Reformed Church Removes 'Conscience' Exemption for Women's Ordination

The General Synod of the Reformed Church in America has voted to remove a conscience-based exemption for individuals regarding the ordination of women.

In a vote of 143 to 69, the General Synod removed a clause from the denomination's Book of Church Order that specified instances in which someone could refuse to participate in the ordination of women and when they could not.

Christina Tazelaar, managing editor of the denomination's publication RCA Today, told The Christian Post that the decision came in response to a survey of female RCA ministers.

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"The survey showed good news – women reported better support and fewer obstacles to ministry than they did thirty years ago, when the RCA first began ordaining women," said Tazelaar.

"Even so, 24 percent reported some obstacle or setback to their candidacy for ordination as a result of inappropriate use of the conscience clauses."

The Reformed Church in America began to allow for the ordination of female clergy back in 1979. By 1980, the General Synod had amended the Book of Church Discipline to clarify their position on the matter. This included amending the language of Part I, Article 1, Section 3 of the BCO from "persons" to "men and women."

Given the divisive nature of the debate, to help church unity the General Synod in 1980 added a "conscience clause" to the BCO as a compromise between churches who supported women's ordination and those who opposed.

"If individual members of the classis find that their consciences, as illuminated by Scripture, would not permit them to participate in the licensure, ordination or installation of women as ministers of the Word, they shall not be required to participate in decisions or actions contrary to their consciences, but may not obstruct the classis in fulfilling its responsibility to arrange for the care, ordination, and installation of women candidates and ministers by means mutually agreed on by such women and the classis," read Part II, Article 2, Section 7.

Tazelaar explained to CP that the General Synod's vote is simply the beginning of the process for removing the "conscience clause."

"That change must be approved by two-thirds of the RCA's classes (local governing bodies) for ratification," said Tazelaar.

"Those votes will take place at classis meetings over the coming year, and the results of the votes will be accepted at General Synod 2013."

The vote took place during the annual meeting of the General Synod of RCA, which began its meeting on Thursday, June 21, at Trinity Christian College in Palos Heights, Ill.

Other business at the Synod included the creation of a new committee to address issues regarding homosexuality and the election of a new Synod president, Tom Smith. Smith, who has held several other positions in RCA, was elected president and will be installed at the closing worship service of General Synod. His term will expire at General Synod 2013.

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