As Presbyterians in Charlotte approved an amendment that would open the way for the ordination of non-celibate homosexuals, one pastor is speaking out, concerned that the Church is compromising its witness in morally ambiguous times.
"The approved amendment, in violating the teachings of Scripture and our confessional history, puts the church in the position of accommodating itself to a culture that is demanding permission for behaviors and patterns of life that, while self-gratifying, are not biblically permissible," states Jim Szeyller, pastor of Carmel Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, N.C., in a commentary published Thursday in The Charlotte Observer.
Last week, the Presbytery of Charlotte – a regional body of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) – voted 177-139 to support a constitutional amendment that would delete language requiring clergy "to lead a life in obedience to Scripture" and to live in "fidelity within the covenant of marriage between and a man and a woman, or chastity in singleness."
The proposed substitute language states that clergy must "pledge themselves to live lives obedient to Jesus Christ ... striving to follow where he leads through the witness of the Scriptures, and to understand the Scriptures through the instruction of the Confessions. In so doing, they declare their fidelity to the standards of the Church."
Some believe the new language would not only allow partnered gays and lesbians to be ordained but weaken the denomination's witness to biblical standards.
"The proposed amendment grants freedom from Scripture to do what seems right in our own eyes," Terry Schlossberg of The Presbyterian Coalition stated earlier. The coalition launched a campaign to defeat the amendment which requires a majority approval from the PC(USA)'s 173 presbyteries.
As of Wednesday, 36 presbyteries have approved the amendment and 46 have voted against it, according to The Layman.
Szeyller, saddened by his presbytery's vote on Saturday, asked to have his dissent recorded in the official minutes of the presbytery.
"Our culture is looking for grace-filled, humble clarity," he states in his commentary. "We live in turbulent and morally ambiguous times. The Presbytery of Charlotte has lost an opportunity to be clear and relevant. The approved amendment only exacerbates the moral ambiguity of our culture."
The Charlotte pastor, who is also serving as chair of the Special Committee to Study Issues of Civil Union and Christian Marriage in the PC(USA), clarifies that the issue wracking the denomination is not about justice, the inclusion of homosexuals or just about homosexuality.
Instead, "the issue is about our individual, church and denominational witness that is finding itself weakened and compromised by an on-going strident and sometimes hurtful debate that threatens to divide our denomination. We do not present ourselves well to a world that is looking for a gracious and kind alternative to the nasty dialogue that passes for much of our civil debate," Szeyller says.
Also, "the issue is about the authority of Scripture. As Christians, we proclaim that the Bible is the unique and authoritative Word of God. We declare that our creeds and confessions are reliable expositions of Scripture. We promise to be guided by those confessions."
He adds, "We all stand in need of God's grace. But we lessen our dependence upon that grace by blessing behaviors believed to be against God's desire for creation."
Responding to proponents of the amendment who argue that one is only a full member of the church if they have the right to assume leadership roles, Szeyller argues that the Church should then do away with all standards and committees that discern those called to leadership.
"One could then simply stand up and demand the 'right' to be an elder, deacon, or pastor under the authority of one's 'right' to full membership in the church," he contends.
Szeyller does not plan to leave the denomination as dozens of other churches have done over the years, but he says his congregation will continue to participate as members of the presbytery "with a heavy heart."
Presbyteries in the PC(USA) began voting on the amendment last year after the 2008 General Assembly – the highest governing body in the denomination – voted to send the measure to the presbyteries for approval.
Similar proposals to delete the "fidelity and chastity" requirement were voted down by presbyteries in 1997 and 2000.
On the Web: Full commentary here