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Covenant of Dissent and Support



Update: In 2011, PC(USA) Agrees to More Inclusive Ordinations

In May 2011, a majority of the 173 presbyteries in the Presbyterian Church (USA) ratified an amendment to the church's constitution, removing the provision that flatly prohibited the ordination of sexually active unmarried Presbyterians as church officers. The 87th vote in favor of the measure - dubbed Amendment 10-A - was cast on May 10 by the Twin Cities Presbytery.

The change took effect July 10. Ordaining bodies - local church sessions for elders and deacons, and presbyteries for ministers - now have more flexibility in determining individual candidates' fitness for ordained office.

Stone Church has long argued for this change. Stone proudly flies the Rainbow Flag as a symbol of our welcoming of all people, regardless of their sexual orientation. Our Mission Statement includes the phrase, "We welcome diversity and sing our differences in harmony and without fear." We have, over the years, quietly ordained gays and lesbians as both elders and deacons - in the face of the old prohibition.

Presbyterians are not of one mind about the wisdom of this reform and the interpretation of scripture in matters of sexual ethics. The constitutional change recognizes this fact - that Presbyterians hold and respect diverse views. All of us need to work to promote dialogue and shared mission within Stone Church and across the national church.

... as reported in the Stone News, June 2011

 

Adopted by Session February, 1998

With the enactment of G-6.0106b -- popularly known as Amendment B, or the Fidelity and Chastity Amendment to the Book of Order, the Session of The Stone Church of Willow Glen, Presbyterian Church (USA) finds itself in spiritual pain over the conflicts that exist between the provisions of this amendment[1] and:

  • Our supreme obligation to obey Jesus Christ
  • Our understanding of Scripture
  • Our guidance by the Book of Confessions
  • Our compliance with the Book of Order
Therefore, with great reluctance we must broach our dissent to this action of our denomination. And we strongly support the proposed G-6.0106b approved by the 1997 General Assembly, [2] which resolves these problems.

As Galileo found after observing the solar system through the telescope,we are compelled to reconcile our beliefs with the observable reality of the world that God has created. [3] Our faith that Jesus calls us to dissent from the newly enacted amendment comes from our personal witness to the work done in his name and to his glory by those whom this amendment bans from church offices, in particular the gay and lesbian Presbyterians against whom it is targeted. [4] They have worshipped with us in the pews. They have made music in the choir. They have spoken to us from the pulpit. They have taught and ministered to us and to our children. They have contributed their spiritual gifts and their worldly resources to the mission of Christ's church. They have patched the mortar, tended the flowers and cleaned the toilets of God's house. And we confidently believe they have been serving the Lord in these and other ways since the founding of the church, before it began to be acceptable for their sexuality to be known. They have served well and faithfully in the offices from which they are now excluded. They are God's beloved children, different from others in distinctions people alone choose to recognize. [5]

We believe the enacted amendment is a grave violation of the central lesson of Jesus' teaching and his example on earth: To love, as he did, all women and men, regardless of their individual human conditions, including social, political and legal outcasts, which in his day included lepers, tax collectors and prostitutes. There is no instance in scripture where Jesus turned aside anyone who came to him in faithfulness. The Presbyterian Church, following his example, requires only a profession of faith for membership (G-5.0101a). [6] This is the Christ we must obey.

We believe the enacted amendment reverses the Reformed tradition understanding of the place of the confessions relative to Christ and Scripture, that is: Christ first, Scripture second, and Confessions third. The amendment makes adherence to specific portions of the confessions an absolute, over-riding requirement for ordination and installation. This contradicts our promise at ordination to be "in obedience to Jesus Christ, under the authority of Scripture, and be continually guided by our confessions" (G- 14.0207d for deacons and elders and G- 14.0405b4 for ministers [7]). The enacted amendment makes conformity with the confessions a primary requirement for ordination, independent of our understanding of Christ as revealed in Scripture. This contradicts the understanding of the Reformed faith, expressed in the Book of Order that: .... These confessional statements are subordinate standards in the church, subject to the authority of Jesus Christ, the Word of God, as the Scriptures bear witness to him" (G-2.0200). The enacted amendment equates obedience to the confessions with obedience to Christ. This contradicts the understanding of the Reformed faith, expressed in the Book of Order that: .... The Word confessed is always judged by the living Word, Jesus Christ, as attested in Scripture" (W-2.2009).

We believe the enacted amendment contradicts both the Reformed Tradition understanding of the confessions and the authority the confessions accord themselves. The confessions "are not to be made the rule of faith or practice, but to be used as a help in both," according to the Westminster Confession of Faith (C-6.1753)[8]. The enacted amendment disqualifies virtually all members from office for failure to live up to numerous confessional standards, many of which are properly disregarded as inapplicable in our place and time. The enacted amendment requires vows of chastity, which are forbidden by the Westminster Confession of Faith (C-6.126)[9] and the Larger Catechism (C-7.249)[10], both of which are contained in the Book of Confessions. The enacted amendment places the confessions on equal footing with obedience to Jesus Christ, even though the confessions yield to him as final authority.[11]

We believe the enacted amendment usurps the democratic foundation of church government embodied in the Book of Order, which has served the church well since its founding, [12] and places us in an untenable position by requiring compliance with contradictory rules. We cannot comply with the enacted amendment without violating the right of members to elect members of their choosing in G-1.0306.[13] We cannot comply with the enacted amendment without violating the requirement that we not deny membership to anyone for any ...." reason not related to profession of faith" in G-5.0103.[14] We cannot comply with the enacted amendment without violating the rights of all members "to vote and hold office" in G-5.0202.[15] We cannot comply with the enacted amendment without violating the principle that church government is representative and the "inalienable" right of God's people to elect their officers in G-6.0107.[16] We cannot comply with the enacted amendment without creating a standard of ordination forbidden in G-6.0102.[17] We cannot comply with the enacted amendment and obey our consciences as required in G-1.0301.[18] We cannot comply with the enacted amendment and fulfill our ordination promise to be .... "in obedience only to Jesus Christ" in G-14.0207d and G14.0405b4. [19]

The version of G-6.0106b passed by the General Assembly in 1997 and awaiting ratification by the Presbyteries does not require us to discriminate against our fellow Presbyterians. It does not place our obedience to Christ in conflict with Scripture, the Book of Confessions or the Book of Order. And it does not elevate the authority of the confessions to equal obedience to Christ's will.

Therefore we covenant together to: [20]
  • Reaffirm our action in 1989 making all members of Stone Church, regardless of race, ethnic background or sexual orientation, eligible for ordination and installation to church offices.
  • Instruct the nominating committee to disregard the provisionsof the enacted G-6.0106b.
  • Practice and encourage tolerance and respect for those members of Stone Church who dissent from our views and actions. [21]
  • Work and pray for the ratification of the proposed new G-6.0106b adopted by the 1997 General Assembly and for the reconciliation of the church.
  • Remain in the Presbyterian Church (USA).
  • Continue full financial support of the Presbyterian Church (USA) and its per capital apportionment.
  • Participate in the disciplinary measures that may be brought against us as a result of this covenant.



Footnotes to the Covenant

Questions and Answers about the Covenant

 


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