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#GA226 advances two-part inclusivity change to Book of Order

The Olympia overture now heads to presbyteries following GA for majority approval.

Dustin Wilsor, Seattle Presbytery. Photo by Eric Ledermann for Presbyterian Outlook.

Salt Lake City, Utah — Commissioners to the 226th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) today approved a two-part change to its Book of Order, adding gender identity and sexual orientation to the list of the “rich diversity” reflected in the church’s membership (recommendation 1, section F-1.0403) and then recommending an examination of these principles for ordination and installation (recommendation 2, section G-2.0104b).

Christian Boyd with the Advisory Committee on the Constitution. Photo by Eric Ledermann for Presbyterian Outlook.

At issue during the debate was the extent to which recommendation 2 would serve as a litmus test for ordination, undermining freedom of conscience principles embedded elsewhere in the Book of Order.

In committee work last week, members of the Polity Committee amended recommendation 2 to remove “non-discrimination” from the affirmation of principles found in F-1.0403 as a proposed compromise that allows those with differing views on human sexuality to pursue ordination.

Only one of the suggested amendments in plenary was added, an affirmation of the Historic Principles of Church Order found in F-3.01. The first principle of this section (F-3.0101) affirms “God Is Lord of the Conscience.” Commissioner Joshua Nam said the addition would “foster a healthy dialog that focuses on our foundational principles that bind us together.”

Photo by Jonathan Watson for Presbyterian Outlook.

The amendment was adopted by a vote of 216 in favor and 192 opposed, and served to create the final language of recommendation 2 in G-2.0104b (changes in bold):

Standards for ordained service reflect the church’s desire to submit joyfully to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in all aspects of life (F-1.02). The council responsible for ordination and/or installation (G-2.0402; G-2.0607; G-3.0306) shall examine each candidate’s calling, gifts, preparation, and suitability for the responsibilities of ordered ministry. The examination shall include, but not be limited to, a determination of the candidate’s ability and commitment to fulfill all requirements as expressed in the constitutional questions for ordination and installation (W-4.0404) the Historic Principles of Church Order (F-3.01), and in the principles of participation and representation found in F-1.0403. Councils shall be guided by Scripture and the confessions in applying standards to individual candidates. 

Photo by Eric Ledermann for Presbyterian Outlook.

A Covenant Network of Presbyterian email newsletter sent after the vote called the assembly’s action “a historic step forward in affirming its commitment to inclusivity and equality.”  

Matt Gaventa, co-moderator of the Covenant Network of Presbyterians Board of Directors, and an overture advocate from Mission Presbytery, said, “In short, what this overture does is simply require us to talk, as siblings in the diverse body of Christ that is the Presbyterian Church. It says that acknowledging the reality of that diversity is important enough to us at this moment in our church’s life that we are willing to bring it to the surface every time we prepare to lay hands on one another and joyfully enter into the service of the risen Christ.”

“(POL-01) simply … says that acknowledging the reality of that diversity is important enough … that we are willing to bring it to the surface every time we prepare to lay hands on one another and joyfully enter into the service of the risen Christ.” — Matt Gaventa

Photo by Eric Ledermann for Presbyterian Outlook.

Further action by the assembly on Polity Committee overtures consumed the first half of Wednesday afternoon’s plenary session. Changes to the Book of Order cannot be included on the consent agenda and must be approved by the assembly before being submitted to presbyteries for approval and eventual inclusion in the Book of Order. Therefore, all the committee items required assembly approval.

All overtures overwhelmingly approved by the Polity Committee were approved by the General Assembly as noted here:

  • POL-02 amends D-7.0501 in the Book of Order to add language to the mandatory abuse reporting requirements found in G-4.0302, saying, “the clerk shall report to civil legal authorities any knowledge of harm, or risk of harm, related to the physical abuse, neglect, and/or sexual molestation or abuse of a minor or adult lacking mental capacity.”
  • POL-03 adds section G-1.0104 to the Book of Order, outlining requirements and responsibilities for Other Forms of Corporate Witness (Worshiping Communities, etc.)
  • POL-04 amends section D-7.0902.b regarding administrative leave to include the sentence, “The cost [of leave] shall be borne by the employing entity whenever possible or be shared by the presbytery as necessary.”
  • POL-05 amends section G-2.0504b, extending the maximum term of temporary pastoral relationships from 12 to 36 months.
  • Sue Coller, Homestead Presbytery. Photo by Eric Ledermann for Presbyterian Outlook.

    POL-08 amends sections G-2.0901 and G-2.0504b of the Book of Order to disallow non-disclosure agreements as terms of pastoral and temporary pastoral relationships.

  • POL-11 adds language to section G-3.0106 adding “adults with vulnerabilities” to those people for which churches should develop and implement protection policies.
  • POL-12 approved an Advisory Council on the Constitution (ACC) report which adds a series of Authoritative Interpretations (AIs) for Church Disciple contained in this linked spreadsheet.
  • POL-13 approved an Authoritative Interpretation (AI) regarding the Directory of Worship section W-3.04 which allows the celebration of the Lord’s Supper through electronic means.
  • POL-14 approved an Authoritative Interpretation (AI) of G-3.0106 and the requirements for boundary training participation especially in cases of “age or other incapacity.” The AI concluded a presbytery should “determine for itself what those additional requirements should be.” It further stated the section in question, G-3.0106, does not define the specific requirements for boundary training beyond the inclusion of “the topic of sexual misconduct, and child sexual abuse prevention training.”
  • POL-15 approved an Authoritative Interpretation of G-3.0109, not placing criteria on the formation of administrative commission beyond current wording that says the commission “shall be composed of ruling elders and Ministers of the Word and Sacrament in numbers as nearly equal as possible and sufficient to accomplish their work.” Further advice said parity between ruling elders and Ministers of the Word and Sacrament should be the goal while [this] “flexibility, however, is not a license for discrimination.”

If approved by more than 50% of presbyteries in the coming months, these changes will be added to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Book of Order on July 4, 2025, one year from the close of the 226th GA.

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