GA NEWS: Committee recommends elimination of fidelity-chastity ordination standard

SAN JOSE – A committee is recommending that the 218th General Assembly approve a constitutional amendment to strike from the constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) language that restricts ordination to those who practice fidelity if they are married or chastity if they are single.

Instead, the committee – approving an overture from Boston presbytery – voted 41-11 on June 24 to replace that with a provision that those being called for ordained service “pledge themselves to live lives obedient to Jesus Christ the Head of the Church, striving to follow where he leads through the witness of the Scriptures, and to understand the Scriptures through the instruction of the Confessions. In so doing, they declare their fidelity to the standards of the Church.”

Each governing body examining candidates would need to establish “the candidate’s sincere efforts to adhere to these standards,” the overture states.

The committee also is recommending that the assembly pass an authoritative interpretation declaring that interpretive statements the assemblies of the northern and southern branches of the Presbyterian Church made in 1978 and 1979 regarding homosexuality “and all subsequent affirmations thereof have no further force or effect.”

The full assembly will consider the committee’s recommendation later this week – most likely June 27 – and a minority report is expected to be submitted as well. Any proposed amendment to the church’s constitution would need to win approval from a majority of the denomination’s 173 presbyteries.

Twice before, in 1997 and 2001, the General Assembly has voted to remove the “fidelity and chastity” language, but the presbyteries have said “No” by margins of at least two-to-one.

But Susan Fisher, a minister from Pacific presbytery, predicted that “this will be deleted one day in this church.”

Some commissioners who disagreed with the decision of the Church Orders and Ministry Committee predicted there could be significant ramifications – that more congregations will leave the PC(USA).

“We will be setting us up for two parallel tracks of what does a Presbyterian believe,” said Emily McColl, a minister from Los Ranchos presbytery.

She said after the vote: “This is so painful I can barely express it.”
But others urged the assembly to remove the barriers for gays and lesbians who feel called to ordained service. Nancy Drake, a minister from Grace Presbytery, encouraged commissioners to “vote our conscience and not vote out of fear.”