Homosexual Ordination Vote Widens Gap Between Presbyterian Factions

Homosexual Ordination Vote Widens Gap Between Presbyterian Factions

As the Presbyterian Church (USA) took an initial step toward the ordination of gays and lesbians, other Presbyterian groups voiced strong opposition to the move, indicative of a deepening split between the church's conservative and liberal factions.

Delegates to the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA), meeting in Louisville last week, voted by a 60 percent margin on Friday to lift a ban on the ordination of gays and lesbians. However the measure must be ratified by a majority of the church's 173 regional governing bodies, or presbyteries, over the next year before it can take effect.

The ban first came into effect in 1996 when the General Assembly approved a new section requiring ministers and other ordained church officers "to live either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman, or chastity in singleness."

"Twice in the last five years we've voted on this, and each time it tears at the fabric of our presbytery," said Ted Mikels, an elder of the Salem Presbytery in North Carolina. "To send this out again will create greater rancor and polarization. We need prayer and study and dialogue, not more legislation."

According to the Washington Post, the vote by the governing board of a mainline Protestant denomination was a clear victory for gay rights advocates. "Several denominations have struggled with this issue in recent years, but few have gone as far as the Presbyterian Church (USA) did yesterday."

A representative of a pro-homosexual faction within the denomination applauded the action, saying, "We're not going to buy into a homophobic culture."

In debating the issue, officials from the PC (USA) stated: "We acknowledge the role of scriptural authority in the Presbyterian Church, but Presbyterians generally do not believe in biblical inerrancy. Presbyterians do not insist that every detail of chronology or sequence or pre-scientific description in scripture be true in literal form. Our confessions do teach biblical infallibility. Infallibility affirms the entire truthfulness of scripture without depending on every exact detail."

Opponents to lifting the ban argued: "Jesus, in his life, death, and resurrection, came to fulfill the law, which means the Old Testament Law. He upheld marriage between a man and a woman as God's purpose from the beginning of creation. The traditional interpretations fit with the teaching of the whole scripture on the holiness of sex in marriage and the sinfulness of sex outside of it - which the Bible calls names like adultery and fornication."
Those pushing to remove the ban on gay ordination "reminded the general assembly what Jesus himself said on the subject of homosexuality: nothing."

Meanwhile, other Presbyterians, both within the PC (USA) and those who are part of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) are calling for a return to conservative doctrine.

A "Confessing Church Movement," generated by local congregations inside the PC (USA), has sprung up across the country. So named for the public confession of "I believe" statements relating to basic theology, the movement has captivated the attention and conversation of many Presbyterians.

Summit Presbyterian Church in Pennsylvania's Beaver-Butler Presbytery was one of the first to make a public faith statement regarding three foundational points: (1.) "That Jesus Christ alone is Lord of all and the way of salvation, (2.) That Scripture is the Triune God's revealed Word, the Church's only infallible rule of faith and life, and (3.) That God's people are called to holiness in all aspects of life. This includes honoring the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman, the only relationship within which sexual activity is appropriate."

Bob Davis, executive director of the Presbyterian Forum, says that when Summit Presbyterian issued the confession and adopted it as their own, "they made national news and that truly was a catalyst to other folks stepping on board."

According to Davis, "The real significance of the Confessing Church Movement is that it is a grassroots movement. The seeds of it have been around for quite a while, particularly as General Assemblies continue to dwell on sexuality as a prime topic."

What has happened, says Davis, is that congregations around the country "have been embarrassed by the national denomination to the point that attendance and membership is hurt by having the name 'Presbyterian' out in front. The Confessing Churches have decided to stop being embarrassed by the denomination and say 'this is what our church here will proclaim.'"

Davis says he does not know whether this will grow into a separate branch of the denomination. "As far as I can tell, there is an investment in 'being the church' where they are. It is not about driving a schism or wedge. "But I think this last General Assembly is going to fuel the Confessing Church Movement," he adds.

One such separation occurred in 1973, when The Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), split off from PC (USA) "because that church had shifted from its historic beliefs to a theological liberalism that denied core biblical doctrines, such as the inerrancy and authority of Scripture."

The PCA also condemns the PC (USA) vote last week. Dominic Aquila, PCA's news officer, says "Our concern is for the integrity of Scripture, which clearly gives us guidance for every area of life, including the family and chastity. We believe God has ordained that sexual relationships should be between one man and one woman in the context of marriage, and that neither heterosexual relations outside of marriage, or homosexual relations, are appropriate."
Aquila adds, "We're concerned that one branch of the church would take a position that gives endorsement appearing to be contrary to Scripture."

PCA kicked off its own General Assembly yesterday in Dallas. About 1,500 delegates are expected to attend. Some of the issues coming before the PCA General Assembly include: Clarification on the biblical teaching on creation, the role of women in the church, a study report on women in combat, and the sanctity of life.

Regarding homosexuality, the PCA will recommit "to the sanctity of human sexual relationships. It believes God's intent in creation is that male and female are complementary, that the privilege of sexual expression is to be between male and female only, and this expression is to be exclusive in the context of marriage."

By Janet Chismar, Religion Today @ Crosswalk.com