We’re meeting at Cherry Creek Presbyterian Church in Englewood, Colorado, and about to start the afternoon session. The docket says that what is likely to be the most controversial issue, the report of the Interim Committee on Women Teaching Elders, is scheduled for discussion in this session.
Unfortunately, the link at the EPC web site says the file is damaged, so I can’t link to it, but I can give a summary. The presenting issue is that in the EPC, the ordination of women as teaching elders is considered a non-essential that each presbytery can decide on its own (each church is free to ordain women as ruling elders or not as their convictions dictate). Some, such as my Presbytery of the East, have voted to ordain teaching elders without regard to gender; others have not to not do so. This has really become an issue since the New Wineskins churches began leaving the PCUSA for the EPC. Some of them have women pastors, and the question has been, how do we offer a welcoming environment for these congregations without some being required to compromise their beliefs?
The interim committee came up with a solution that I think is a terrific approach. It has several facets. First, it reaffirms the EPC position paper on the subject, and recommends adding selections from the paper to the Book of Government. Second, it proposes an amendment to the Book of Government that makes the transfer process for congregations clear. The committee writes:
The interim committee does not advocate running from this potential conflict but heading into it with humility and a conviction that we will honor God by treating one another respectfully. The unique ethos of the EPC on women’s ordination intrinsically implies that not all Presbyterians will be comfortable with our ecclesiastical arrangement.
While we live with this discomfort in love, we also desire to find a solution regarding the calling of women as Teaching Elders in congregations that fall within the bounds of presbyteries that have not previously approved such calls. In particular, we recognize that churches entering geographic presbyteries from the New Wineskins Transitional Presbytery, as well as other non-EPC churches, may come from women Teaching Elders already installed. We desire to provide freedom for these congregations without compromising the constitutional authority exercised by presbyteries.
That’s the intention, and I think they achieved it. The second facet of their solution is a proposed amendment to the Book of Government that allows a congregation that either already has or wishes to call a woman as Teaching Elder (or endorse one for ordination candidacy) to petition to change presbyteries to one that will allow it. It then lays out the requirements for doing so. The idea is that it permits maximum freedom on what is considered a non-essential, without forcing anyone to compromise principles. A third facet lays out a process for churches coming from non-EPC settings that is based on the same idea.
The question has been asked, why didn’t the committee allow for complementarian (non-women ordaining) to also switch if it finds itself in an egalitarian (women ordaining) presbytery? The reason is that a complementarian congregation will never be forced to accept a woman teaching elder, while the non-essential nature of the issue means that every EPC church agrees to work with whoever the congregations of its presbytery chooses to send to presbytery. In other words, the issue here is not theological or biblical, but practical.
So that’s the basic outline of the proposal. We’re currently discussing each element of the proposal, with the committee taking questions. New Wineskins churches are asking most of them, seeking to clarify exactly where they stand. The question just asked is a good one: can churches change presbyteries based on egalitarian views, even if there is no woman currently on their staff or foreseen in the future? The answer is no–the EPC doesn’t have “affinity” presbyteries, and sees this not as a matter of separation based on views, but rather as a relief measure for churches that are actually in a difficult situation involving a real teaching elder.
In answer to another question, it was stated that any woman teaching elder would be able to take any call that was offered and agreed upon, with the proposal opening that possibility up while currently there are many calls that women TEs could not take.
Time has run out, and we’re heading to standing committees. We’ll be discussing further and voting on this issue tomorrow. More to come.