Still no gay clergy for PCUSA (at least, officially)

Presbyterian Church (USA)’s offical ban on gay clergy lives on.

The denomination’s regional bodies have voted down a proposed change to church law that would have allowed gays and lesbians to be ordained.

Delegates to a denominational assembly approved the change last year, but a majority of presbyteries — 87 out of 173 — had to support the move.

Presbyteries have been voting for several months. As of Saturday, 88 presbyteries voted against the change, meaning that the closely watched vote is over.

Back in 1996, denominational law was changed to prohibit the ordination of anyone who wasn’t married or chaste. The move was aimed at prohibiting the ordination of gay clergy.

This was the third unsuccessful effort to overturn the law.

The Hudson River Presbytery, which represents 91 congregations in Westchester, Rockland, Putnam and four northern counties, voted in favor of rescinding the ban. Delegates in the gay-friendly region voted back in February: 94 yes, 12 no, 1 abstention.

The proposed new amendment looked like this:

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“Those who are called to ordained service in the church, by their assent to the constitutional questions for ordination and installation (W-4.4003), pledge themselves to live lives obedient to Jesus Christ the Head of the Church, striving to follow where he leads through the witness of the Scriptures, and to understand the Scriptures through the instruction of the Confessions. In so doing, they declare their fidelity to the standards of the Church. Each governing body charged with examination for ordination and/or installation (G-14.0240 and G-14.0450) establishes the candidate’s sincere efforts to adhere to these standards.”

PCUSA grapples, again, with ordination of gays

I’ve mentioned before that the first article I wrote on the religion beat — on March 20, 1997 — had to do with Presbyterian Church (USA) banning the ordination of gays and lesbians.

The change to church law — widely known as “Amendment B” — became the focus of a denominational controversy that has never gone away. Several unsuccessful attempts have been made to rewrite the amendment.

Here we go again.

Last year’s national gathering of PCUSA delegates — the 218th General Assembly — voted in favor of rewriting the amendment to remove a requirement that clergy “live either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman…or chastity in singleness.”

A new amendment would require “Those who are called to ordained service in the church, by their assent to the constitutional questions for ordination and installation…pledge themselves to live lives obedient to Jesus Christ the Head of the Church, striving to follow where he leads through the witness of the Scriptures, and to understand the Scriptures through the instruction of the Confessions.”

For the change to go through, a majority of presbyteries — regional bodies — have to approve it. That means 87 out of 173.

So far, according to one tally, 36 presbyteries have voted for the change, 46 against.

The Hudson River Presbytery — which includes 91 congregations in Westchester, Rockland, Putnam and four counties north — voted this week. Clergy and lay delegates voted overwhelming in favor of the change: 94 yes, 12 no, 1 abstention.

So that’s one presbytery among the 36 that want to change Amendment B.

Other presbyteries will vote through June. It’s hard to say right now when a majority will be reached.

Catching up with religion news

I’m back.

My family went down to suburban Atlanta to visit my parents, who retired down there. I purposely avoided religion news all week — we all have to clear our heads — but couldn’t help craning my neck to see all the churches.

newhopebaptist.jpgThey have the big non-denominational churches off the highways, and little Baptist churches (like the one in the picture) that were there long before the suburbs grew around them. Pretty much wherever you are, there’s a church close by.

I started off my week this morning with a visit to a Christian Science family in New City. I’m working on a feature about how Christian Science parents raise their kids in the suburbs without doctors. It seems to me that the Burbs are increasingly pediatrician-centric — with all the vaccinations, school physicals, worries about ear-infections and allergies, etc., etc. — so I wanted to see how Christian Scientists live their lives.

I think their stories will make for a real interesting feature.

Having gone through a few hundreds emails so far, I see that the General Assembly of Presbyterian Church (USA) did indeed approve an amendment to church law that would remove the controversial “fidelity and chastity” requirement for ordination. (I really didn’t read religion news all week…)

Now the denomination’s 173 presbyteries have to each vote on the change. A majority will have to support it for the amendment to hit the books.

Twice — in 1997 and 2000 — General Assemblies have approved proposals to remove the “fidelity and chastity” requirement, which makes gays and lesbians ineligible for ordination. But both times, not enough presbyteries supported the move.

We know that the gay-friendly Hudson River Presbytery, which includes PCUSA churches in the Hudson Valley (thus the name), will approve the change by an overwhelming margin.

For a local summary of the GA, you can read the Rev. Chris Shelton’s blog here.

PCUSA revisits (again) its requirements for ordination

010.jpgPresbyterian Church (USA)’s 218th General Assembly is underway in San Jose, meaning that hundreds of Presbyterians are attending committee meetings, sorting through great piles of resolutions and amendments and other paperwork, and preparing for lots of votes.

That’s the Presbyterian way. (You have to love the John Calvin bobblehead doll in the exhibit hall.)

It also means that a debate is underway (or an old debate is continuing) on the status and future of Amendment B. This is the 1996 amendment to church law that requires “fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman or chastity in singleness” and is supposed to rule out gays and lesbians for ordination.

There have been several efforts over the years to strike Amendment B from the books, all failures (so far).

Last night, a committee recommended that the full Assembly delete the amendment. The committee had several overtures to choose from, including one put forth by the Hudson River Presbytery, which includes PCUSA churches in Westchester, Rockland, Putnam and northern counties.

The committee approved this proposed amendment put forth by the Boston Presbytery:

“Those who are called to ordained service in the church, by their assent to the constitutional questions for ordination and installation (W-4.4003), pledge themselves to live lives obedient to Jesus Christ the Head of the Church, striving to follow where he leads through the witness of the Scriptures, and to understand the Scriptures through the instruction of the Confessions. In so doing, they declare their fidelity to the standards of the church. Each governing body charged with examination for ordination and/or installation (G-14.0240 and G-14.0450) establishes the candidate’s sincere efforts to adhere to these standards.”

At some point, the full Assembly will consider the amendment. If it passes, the amendment would still have to be approved by a majority of presbyteries across the country.

The Rev. Chris Shelton, a minister from the Hudson River Presbytery, is blogging about the GA. He writes:

And so, I refer you back to the beginning of these thoughts — “Lift up your hearts!” However you feel about the actions taken by these committees, the time for prayer is now. These are exciting, trying, and tiring times here in San Jose. The Commissioners and Advisory Delegates need our continued prayers for strength, for wisdom, for the sustaining hand of the Spirit. Pray for all our sisters and brothers as we face the challenging conversations ahead.

I should note that PCUSA lost 2.5% of its membership from 2006 to 2007. Here’s a brief from the AP:

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) _ The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) suffered its worst annual membership decline in decades last year.

The Louisville-based denomination reported 2.2 million active and confirmed members in 2007, a loss of 57,572 members and a 2.5 percent decrease from 2006. It’s the denomination’s largest membership loss in terms of numbers since 1981 and the steepest percentage loss since 1974, when it fell 2.7 percent.

The church has steadily been losing members since peaking at 4.25 million in the mid-1960s.

“Any decline in membership is a disappointment, to be sure, because those numbers represent members we know and love who are no longer part of our congregations,” said the Rev. Clifton Kirkpatrick, who is completing a 12-year term as stated clerk of the PCUSA.

Opinions differ about the cause for the decline, including controversies over homosexuality, low birth rates, an aging white population and a societal move away from institutions in general. Some congregations also have left for a more conservative Presbyterian denomination.