such unrepentant sinful practice in the future.” Harter said, “The record of this case contains no evidence of sexual practice, no acknowledgment of unrepentant sinful practice, no refusal to repent of any self-acknowledged practice which the confessions call sin, and no expressed intentions to violate our constitution. The record includes findings by the session, the presbytery PJC and the synod PJC that Mr. Osborne’s same-sex relationship does not constitute any constitutional violation.”

Harter argued that self-acknowledgment is required and that Osborne did not disclose any sexual practice.

“The session was obliged to inquire if there was homosexual practice, and did. Wayne was given the opportunity to acknowledge unrepentant sinful practice. He did not do so. The examining body is compelled to proceed with love, sensitivity, discretion and care. The session acted within the bounds of our Constitution. It has been expressly found and affirmed by the relevant governing bodies, the fact that Mr. Osborne’s same-sex relationship is not an acknowledgment of engaging in any practice which the confessions call sin.”

Harter also argued that the appellants’ case is not supported by the PC(USA) Constitution.