GA 2010: Committee to face numerous gay ordination overtures at July 6 session

MINNEAPOLIS – The Church Orders and Ministry Committee, responsible for considering nearly 20 overtures relating to gay ordination at this General Assembly, has heard plenty of opinions from others, and discussed the issues in small groups. It will begin considering the items individually tomorrow (July 6).

The overtures suggest a variety of approaches – everything from strengthening the current ordination standards, which limit ordination to those who practice fidelity if they are married or chastity if they are single, to getting rid of those standards. Some want to restore to force statements regarding homosexuality from the 1970s that the 2008 General Assembly set aside.

So far, the committee has taken no formal votes on these matters, although it has spent time discussing them in small groups.

In those early discussions, there did not seem to be much support for overtures suggesting that the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) take a break from debating the question of ordaining sexually-active gays and lesbians. After discussing in small groups the idea of a moratorium or period of rest of at least two years, representatives of those groups reported back the gist of those conversations.

“We didn’t believe peace would come out of a moratorium,” said Jack Emerick, a minister from Washington Presbytery. “More peace would come out of action.”

If the committee voted to take a hiatus, “we could all take two days off and go to the Mall of America, but we didn’t think that was the best thing to do,” said Donna Houston, an elder from Kentucky. “We didn’t want to shirk our responsibility.”

Earlier, the committee heard from a series of overture advocates – each trying to make the case for a particular item of business.

Jerry Andrews, a minister from San Diego Presbytery and co-moderator of the Presbyterian Coalition, made the case for keeping the “fidelity and chastity” language and for restoring to force the 1970s language that “unrepentant homosexual practice does not accord with the requirements for ordination … . ”

In adopting the “fidelity and chastity” standard, and in continuing to keep it as part of the denomination’s constitution despite repeated challenge, the intent is “to announce the conscience of the church in these matters in the midst of controversy,” not to end the controversy, Andrews said.

Some argue that “the world has already accepted the homosexual lifestyle” and the church will be left behind if it doesn’t do the same, said John Sloop, an overture advocate from Shenandoah Presbytery. “Jesus called on us to be the light of the world. But he never meant for us to be the tail lights.”

Advocates for other overtures, however, argued for change – as Stu Ritter, a pastor from Des Moines put it, “it’s time now to undo our unfortunate mistake” of adopting the “fidelity and chastity” standard.

Libby Davis, an elder from Redwoods Presbytery in California, said that standard has essentially created two classes of Presbyterians – those who can be ordained and those who can’t. Davis said her family is fourth-generation Presbyterian, but her daughter has switched to another denomination because “she is a lesbian and does not feel welcome in this, the church of her birth and baptism.”