Monday, June 28, 2010

15 Overtures, Years of Debate; Gay Ordination on GA Agenda

The Presbyterian Outlook takes a look at the 30-year conversation about sexual orientation in the Presbyterian Church (USA). As this General Assembly approaches, there are some significant changes all around.
But the persistence of the debate, and the glazed-over look some Presbyterians develop when it revs up again, can mask some incremental but significant developments that observers are noting.
Among them:
  • Last August, in a dramatic and emotional vote, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America – the third-largest Protestant group in the country, with 4.6 million members – voted to lift a rule that forbade gays and lesbians to serve as pastors unless they were celibate. The denomination’s Churchwide Assembly removed the ban on pastors living in “lifelong, monogamous, same-gendered relationships.” Almost immediately, some Lutherans who say the new policy does not conform with Biblical teaching began to discuss the possibility of leaving the denomination. 
  • In July 2009, the Episcopal Church’s House of Bishops voted that any ordained ministry is open to gays and lesbians – ending a moratorium on ordaining gay bishops passed in 2006. This spring, a majority of bishops and dioceses in the Episcopal Church approved the election as suffragan, or assistant, bishop of Mary D. Glasspool, a lesbian from Los Angeles who has been involved in a same-sex partnership for more than 20 years. That’s likely to further accelerate divisions within the global Anglican family. The Anglican Church in North America, officially organized in 2009 with 700 congregations and in disagreement with the direction of the Episcopal Church, has elected Robert Duncan as its archbishop and established full communion with Anglican churches in Uganda and Nigeria.
  • In 2009, a majority of the PC(USA)’s 173 presbyteries voted, for the third time, not to remove the “fidelity and chastity” standard. But there are some signs of shifting opinion – the vote of 94-78 was by a narrower margin than the last time the presbyteries considered it, in 2001-2002, and includes more than 25 presbyteries that flipped from wanting to keep the current standards to favoring change. Some interpret the vote as the PC(USA) standing firm, yet again, on fidelity and chastity. Others say it’s only a matter of time until the rules change – for them, the question is not if, but when.
  • Some of the congregations most opposed to gay ordination have already left the PC(USA) – many of them moving to the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. That represents a dynamic other mainline denominations are experiencing as well – with debates over gay ordination in the Episcopal, Methodist, and Lutheran denominations leading to shifting alignments. Following the Lutheran vote last summer, for example, a conservative group called the Lutheran Coalition for Renewal began developing a proposal for the “reconfiguration of North American Lutheranism” and is discussing forming a new denomination, the North American Lutheran Church (NALC).
  • A case now is pending in the PC(USA)’s judicial system that could present a direct test of whether the denomination will allow the ordination of a gay man in a committed partnership. In February, John Knox Presbytery voted 81-25 to ordain to the ministry Scott D. Anderson, who has been in a committed relationship for close to 20 years and who set aside his ordination as a minister in 1990, after members of his congregation publicly revealed that he is gay.
  • Following the approach suggested by the Theological Task Force on the Peace, Unity and Purity of the PC(USA), of which he was a member, Anderson had declared a “scruple,” or an objection based on conscience, to the fidelity and chastity standard. Some who disagree with the presbytery’s decision have filed a remedial case with the Permanent Judicial Commission of the Synod of Lakes and Prairies, and a stay of enforcement has been entered until that case is resolved.
  • Depending on how things proceed, Anderson’s case could present the first direct question to the General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission of whether a governing body can ordain a gay or lesbian in a committed partnership who has declared a conscientious objection to the fidelity and chastity standard.
 All of this is just the back story.

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