GA 2010: Ordination issues as real-life experiences told to committee

MINNEAPOLIS – They came to the microphone and told stories of faith and life, in 90-second segments – just long enough to give a taste.

Some think the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) should continue to refuse to ordain sexually-active gays and lesbians. Others say the denomination’s constitution is long overdue for a change. The debate’s been going on for decades now (one speaker said it started before he was even born) – and it’s still not done.

The Church Orders and Ministry Committee of the 219th General Assembly will consider this week a bucketful of overtures on ordination issues, but started off with a public hearing today (July 5), a chance for dozens in the audience to offer their own views. Here’s some of what folks had to say.

Declaring scruples. Mark Achtemeier, an associate professor of systematic theology at the University of Dubuque Theological Seminary, who also served on the Theological Task Force on the Peace, Unity, and Purity of the PC(USA), spoke against overtures that he said would undermine Biblical authority.

Those overtures would not allow candidates for ordination to declare “scruples” or objections based on conscience when they disagree with the denomination’s current ordination standards, which limit ordination to those who promise to practice fidelity if they are married or chastity if they are single.

“The message of these overtures is clear: stop listening to Scripture,” Achtemeier said. Or “stop listening to the Bible and get with the church’s program.” He warned against approving overtures that would turn controversial parts of the Book of Order – the “fidelity and chastity” standard – into “paper popes.”

Changed through Christ. A series of speakers, many from the Minneapolis area, where the General Assembly is meeting this week, described having been drawn to same-sex relationships earlier in their lives, then having been changed to a heterosexual orientation by a relationship with Jesus Christ. Some of those speakers said they were involved with Outpost Ministries, a group whose Web site says it was formed “to meet the needs of men and women making the decision to break away from gay life.”

One man said he turned to homosexual relationships after being sexually abused for five years as a child by a neighbor, and then developing shame and self-loathing. “Please do not change 2,000 years of church history and tradition to be politically correct,” he said.

“My life has been a journey in search of wholeness,” said Dumont Dorsey, who said that for him homosexuality is not about sex, but “is just one way I medicate my deep pain” from other sources.

“The Presbyterian Church saved my life,” said David Hall of Minneapolis, who said he pursued same-sex relationships for five years and was involved with promiscuity and porn. “I didn’t want to hit rock bottom, so I turned to the church.”

Hall said that while being involved in homosexuality “I was not free,” but later found freedom in submitting to God’s will. “Do not change God’s will or the Book of Order,” he urged the committee.

Those who want to serve. Some of the speakers were either gays and lesbians who want to serve as ministers in the PC(USA), or know of those who want to but have been denied that opportunity.

Bear Ride, a minister from California, said she was ordained in the 1970s; married and raised her children; then realized in her 40s she was lesbian. “I’m still me,” Ride said – but her ministry has been put on hold.

Dawn Martin, a theological student advisory delegate from Columbia Theological Seminary, said she knows passionate, committed leaders who are leaving the PC(USA) because they will not be allowed to serve. “Brilliant leaders, exciting leaders” are leaving for more welcoming denominations, Martin said.

Kessler Catterall, a 14-year-old girl from Greater Atlanta Presbytery, said people have been encouraging her to consider the ministry – saying she has gifts. “I think that would be the coolest thing,” Catterall said.

But then she thinks about people who’ve had the dream much longer than she has, knowing that some of them “have so much to give, so much to offer,” but are not being allowed to serve.