Presbyterian Church (USA), the nation’s largest Presbyterian organization, voted yesterday to overturn its ban on ordaining non-celibate gays and lesbians for church leadership positions, reversing more than three decades of official policy.
The organization’s General Assembly approved the change last summer, but a majority of the church’s 173 regional organizations, known as presbyteries, had to affirm the change before it became official. Yesterday, the Minneapolis-based Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area provided the deciding vote, becoming the 87th presbytery to approve the change in the church’s constitution.
Rev. Chaz Ruark, the executive presbyter of the Twin Cities presbytery, told ThinkProgress that debate about the ban primarily stemmed different interpretations of Biblical scripture.
RUARK: It’s a difference in how Scriptures are understood. … This is something about which good people of faith are disagreeing. I don’t fully understand why that is. We’re going through a time of transition in this world, and this is an issue where, for whatever reason, the spirit has allowed good people of faith to disagree.
The approved change will remove the requirement that all ministers, elders, and deacons live in “fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman or chastity in singleness.” Instead, it will say, “Standards for ordained service reflect the church’s desire to submit joyfully to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in all aspects of life.” The new policy will not force different presbyteries to ordain gays if they choose not to.
While this is a “major change” in church policy, leaders will “still have to stand by basic tenets of our faith,” Ruark said. “What this does is, if the people of Minneapolis feel Joe Smith is right to lead this church they have the right to make this call,” even if “Joe Smith” is openly gay.
Ruark is “hopeful” that members who opposed lifting the ban, which includes many of the organization’s more conservative presbyteries, will give the new policy a chance. “I don’t know anyone who agrees with everything in our constitution,” he said. “The question is, can you accept it and still operate in the faith with integrity.”
The change in the church’s constitution will take effect July 10.