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Pastors and church leaders in the Presbyterian Church in America have approved a rule determining that those who identify as gay are not qualified for ordination as members of the clergy.
The rule change, known as “Overture 23,” says that anyone with an identity “such as ‘gay Christian,’ ‘same-sex attracted Christian,’ ‘homosexual Christian,’ or like terms” is “not qualified for ordained office,” because being gay “undermines or contradicts their identity as new creations in Christ.”
The overture was overwhelmingly approved by a vote of 1,438-417 on July 1 at the Presbyterian Church in America’s annual business meeting in St. Louis, reports Religion News Service.
The approved language will now go before local church bodies, known as “presbyteries,” two-thirds of which must approve the overture before a second up-or-down vote is held at next year’s meeting, scheduled to take place in Birmingham, Alabama.
If approved, the language would be placed in the “Book of Church Order,” which governs the practices of Presbyterian Church in America congregations, according to The Washington Times.
The denomination estimated in 2018 that it had about 385,000 members in 1,927 congregations across the United States.
Under the language in the overture, people who identify as gay and make that identity central to their lives are barred from becoming clergy, a step beyond the denomination’s existing prohibition on ordaining what the PCA refers to as “practicing homosexuals.”
Scott Barber, the chair of the Overtures Committee, which called the vote, told church elders that the intent of the rule change was not to exclude Christians who are gay but remain celibate.
“What we said is if we use terms like that that undermine or contradict our identity as new creations in Christ, if such an identity becomes higher than our identity in Christ, that would eliminate us from being qualified in the PCA,” Barber said.
But some critics say that’s not what the language of the overture communicates.
“We don’t need to amend our constitution to make a non-affirming denomination (hostile to gay people who want to follow Jesus in celibacy,” the Rev. Greg Johnson, lead pastor of Memorial Presbyterian Church in St. Louis, who was among those voting against the overture, told Religion News Service in an email.
Johnson, who identifies as gay and is celibate, said he doesn’t believe the overture will remove him from ministry. But he worries that it may chase away gay-identifying youth, who, like he was, still wish to remain in the church. Johnson says actions like approving Overture 23 may even prompt heterosexual members of the church to leave or disassociate themselves due to the church’s perceived hostility towards LGBTQ people.
“The reigning cultural narrative is that ‘Christians hate gay people.’ By making it even harder for celibate believers to serve the church, this General Assembly has nothing to prove the culture wrong on that point. Quite the contrary. Rightly or wrongly, it will be perceived as a ‘Keep Out’ sign on the church lawn,” he said.
Conservative believers praised the church for remaining consistent with its stated beliefs about human sexuality, which is that sexual activity should be reserved for opposite-sex partners in officially recognized marriages.
Brett Harmon, of the Southeast Alabama Presbytery, said the overture is “most consistent with the gospel — and because it’s consistent with the gospel, it is by definition compassionate,” sharing stories in which Jesus told believers that they had to give up everything to follow him.
Chris Norris, of the Calvary Presbytery, expressed similar views during debate, noting: “Sanctification begins with one’s identity as a new creation in Christ… Taking a gay identity flies in the face of the new creation.”
Church leaders also affirmed Overture 37, which requires those seeking to be ordained as clergy to “give clear testimony of reliance upon his union with Christ and the benefits thereof by the Holy Spirit, depending on this work of grace to make progress over sin…. While imperfection will remain, he should not be known by reputation or self-profession according to his remaining sinfulness (e.g., homosexual desires, etc.), but rather by the work of the Holy Spirit in Christ Jesus.”
That language was approved by a vote of 1,130-692.
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