Following ratification by the majority of the nation’s 173 regional presbyteries, the Presbyterian Church USA has officially approved the ordination of active homosexuals to its clergy. In doing so, the denomination, which has 2.8 million members, abolished a policy that had required candidates for ordination to live “in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman, or chastity in singleness.”
(Reprint of a Catholic by Grace article from 2009.)
(Not) By Popular Demand
It happened when I was in middle school. The Presbyterian Church held its annual General Assembly in Baltimore one year (1977) and Philadelphia the next (1978). My father was selected to be a delegate from his presbytery, the first year as a seminary student and the second year as a member of the clergy. It was my first encounter with the clash between conservatives and liberals within a faith community. I remember seeing picketers in front of the convention center where the delegates gathered to make decisions regarding the denomination and its trajectory. I asked my dad why the picketers were there.
They wanted the denomination to approve the ordination of practicing homosexual clergymen and women, he said. “They might do that?” I asked in disbelief.
“Most of the delegates are against it. It’s not going to be approved.” And the measure wasn’t approved – not that year.
But, like many denominations, the Presbyterian delegates decided things by vote, and the gap between the “conservative” and “liberal” delegates narrowed every year. The views of the culture were changing, and soon it would affect the stance of the denomination.
In 2008, the Presbyterian Church (USA) lifted a ban on ordaining gay and lesbian clergy. They passed the final decision on to individual presbyteries for local approval. To date, 80 presbyteries have voted against the measure and 56 have voted for it.
It is a story that is told and retold in every faith community but one. Truth changes with popular opinion. It not only affects denominational teaching on gay marriage and ordination, but it has affected denominational stances on women’s ordination, artificial contraception, and abortion.
I grew up in faith communities that viewed artificial contraception as practical and necessary, but a mere forty years earlier, no denomination supported it.
In my formative years, I didn’t know any denominations that ordained women. Then my dad switched denominations (Wesleyan to Presbyterian), and it was suddenly in vogue. Today, many of the most conservative denominations ordain women.
Likewise, abortion is up for debate in almost every faith community, with some viewing it as a fundamental right, some adamantly opposing it, and some refusing to take sides.
Change comes slowly in these faith communities, over the course of generations. But it does come. I suppose it is inevitable that the culture will impact the faith, but it should never change the essence of right and wrong. Truth is unchangeable.
There is only one Church that has withstood the changing tides of time. One Church that teaches the tenets of the Faith and never changes them once they are laid down as official Church teaching. It isn’t about being conservative or liberal, Midwestern or cosmopolitan. It is about truth. What is the name of this Church that holds her ground and will not be swayed by popular vote?
The Catholic Church. She alone is a solid rock.
You may say, that can’t be right – my senses told me that truth was over here or over there. Like St. Peter, there are times when we all say, this is a difficult teaching, Lord. But, with grace, we can say with St. Peter, you have the words of eternal life, where else can we go?