The 222nd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (PCUSA), which will meet in Portland, OR, June 18 – 25th, will consider a corporate confession of sin and an apology to gay and transgendered for having “marginalized” them, including having excluded practicing homosexuals from ordained office.
Our story begins six years ago, in 2010, when the PCUSA General Assembly voted to allow homosexuals to hold ordained office in the church. They voted to amend the PCUSA “Book of Order” (Presbyterians call the Book of Order their "constitution," but it is equivalent to the Seventh-day Adventist Church Manual) to do away with any sexual behavioral standards for ordained office. The relevant passage had read:
“Those who are called to office in the church are to lead a life in obedience to Scripture and in conformity to the historic confessional standards of the church. Among these standards is the requirement to live either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman, or chastity in singleness. Persons refusing to repent of any self-acknowledged practice which the confessions call sin shall not be ordained and/or installed as deacons, elders, or ministers of the Word and Sacrament.”
But was changed to read as follows:
“Standards for ordained service reflect the church’s desire to submit joyfully to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in all aspects of life. The governing body responsible for ordination and/or installation shall examine each candidate’s calling, gifts, preparation, and suitability for the responsibilities of office. 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. Governing bodies shall be guided by Scripture and the confessions in applying standards to individual candidates.”
The obvious purpose of this change was to allow openly practicing homosexuals to hold ordained office. The change was ratified by the required number of presbyteries (a simple majority of the 173 presbyteries in the U.S.) five years ago, in 2011.
Now, the New York City Presbytery proposes to go further. They want the larger Presbyterian Church to confess that it was wrong and sinful to ever have excluded practicing homosexuals. According to the New York City Presbyterians, the sin was never homosexuality but rather believing that homosexuality was wrong. The proposed apology, which is currently an “overture” to the General Assembly, states, in part:
And we confess that our actions have fallen short of these truths in the marginalization of our sisters and brothers who identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Questioning (LGBTQ/Q), admitting:
e. that harms have been done to this community by the denomination’s participation in the creation of barriers to God’s call to our sisters and brothers, based on sexual identity, sexual orientation and gender identity;
f. that charges have been instigated with the intention of preventing qualified individuals called by God to serve based on sexual identity and orientation;
g. that the Constitution of the PC(USA) has been erroneously used to support these charges, resulting in the use of the denomination’s court system, in effect, being co-opted to discipline others for who they are; and
h. that the denomination has participated in or been silent about challenging the destruction of the careers of faithful servants who identified as LGBTQ/Q.
Therefore, we direct that the Presbyterian Church (USA) Affirm, Confess and Apologize:
i. admitting that it has been wrong in the way it has treated the LGBTQ/Q Community in the PC(USA);
j. apologizing for the teachings and actions that have created marginalization of our sisters and brothers, adding to the erroneous belief that people who identify as LGBTQ/Q should be considered unworthy to serve fully or be honored as family within and without the church;
The full text can be read here. The New York City Presbyterians want the larger church to publicly apologize for ever having believed that homosexual conduct was sinful and that self-confessed persistence in open homosexual conduct disqualified a person from ordained office in the Presbyterian Church.
So there is concord between Trisha Famisaran and many Presbyterians, in believing that the real sin is not homosexual sex, but heterosexism, patriarchy, and failing to be fully "inclusive" of whatever sexual perversion or gender confusion the Left is enthused about this year.
But the Presbyterians never voted to change their doctrine, only to drop certain specific requirements for ordained office. And, more importantly, the conservatives were told that the 2010 vote was about freedom of conscience, about allowing everyone to do as his conscience on this issue indicated, and not requiring anyone to violate his conscience.
Barbara Wheeler, who in 2010 voted in favor of allowing homosexuals to serve in ordained office, believes that the proposed apology contravenes a promise of theological pluralism made to the denomination’s conservatives in 2010-11:
"Those of us who advocated changing or interpreting the Constitution to permit ordination of partnered GLBT members and, later, same-gender marriage emphasized over and over that the proposed changes would not force any minister or council to say or do anything they deeply believed to be wrong. The fact that the ordination amendment would not force the views of one theological party on the other had a great deal to do with its passage."
“When the changes came, the church’s leaders repeated the assurance of freedom of conscience: The ‘integrity’ of all Presbyterians will be honored, wrote the Stated Clerk and other officers on the day that the ordination measure passed, even as the door is opened to ordinations that were banned before. That protection . . . seemed right to many of us who wanted ordination and marriage policies to change. We knew what it was like to be prevented by church law from acting on convictions that were rooted in our understanding of scripture, and we had no desire to do that to others."
In other words, the liberals got the constitutional changes passed by promising conservatives that they would never have to violate their own consciences on the issue. But now, just five years after the constitutional changes were confirmed, the liberals are pulling the rug out from under the conservatives:
"I am writing now" continues Wheeler, "because a measure is coming before General Assembly that breaks the promise of freedom of conscience that is an integral part of the new constitutional provisions for ordination. Overture 050 from the Presbytery of New York City, the ‘Apology Overture,’ denounces as ‘erroneous’ and (in its introduction) ‘sinful,’ beliefs and practices that the church assured conservative and evangelical Presbyterians it would continue to respect.”
Wheeler is not the only one who has cried foul. Carmen Fowler LaBerge, president of the Presbyterian Lay Committee, said, “so much for the promises of mutual forbearance and a big tent where the full range of Biblical interpretations on issues of sexual practice would remain present. This overture seeks to extract an apology from those who upheld the Biblical and Confessional standards of the Church.”
Both Wheeler and LaBerge see the apology overture as presaging a purge of the remaining conservatives from the PCUSA. Wheeler writes:
“Last year,” one of [the conservatives] said to me after reading this overture, “you told us that we could think and do what we believe is right. This year you call us wrong and sinful. Next year will you excommunicate us for not agreeing with you?”
And LaBerge stated:
"In the end, passage of this overture will necessitate the expulsion of all those in the PCUSA who believe that the integrity of the Body of Christ is not dependent upon a ‘queer presence,' but solely upon the Holy Spirit. If the [General Assembly] passes this overture they will be saying that the Spirit was not present in the midst of, nor discerned by, all those Presbyterians in the past who upheld fidelity, chastity and traditional marriage.”
This sad Presbyterian tale should serve as a warning to Adventists that there is no placating liberals. The notion that liberals will be satisfied with theological pluralism is a mirage, a trap for the foolish and undiscerning. Liberals only feign interest in pluralism until they have the votes and the power to force you to fully comply with their ideology. When they have the power, they will make you apologize for ever having held a high view of Scripture and taken its directives at face value.
This should also help to illuminate the Adventist ordination crisis. In San Antonio last year, the SDA Church was asked to accept a diversity of practice on the issue of ordaining women. But diversity of practice betokens a diversity of doctrine, and behind that a divergence in how we read Scripture. We do a grave disservice to ourselves as a church if we further indulge the pretense that this is an issue of policy, rather than theology and doctrine. As the Presbyterians illustrate, theological pluralism is unstable and cannot long continue. One of the theological viewpoints represented in our ordination controversy will ultimately prevail in our church