Elders support rejection, ministers split on Amendment A

A large majority of elders support rejection of Amendment 01-A -- which would delete the "fidelity and chastity" ordination standard from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Book of Order -- but ministers split evenly between approval and rejection.

These findings, from a recent Presbyterian Panel survey, were released Dec. 17 by the PC(USA)’s Research Services office.

Amendment 01-A would repeal G-6.0106b, which limits ordination to persons living “either within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman or chastity in singleness.” G-6.0106b effectively bars the ordination of sexually active gay and lesbian Presbyterians.

The exact wording of the survey question was: “This year’s General Assembly sent to presbyteries for their vote an amendment to the PC(USA) constitution to permit each presbytery to ordain, at its discretion, sexually-active gays and lesbians as ministers. Do you want your presbytery to approve or reject this amendment?”

When asked whether they favored approval or rejection of the controversial constitutional amendment, which would give presbyteries and congregations greater autonomy in making ordination decisions, 63 percent of elders responded “reject,” 27 percent, “approve,” and 9 percent, “uncertain.”

For ministers the tally was 46 percent “reject” and 48 percent “approve” — a statistically insignificant difference. 6 percent were “uncertain.”

“The results suggest that elders hold the balance of power on this issue,” said Jack Marcum, administrator of the Panel. While all ministers are eligible to vote at presbytery meetings, only a small minority of elders can do so. That means, Marcum noted, that the outcome “depends a lot on which elders are elected by their sessions as commissioners” when it comes time for their presbyteries to vote.

Another factor that may affect the vote is the extent to which national opinion is reflected within individual presbyteries. If, for example, elders who oppose Amendment 01-A are concentrated in a few of the larger presbyteries, it is possible that the amendment would be rejected in those presbyteries but still be approved by a majority of presbyteries.

While the Panel is not large enough to address this possibility by examining opinion presbytery by presbytery, Marcum indicated that such an outcome seems unlikely. He pointed out that while there are some broad regional differences in the opinion of elders, in every one of the four major census regions a majority of elders support rejection of the proposed amendment. Opposition to Amendment 01-A is greatest in the South (71 percent of elders support rejection) and the West (67 percent), lowest in the Northeast (57 percent) and Midwest (55 percent).

The Presbyterian Panel surveys national, random samples of members, elders, and ministers every quarter on topics of current interest to church leaders. Of the 1,069 and 1,443 ministers in the Panel, 52 percent and 60 percent, respectively, completed the August 2001 survey. Sampling error is plus or minus 4 percent.