Presbyterians to Consider Clearer Restrictions Against Women Leaders

Women in the Presbyterian Church in America may face stricter rules regarding the offices they serve in.

The Central Carolina Presbytery has submitted an overture for consideration by the denomination's highest governing body, asking that women be stripped of the title "deaconess."

Currently, women in the PCA are excluded from serving as ministers, elders and deacons but the Book of Church Order allows for them to "assist the deacons in caring for the sick, the widows, the orphans, the prisoners, and others who may be in any distress or need."

To avoid confusion and to prevent misuse of the provision, Andrew Webb, pastor of Providence Presbyterian Church in Fayetteville, N.C., authored the overture, claiming that several churches in the PCA currently elect and commission women to the office of deacon and call them by the title deacon or deaconess.

"[BCO 9-7] is now being used as a loophole to allow women to be elected as deacons," said Webb, according to PCA's magazine, By Faith. "The issue is, in essence, unresolved in our denomination. We need to come to a place where we come to a decision one way or another."

Webb proposes adding language to the Book of Church Order that would establish a clear distinction between assistants and deacons.

"These assistants to the deacons shall not be referred to as deacons or deaconesses, nor are they to be elected by the congregation nor formally commissioned, ordained, or installed as though they were office bearers in the church," the overture states.

The overture reiterates the denomination's belief that the "officers of the Church ... are, according to the Scriptures, teaching and ruling elders and deacons (BCO 1-5) and that in accord with Scripture, these offices are open to men only."

Women ordination is one of the issues that caused some 260 congregations to split from the Presbyterian Church in the United States (Southern) in 1973 and form what is now the PCA. They opposed the PCUS' approval of women ordination as well as "the long-developing theological liberalism which denied the deity of Jesus Christ and the inerrancy and authority of Scripture."

Webb says the new generation of pastors is leaning toward "egalitarianism," which concerns him.

"If we follow evangelicalism, we will inevitably become egalitarian. What we're trying to do is stake our claim," he said, as reported by By Faith.

A study last year by the Barna Group found that the percentage of U.S. Protestant women serving as senior pastors doubled over the past decade, from 5 percent in the 1990s to 10 percent in 2009. More than half of female pastors were affiliated with a mainline church.

The proposal on women will be considered during PCA's 38th General Assembly in Nashville, Tenn., this summer. Overtures in 2009 requesting the formation of a committee to study women's roles in PCA churches were rejected.

PCA is the second largest Presbyterian church body in the U.S. with some 340,000 members.

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