A few months ago, I came across a vignette in a book that noted a discussion between an African and American clergyman. The American clergyman was sharing how the American church has become more lenient toward homosexuality and that it was counter-cultural to voice any disapproval on the issue. The African clergyman was perplexed, believing that what the Bible said about homosexuality is true and that the growing laissez-faire stance of the American church on this issue was cause for great concern. The African clergyman responded, “If you do not believe the Bible, then why did you bring it to us in the first place?”
As reported by the New York Times, the national assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) of 2.1 million members voted 205 to 56, with 3 abstentions, to eliminate the celibacy requirement for unmarried clergy in its constitution on Tuesday, May 10, 2011, opening the door for the gays to openly serve as ordained clergy. This vote reverses a decision made two years ago where the majority of presbyteries voted against the measure. The change takes effect on July 10, 2011. The PCUSA follows in the footsteps of the Episcopal Church in 2003, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in 2009, and other denominations caving into continual gay and lesbian advocacy and the tide of cultural acceptability.
On their website, the PCUSA, headquartered in Louisville, offered both before and after wording comparisons:
BEFORE. The wording of the former provision (6.0106b) stated: “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 (W-4.9001), or chastity in singleness [this clause removed in approved provision below]. 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.”
AFTER. The wording of the approved provision (G-6.0106b) states: “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 the 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.”
Commenting in surprise to have the needed votes (as quoted in the NY Times piece), Rev. Gradye Parsons, the stated clerk for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), “attributed the turnabout in the votes to both the growing acceptance of homosexuality in the larger culture, and to church members simply wearying of the conflict.”
Once again, I’m incredulous. Let me be clear. I am not supporting gay bashing, bullying, or denigration of any one on the basis of sexual preference. At the same time, I am taking a stand against the tsunami of public opinion that clearly supports the notion that it is okay to have sex outside of a committed relationship between a man and a woman. There will be those who appeal to the Christian message of loving everyone as a reason to accept gays and lesbians as ordained clergy. But the truth is that American is continuing in a downward ethical spiral that compromises our moral integrity and compass.
- How do followers of Jesus respond in a culture that has lost any spiritual mooring regarding the holiness of God? Put another way, how do we explain to our children that some churches (like the PCUSA) approve of sex outside of a committed marital relationship between a man and a woman?
- How do we respond to these cultural trends without seeming to operate in what some may view as both being narrow and judgmental, yet at the same time dialoging about these important issues in a spirit of love, grace, and truth?