Presbyterian church to ordain gays and lesbians

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Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) will now ordain non-celibate gays and lesbians following ratification of a constitutional amendment late Tuesday night.

The denomination needed 87 votes in order to ratify the constitutional amendment.

The 87th vote came from a Minnesota presbytery that voted 205-56. This is a result of the fourth attempt since the late 1990’s to change the current constitution, which says, “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 — or chastity in singleness.”

Support for the ban waned in the most recent round of voting in 2008 and 2009. But many presbyteries, the local governing bodies, changed their votes from opposition to support in the current round of voting, USAToday reports:

“I didn’t actually expect to see this for many more years,” said the Rev. Ann Deibert, a co-pastor at Central Presbyterian Church in Louisville, which has long supported the change in policy.

The denomination “has talked about, prayed about, worked, discussed, discerned for 35 years,” she said. “It feels like an enormous gift and a breath of the Spirit. What it means is we are recognizing the gifts and graces of God in more and more people.”

The new language says nothing about marriage, singleness or sexuality.  Instead it says, “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. Governing bodies shall be guided by Scripture and the confessions in applying standards to individual candidates.”

Ratification occurred after several of conservative congregations left the denomination – Some of these congregations had large memberships and active leaders in resisting changes to ordination standards. Other conservative congregations are proposing a reorganization of presbyteries, asking to be separated  by theology, rather than location.

Presbyterians for Renewal, a Louisville-based coalition of evangelical churches, lamented “this unfaithful action” in a statement.

“In a lot of presbyteries, evangelical folks didn’t show up in enough numbers that it swung some votes,” added its executive director, the Rev. Paul Detterman. “How opposing sides can work together without compromising their core identities under the same denominational canopy is the question of the day.”

Other denominations that ordain gay or lesbian ministers include United Church of Christ, Episcopal Church and Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

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