Church votes to allow homosexual ministers

Local Presbyterians offer range of reactions
By Sarah Moore
SCMoore@BeaumontEnterprise.com (409) 880-0730

While at a gathering of Presbyterians in Houston on Tuesday night, some of the “younger, really tech-savvy folks” were avidly checking their iPhones and Blackberries for the outcome of a vote by the General Assembly of the Pres-

byterian Church (USA), the Rev. Connie Alexander said. “We were sitting on pins and needles,” she added. Alexander and her group weren’t the only ones anxiously awaiting the outcome of a vote that would allow homosexuals to serve in Presbyterian ministry. The issue has been
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change: Region’s presbytery voted against
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debated within the church for many years, ministers say. Finally, while the group was at dinner, the vote came in. A majority of the 173 presbyteries that make up the Presbyterian Church (USA) voted to change ordination standards to allow — although not to mandate — homosexual or transgender individuals to serve as ministers, deacons and elders in the church. The amendment changes wording that for about the past 15 years restricted ordination to people in traditional marriages or in “chastity in singleness.” The new language says in part, “Governing bodies should be guided by Scripture and the confessions in applying standards of individual candidates.” However, things aren’t likely to change too much in Southeast Texas, ministers here say. The presbytery that represents about 110 churches here and in the Houston area, the Presbytery of New Covenant, would make the call on whether to ordain openly gay ministers — and the elders of that body voted against the amendment. Although the presbytery must approve ministers, individual congregations can decide whether to allow homosexual elders and deacons within their churches, said the Rev. Mike Cole, general presbyter of the Presbytery of New Covenant. The Rev. Harlan Merriam, pastor of St. Andrew Presbyterian Church in Beaumont, said there likely would be a wide range of reactions to the change — it might drive some away from churches in which

they have been lifelong members while it draws others to return to a church they felt alienated from. “We’re just in flux; it’s a polarizing issue,” he said. “Sexuality is a deep thing.” He declined to take a stand either way, adding that “We have looked at this for 20some years; for me, there are other things to (consider).” Cole acknowledged that the decision would be controversial and urged church leaders to remain unified in Christ’s mission. In an email, Cole asked Presbyterians here “to practice mutual forbearance in humility with one another” as the church adjusts to the changes in ordination. “My other encouragement is for us all to breathe deeply (multiple times); pray fervently (constantly) and react moderately (as often as possible) as we live into this emerging reality.” The Rev. Clay Faulk of Providence Church in Nederland said as a conservative, he disagrees with the amendment of the ordination requirements. However, he feels it is unlikely to have much local impact and in fact anticipated that this might only be a “temporary” measure. “I wouldn’t be surprised if it changed again,” he said. He added that not all those who want to enter ministry are necessarily qualified. “For example, a pastor who has been found to have had an affair — we wouldn’t necessarily allow him to continue, especially if he says it’s OK.” Faulk said Scripture was “very clear” on forbidding homosexuals from serving as officers of the church.

Alexander noted that Scripture on the subject has been a subject for debate for many years — as was Scripture concerning issues such as slavery and women in the ministry. The Presbyterian Church (USA) first allowed women ministers in 1965, but for many years, only a handful were ordained. “It took a while — I think this is going to be the same,” Alexander said. While saying she thinks the amendment is sound, she quickly adds that she would not force her point of view on anyone she ministered to. Alexander, formerly at Drake Memorial Church in Orange and now out on disability and soon to retire, said the issue is “nothing to go off the deep end about.” The changes will, at the very least, inspire congregations to talk seriously about the issue of homosexuality within the church. “I personally am in favor of this, but I know that I haven’t served a church yet that would agree with me,” she said. Alexander said she felt that many church members who believe homosexuals are not morally fit to serve in ministry haven’t known many openly gay people. “I think when you see it in somebody you know and love, it makes all the difference,” she said. Other churches have grappled in recent years with the role that homosexuals should take within the church. The Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the United Church of Christ all have voted to permit ordination of homosexual ministers.

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