The Judicial Commission of the Synod of the Trinity (PCUSA) has told the Pittsburgh Presbytery that it can’t define ordination standards as essential to Reformed polity, and that it can’t prohibit same-sex blessings. According to the Presbyterian News Service:
A church court has concluded that Pittsburgh Presbytery cannot “elevate” language from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) constitution to make compliance with ordination standards “essential” and that it must apply the guidelines to ministerial candidates on an individual basis.
The presbytery’s resolution called compliance with the PC(USA)’s ordination standards from The Book of Order, which require chastity in singleness or fidelity in heterosexual marriage, an “essential of Reformed polity.” It stated that no exceptions would be permitted within the jurisdiction of Pittsburgh Presbytery.
The resolution also said that clergy are prohibited from conducting same-sex marriages within the presbytery.
The synod PJC ruled 8-3 that the presbytery could not call the ordination standards “an essential” of Reformed polity.
Fine. So they can’t call it an “essential of Reformed polity.” How about if they just say, “we won’t ordain anyone who isn’t chaste in singleness and faithful in marriage.” Would that be suitable? Maybe:
In language affirming the national church’s stance, the synod PJC said candidates could disagree with ordination standards, but that obedience was mandatory.
“The freedom of conscience … allows candidates to express disagreement with the wording or meaning of provisions of the constitution, but does not permit disobedience to those behavioral standards,” the ruling said.
The standard of faithful marriage or chaste singleness “is a behaviorally measured standard which applies to all ordained officers of the church. It is clear. It is mandatory,” the ruling said.
So you can’t declare the standards “essential,” but adherence to them is mandatory. This all has to do with the PUP report, and the “authoritative interpretation” of the ordination standards. I’m not sure what the argument is here, but then again I’m not PCUSA. The article also said:
The synod PCJ voted 11-0 that Pittsburgh Presbytery had the right to prevent clergy from conducting same-sex marriages, but could not prohibit ministers from performing services to bless same-sex unions, a practice that the PC(USA)’s highest court, the General Assembly PJC, has upheld.
I’m not sure what it is that the GA PJC is supposed to have upheld–the right of presbyteries to prevent clergy from performing same sex marriages, or the right of clergy to perform same sex blessings. It does seem to be the case that the General Assembly defeated efforts to ban them back in 2001, however. Back to the story:
“The Book of Order (G-9.0103) states that when the Constitution is silent ‘powers not mentioned (are) reserved to the presbyteries,’” the ruling said. “Therefore, the Presbytery of Pittsburgh has the authority to establish policy disallowing Ministers of Word and Sacrament to conduct same-sex marriages.”
Which are not available to people in Pennsylvania in any case. One of the pastors who brought the complain, the Rev. Randall Bush of East Liberty Presbyterian Church, said this is response to the ruling:
“I’m please with the ruling’s recognition that presbyteries can’t establish essentials that automatically preclude entire groups of people from being considered for ordination,” he said. “And that all of our work should be done with an openness and discerning spirit considering the candidates for ordination on a case-by-case basis. I believe the synod ruling affirmed that and was please with its outcome.”
But obedience to the ordination standards is mandatory. So while celibate gays wouldn’t be ruled out automatically, any who were sexually active would be. Is that “an entire group of people”? I suspect Rev. Bush would say so, but I don’t know that for sure.
The whole thing is likely to be appealed. And the beat goes on.