The court of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)'s Pacific Synod has nullified a narrow vote that deemed an openly gay church deacon in San Francisco ready to move forward in the ordination process.
"The [San Francisco] Presbytery erred when its CPM (Committee on Preparation for Ministry) recommended the Candidate was 'ready for examination,'" stated the Permanent Judicial Commission of the Synod of the Pacific, "because it ignored the Candidate's clear statement of defiance to the mandatory qualifications for ordination found in the Book of Order and specifically, section G-6.0106b."
According to the PC(USA)'s Book of Order, ordination is limited to those who "live either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman or chastity in singleness."
On Dec. 5, 2007, Lisa Larges of Noe Valley Ministry Presbyterian Church in San Francisco, had presented a written "statement of departure," saying she could not and would not concur with the denomination's long-standing church law after affirming in April 2004 a relationship not in compliance to the Book of Order.
She called the requirement a "mar upon the church and a stumbling block to its mission" and said it did not express essentials of Presbyterian faith, according to the PC(USA)'s news service.
The following month, the San Francisco Presbytery voted 167 to 151 to certify Larges as ready for examination "with departure," marking the first time a presbytery had approved action to consider a candidate who declared a conscientious objection to the denomination's ordination standards involving sexual practice.
Under a controversial policy adopted by the PC(USA)'s 217th General Assembly in 2006, ordaining bodies were given greater leeway to ordain candidates who declare conscientious objections to specific Presbyterian teachings, as long as the ordaining body does not consider them "essentials" of church belief.
According to the Pacific Synod court, however, the San Francisco Presbytery erred when its CPM "presented false, misleading, incomplete, and errant to the presbyters voting on the Candidate's departure."
"The Presbytery erred when its CPM recommended the Candidate was 'ready for examination' because it misled the commissioners by stating that 'essentials' rather than 'departures' from the essentials must be determined on a case-by-case basis," stated the court.
Furthermore, it added, "In voting to advance the Candidate as 'ready for examination' the Presbytery erred because it improperly granted the Candidate an exception to the mandatory behavioral ordination standard of G-6.0106b."
For these and other similar reasons, the court granted the request to rescind the presbytery's certification that the candidate is "ready for examination," thus barring Larges from ordination for a third time.
Larges, who was blind from birth, has reportedly been blocked from ordination for more than 20 years.
In a statement regarding Tuesday's decision, Larges said the ruling "has deeply personal and painful repercussions for my life and in the lives of other LGBT people earnestly seeking to serve the church."
"Procedural decisions like this, while important, pale in comparison to the greater urgency of removing all barriers to ordination for those who are called to freely serve the church," she stated.
Larges also expressed hope in an amendment now being voted on across the country by the PC(USA)'s 173 presbyteries that aims to delete the fidelity and chastity requirement for clergy from the constitution and open the way for the ordination of non-celibate homosexuals.
"It gives presbyteries clear authority to recognize the gifts and call of candidates for ministry they believe are fully qualified, no matter their sexual orientation or gender identity," she stated Wednesday. "Candidates, presbyteries and committees who have sought to act faithfully under the current constitution have only been rewarded with challenges and allegations."
Larges became a candidate for ministry in the Twin Cities Presbytery in 1986 and has been under the care of the Presbytery of San Francisco since April 1997.
Her denomination, the PC(USA), is the largest Presbyterian denomination in the United States.