Presbytery affirms its stance on gay ban
By 68-62 vote, petition opposes ordination
Friday, February 03, 2006By Ann Rodgers, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Pittsburgh Presbytery will send a petition to the national governing body of the Presbyterian Church (USA), effectively asking it to retain the nationwide ban on ordaining those who are sexually active outside of heterosexual marriage.
The 68-62 vote yesterday came after more than half the original 269 commissioners had left the overtime meeting at Shadyside Presbyterian Church.
The presbytery has a long history of supporting a ban on the ordination of sexually active gay people.
The petition dealt with the denomination's process for making church law, and came in response to another proposal that would appear to allow a local option on ordination standards.
Such a local option "will have ramifications well beyond the sexuality issue," said Robert Gagnon, professor of New Testament at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, who presented the petition. He is a leading proponent of the belief that gay sex is sinful.
If the local option proposal succeeded, "you will have no binding ordination standards at all," he said.
The 2.4 million-member Presbyterian Church (USA) has long been torn over issues pertaining to sexual ethics.
In 2001 the denomination's General Assembly appointed a broad-based Theological Task Force on the Peace, Unity and Purity of the Church to try to address and resolve the disputes. Its recommendations to this June's General Assembly in Birmingham, Ala., include allowing local presbyteries to discern whether a candidate for ordination has "departed from the essentials of the Reformed faith and polity."
The Pittsburgh petition says that any ordination standard that the Book of Order singles out from other standards, calls a requirement or makes mandatory by the word "shall," must be deemed "an essential of Reformed faith and polity."
At stake is a 1996 standard setting forth "the requirement to live either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage of one man and one woman, or chastity in singleness." The General Assembly has repeatedly voted to repeal that standard, but the repeal never got the required ratification from a majority of the nation's 173 presbyteries.
The petition from Pittsburgh Presbytery says that the task force proposal would effectively remove the right of presbyteries to vote on establishing binding national standards.
The Rev. Bebb Stone, pastor of the Presbyterian Church of Mount Washington, opposed the petition.
"For the last several years we have been using our polity and we have been torn asunder into a red state-blue state situation. It seems to me that the task force tried to find another way, to be more purple, perhaps," she said.
The Rev. Paul Robert, pastor of Eastminster Presbyterian Church in East Liberty, said that his lay governing board had endorsed the petition because the current system of checks and balances keeps the church united.
"Sometimes we don't agree with the person across the aisle, but we respect the vote," he said. "The presbytery has the right to enforce the Book of Order. It does not have the right to interpret the Book of Order."
(Ann Rodgers can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1416.)