Opponents of Presbyterian "Fidelity and Integrity"
Strategizing to defeat passage of Amendment A of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), opponents of the commonly called "fidelity and integrity" amendment met in Dallas Sept. 29-30 for "Gathering of Presbyterians II," a meeting sponsored by the Presbyterian Coalition.
Composed of approximately 1,000 registered participants and observers from more than 136 of the denomination's 173 presbyteries, the Gathering was convened by the Rev. David L. Dobler, moderator of the 205th General Assembly (1993), as well as the Rev. Roberta Hestenes, chair of the Assembly Committee on Ordination and Human Sexuality of the 208th General Assembly (1996), which proposed Amendment B – the commonly called "fidelity and chastity" amendment that is now G-6.0106b of the "Book of Order" – and the Rev. Thomas W. Gillespie, president of Princeton Theological Seminary.
Presbyteries will be deliberating and voting on Amendment A from early winter until the General Assembly meets next June in Charlotte, North Carolina. This vote is the latest salvo in a more than 20- year interdenominational conflict over whether or not to ordain sexually active homosexuals and, more recently, whether or not to ordain sexually active but unmarried heterosexuals. Passed last spring, the present G-6.0106b – familiarly called the "fidelity and chastity" amendment (Amendment B) – distinctly prohibits both.
But opponents of Amendment A say the debate this time is not just about sexual fidelity but about a spiritual obligation to further the peace, unity and purity of the Presbyterian Church. They say Amendment A trivializes the processes of the church and the deliberations of its presbyteries. Additionally, they argue, Amendment A undermines the institution of Christian marriage, sets aside biblical standards of sexual morality (including chastity in singleness) and encourages people to do what is right in their own eyes – in other words, moral relativism.
Regional groups met during the Dallas session to plan how to make those points in their presbyteries. Seminars at the gathering covered many topics, including how to teach, preach, and support biblical sexual ethics in a morally confused culture, how to prayerfully support the Word and the Holy Spirit at work among Christians and how to participate in God's reformation of the church in the 21st century.
"There is so much wrong with Amendment A, there is sufficient reason for everyone to vote no," said the Rev. David L. Dobler, keynote speaker during the opening plenary Sept. 29.
Yet, while clearly critical of Amendment A, Dobler cautioned against giving credence to those who would split the church over the ordination issue, likening their reaction to "waking up in the middle of the night and smelling smoke."
"There are likely people in that house [the church] you could hardly run away from," Dobler said. "If you know that down the hall in the other bedroom there is another family member in it, do you just leave then and run away? Heavens no! If there are people to be saved, we save all those folks at the risk of our own lives. And there's no sense and no honor and no holiness in smelling smoke, not caring about the rest and cutting out."
Dobler said a recent Presbyterian Panel survey indicates 75 percent of PC(USA) elders oppose the ordination of self-affirmed, practicing homosexuals. However, Dobler condemned the practice of congregations withholding either per capita or mission funds as a means of impacting denominational policy, going so far as to call for the destruction of a resolution on per capita withholding that was included in a resource booklet distributed during the Gathering.
"We do not need a formula for withholding funds," Dobler said. "There is no holiness from withholding. The desired effect will not be achieved by withholding funds. And there is absolutely no reason for anybody to doubt where their mission money is going and how it is going to be used."
Theresa Latini, executive director of One By One, a PC(USA)-affiliated ministry designed to address the needs of those "in conflict with their sexuality," said she is a former lesbian who "abandoned her lifestyle after she accepted Jesus Christ as her Lord and Savior." Latini said she believes the current homosexual struggle in the life of the church can in fact become a blessing for the entire denomination – but only if members remain open to God's will.
"There are those in our congregations who have been cruelly wounded and who need to know the healing touch of our loving Heavenly Father," Latini said. "Some of those individuals battle homosexual desire and temptation. Because of what they have seen and heard, they may feel that God has abandoned them in their struggle. We need to minister both the grace and truth of Jesus Christ to encourage them on their journey toward wholeness."
Speaking during the evening plenary Sept. 29, the Rev. Thomas W. Gillespie cited James 1:19 and urged his audience to "be doers of the word of God and not hearers only," regarding the ordination debate. He said God is calling people to bear a faithful witness in the midst of a confused secular society, one where "truth has become just an opinion and morality just a preference.
"I admire a church that witnesses to its culture out of a deep confessional conviction," Gillespie said. "And I desire to be part of a church that can do the same. Yet we are drowning in a sea of sexual liberalism in our culture. And in the midst of all this, what do we get? Amendment A. Let's call it what it is – amoral A."
Proponents of Amendment A argue the present debate is not about sexual fidelity as much as it is about fidelity to a theological tradition that places grace before verdict and about the preservation of a growlingly segmented church. Amendment B, they say, deviates from Reformed understandings of sin, particularly sexual sin, scriptural rule and the role of the confessions. They also maintain it is divisive to order a solution now to an elemental debate that is so uncertain for many Presbyterians that the previous two General Assemblies have suggested virtually opposing amendments.
"We cannot live as a denomination if we have to resolve this one way or another," said the Rev. John Buchanan of Chicago, co-convener of the Covenant Network of Presbyterians (CNP), a group organized exclusively to support passage of Amendment A. "And in the long run, Amendment A gives us a better chance of holding together, of not driving people out of the church."
The Rev. Jack Haberer of Houston, Presbyterian Coalition co-moderator, said approximately $20,000 has been raised so far for the group's efforts since the 209th General Assembly (1997) in June. Haberer estimated a total budget of $200,000 to $300,000.
Andrews said that in addition to providing supporters with information booklets, Presbyterian Coalition officials will seek out leaders to continue the discussion in the years ahead. He said the Coalition also intends to engage in a "church-by-church, presbytery-by-presbytery and network-by- network process of seeking God's will for the denomination.
"It is premature to announce a strategy or even settle in on one," Andrews said. "We do not know it now. But it is not too soon to begin to think and to talk and to address others in peace and commitment so that we may hear God's voice."
U.S. News: Reformed Christian Classis Votes to Seize Christ Community's Property Unless Seceding Church Negotiates with Classis. By Darrell Todd Maurina.