TUPELO – As they’ve done numerous times, commissioners to the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church USA voted this week in Minneapolis to allow gay people to become officers in the church.
However, as previous years have shown, the vote does not mean non-celibate gays will serve as officers anytime soon, two Northeast Mississippi denominational leaders say.
At the previous assembly, two years ago, commissioners also voted to change the ordination standards for clergy, deacons and elders. But when the issue was presented to the denomination’s 173 presbyteries, a majority voted it down.
That’s probably going to happen again, according to the Rev. Tom Groome, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Tupelo.
“For some reason, the assembly seems to be more left than the elders in the pews,” said Groome, who attended a portion of the General Assembly.
Most likely in February, the 65 congregations in the Presbytery of St. Andrews, with offices in Oxford, will send at least one elder and one clergy delegate to a meeting in order to vote on the matter.
Fifty-three percent of the commissioners to the 219th General Assembly, elected from their regional, governing bodies called presbyteries, voted in favor of the more liberal policy on gays.
The vote pertained to ordination standards in the denomination’s constitution that for 30 years have called for chastity in marriage between and man and a woman, or celibacy in singleness for those ordained as clergy, deacons or elders.
The Rev. Ron Richardson of Tupelo is chair of the presbytery council, and he said that even if the more liberal standards don’t pass the presbyteries’ vote this year, change is coming.
“More people are getting an understanding of the predicament of gay and lesbian people,” said Richardson. “I think we come a little closer, each assembly, to passing it. Then perhaps, we can move on to other things.”
Some are leaving
Groome noted that “some conservative churches are leaving the denomination,” like Corinth First Presbyterian Church, which three years ago joined the Evangelical Presbyterian Church because of objections about what members perceived to be the direction of the PCUSA.
“We’re losing some of our conservative voice,” said Groome.
This week the General Assembly also voted to defer a decision on redefining marriage to include same-sex couples.
Fifty-one percent of the commissioners decided that, for at least two more years, the church will continue to define marriage as being between a man and a woman.
Other noteworthy votes this week included the passing of a proposed change to the Book of Order, which serves as a kind of standard operating procedures manual for the denomination.
Groome anticipated that the change in the church’s governmental structure would pass the vote of the presbyteries, adding, “We might go back to a Book of Order similar to what we had in the 1950s.” It would be a thinner version, Groome said, based more on principles.
The Presbyterian Church USA, with about 2.8 million members, is the largest of churches that carry the name Presbyterian. The denomination formed in 1983 as a result of the reunion between the so-called southern and northern branches of the church.
Other Presbyterian churches currently active in the U.S. are the Presbyterian Church in America, which recently ended its 38th annual General Assembly in Nashville, the Cumberland Presbyterian Church and the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church.
Contact Galen Holley at (662) 678-1510 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Galen Holley/NEMS Daily Journal