SYRACUSE--By an even greater margin than last year's General Assembly passed Amendment B -- the commonly-called "fidelity and chastity" amendment -- the 209th General Assembly today voted to send a far less restrictive amendment to the presbyteries that would replace the controversial measure.
The vote on the proposed revision to what is now G-6.0106b was 328-217, or 60 percent to 40 percent. Amendment B passed last year's Assembly by a 57 percent to 43 percent margin.
It was adopted after the Assembly rejected by a 309-227 vote a minority report from seven members of its Assembly Committee on the "Book of Order" reaffirming the passage of Amendment B and pledging Presbyterians "to walk together through the grief which is felt by many in the Presbyterian Church and do all we can to embrace each other with the grace of Jesus Christ."
The new amendment, which now goes to the presbyteries for their affirmative or negative votes during the coming year:
* requires church officers to "lead a life in obedience to Jesus Christ under the authority of scripture" rather than in Amendment B's "in obedience to scripture";
* requires them to "be instructed by the historic confessional standards of the church" rather than Amendment B's "in conformity" to them;
* requires them to "demonstrate fidelity and integrity in marriage or singleness, and in all relationships of life" rather than living "in fidelity within the covenant of marriage of a man and a woman or chastity in singleness"; and
* states that "candidates for ordained office shall acknowledge their own sinfulness, their need for repentance, and their reliance on the grace and mercy of God to fulfill the duties of their office" rather than Amendment B's "persons refusing to repent of any self-acknowledged practice which the confessions call sin shall not be ordained and/or installed" as church officers.
Debate on the proposed amendment, which during the Assembly has received the moniker "Amendment B-plus," was dignified, thoughtful, passionate and long. Scores of commissioners were still lined up to speak when debate was ended.
Assembly Committee on the "Book of Order" chair the Rev. Laird Stuart of San Francisco Presbytery insisted that the new amendment "affirms authoritative interpretation [barring the ordination of sexually-active gay and lesbian Presbyterians]...and affirms the right of the denomination to set ordination standards." However, Stuart continued, "Out of what we have heard came our conclusion that something needs to be done. The turmoil and discord [following the passage of Amendment B] is not going to go away and our only way forward is to find something more healing and reconciling."
The Rev. Dale Depue of Indian Nations Presbytery, an author of the minority report, disagreed. "We have been studying this issue for 20 years and the passage of Amendment B was carefully and prayerfully made," he said. "The church has spoken clearly and definitively." Then, reading from the text of the minority report, Depue said, "Rather than trying to amend G-0106b, it is imperative that we find a way to love, support and promote healing among those who have faithfully followed the leading of the Holy Spirit in their lives and found themselves holding strongly conflicting positions."
Robert Hammock, a Theological Student Advisory Delegate from Princeton Theological Seminary, echoed Depue's concerns. "Do we trust our presbyteries?" he asked. "Their will be greater division in our church if we don't respect the vote [on Amendment B]."
But Margaret Elliott of Salem Presbytery said, "People are leaving the church already [because of the passage of Amendment B]. And the Rev. Judy Hoffhine, a pastoral counselor who works with persons with HIV/AIDS, said that since the passage of Amendment B "I have had to work three times as hard to convince them that my church cares."
The Rev. Steve Stelle of Maumee Valley Presbytery, arguing against the new amendment, pleaded for peace. "The church will suffer if this fight continues -- can't we have one year of peace?"
The Rev. Christine Chakoian of Chicago Presbytery countered that peace is not possible as long as Amendment B is on the books. "I had hoped that Amendment B would settle the issue, but it has only deepened the turmoil."
The Rev. Breck Castleman complained that the language of the new amendment is too vague. "The meaning of `fidelity in singleness', for example, is unclear," he argued. "This amendment will not lead us into the light but into the fog."
But the Rev. Sylvia Edwards of Pueblo Presbytery called the new amendment "grace-filled." The amendment, she replied, "goes to the heart of the gospel, honoring marriage and other relationships and offering dignity to all Presbyterians while we continue to discuss and discern God's will on this issue."
G-6.0106b (formerly Amendment B)
Those who are called to office in the church are to lead a life in obedience to Scripture and in conformity to the historic confessional standards of the church. Among these standards is the requirement to live either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman (W-4.9001) or chastity in singleness. Persons refusing to repent of any self-acknowledged practice which the confessions call sin shall not be ordained and/or installed as deacons, elders or ministers of the Word and Sacrament.
Those who are called to office in the church are to lead a life in obedience to Jesus Christ, under the authority of Scripture and instructed by the historic confessional standards of the church. Among these standards is the requirement to demonstrate fidelity and integrity in marriage or singleness, and in all relationships of life. Candidates for ordained office shall acknowledge their own sinfulness, their need for repentance, and their reliance on the grace and mercy of God to fulfill the duties of their office.
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