Candidates for clergy ordination in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) denounced recent church court decisions that upheld the denomination's ban against ordaining practicing homosexuals.
In a letter released this week by the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), 28 candidates – some anonymous – protested the rulings, arguing that the decisions were demeaning to gays.
"This PJC (Permanent Judicial Commission) decision puts a wedge between theology and practice, belief and action, being and doing," they stated in the open letter. "It demeans the lives of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer persons by again reducing our lives to sexual acts. It fails to recognize God's ability to choose whomever God wills to serve the Church. It perpetuates the mythology that sexual orientation is simply a matter of behavior. It says that we are not filled with God's grace."
The PC(USA)'s highest church court ruled last month in three separate decisions that candidates for ordination must follow the sexual behavior standards of fidelity and chastity and no ordaining body has the right to ordain a candidate in violation of those constitutional standards.
Unless there is a constitutional amendment to the standard, ordaining bodies must adhere to it.
The largest Presbyterian body in the country, the PC(USA) has been wracked with confusion and debates over gay ordination since the 2006 General Assembly adopted an "authoritative interpretation" of the ordination standard. Some felt the decision gave leeway to local and regional governing bodies to ordain practicing gay ministers.
Last month's rulings upheld the denomination's fidelity and chastity requirement – fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman, or chastity in singleness" – and were praised by conservatives.
"I commend the church court for making clear and final what ought to have been obvious all along: Our constitution appropriately forbids the ordination of persons unrepentantly remaining in sinful practices," said Jim Berkley, director of the Institute on Religion and Democracy's Presbyterian Action Committee. "No matter how de rigueur condoning sexual immorality becomes in society, Christians must hold to a higher standard that is unchanging."
The local rulings are believed to apply to the entire denomination.
"What we have found in these high court rulings is the Presbyterian constitution still works and it has turned out that the GA (2006 General Assembly) decision did not have the negative consequences that many people feared it would have," said Michael Walker, a Theologian-in-Residence at the prominent conservative Highland Park Presbyterian Church in Dallas.
But the 28 signers of this week's protest letter say they fear the direct effect of the ruling "will be to once again impose upon the ordination process a don't ask, don't tell policy."
"We are a gospel people, called to proclaim the good news of how God has loved and redeemed us and freed us for joyful service," they said in the letter. "It is tremendously painful and theologically suspect that our church should find it expedient that we must edit our lives, denying our full humanity which Jesus came to fully redeem, in order to be acceptable candidates for ordination."
"We live in hope that our sisters and brothers in Christ will know us, in the fullness of how God creates us, and affirm our gifts and call," they added.
Earlier this year, Lisa Larges, a lesbian and also one of the signers of the letter, had received support from the San Francisco Presbytery when she made a third bid to join the clergy. The presbytery approved Larges' application for ministry despite warnings that the action violated the church's constitution.
Opponents of Larges joining clergy said the problem was not the fact that Larges disagrees with a feature of the church constitution but that she won't abide by it.
Larges had refused to comply with the ordination standard of chastity.
While further debate over homosexuality is expected at the upcoming PC(USA) General Assembly in June 2008, IRD's Berkley hopes Presbyterians will continue to uphold the church constitution.
"We have debated the issue for three decades and always have arrived at the same answer: We will hold fast to biblical morality," he said. "We must not play with words and twist meanings to come up with absurdities, such as 'optional standards.' We need to simply observe the obvious meaning and beneficial intent of our church constitution and use it to practice a difficult love and care, as God has instructed us to do."