In light of a national vote of presbyteries, the 1997 General Assembly will change the Book of Order to include a new section which has come to be known as Amendment B or The Fidelity/Chastity Amendment. This amendment will then be a part of the constitution of the Presbyterian Church (USA).
On April 15, 1997, the Session of First Presbyterian Church, Stamford, Connecticut appointed a task force to draft a response to the passage of this amendment.
The following elders were appointed as members of the task force:
On May 20, 1997, the Session of First Presbyterian Church, Stamford, Connecticut approved the following "Response to Amendment B" with a vote of 26 for and 1 against.
Those who are called to office in the church are to lead a life in obedience to Scripture and the requirement to live either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage of 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. (For historical background see Attachment A.)
We respond to Amendment B with profound respect for the democratic process governing the Presbyterian Church (USA). We acknowledge that some members of the church sincerely support Amendment B. The session is determined to respect and to stay in dialogue with all members whatever their view of this action, however, we are deeply concerned that this amendment's exclusionary intent undermines our Church's stated mission (See Attachment B), the unity of the church universal, and specific calls to ministry by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
1. Amendment B silences and hurts members of our church, and by so doing hurts the church itself. By insisting on only one interpretation of Scripture and the Confessions, Amendment B,silences those who believe with equal sincerity that their behavior falls within the blessing of God. We are troubled by expressions of disillusionment, betrayal, anger, and vulnerability we have heard from people whose fellowship is precious to us.
2. The Presbyterian Church has worked hard to keep from imposing restrictions on membership that arise from the human condition and that have nothing to,do with obedience to Jesus Christ and respect for one another within the covenant of the church. The effect of Amendment B, however, is to establish a group of members specifically excluded from the right to hold office in the Presbyterian Church (USA).
3. Amendment B requires our church to "conform" to the "historic confessional standards of the church," rather than the traditional language, "to be,instructed and led by the confessions." It imposes on the whole church a,literalism and legalism regarding human sexuality. It allows no room for those whose understandings of the Confessions differ.
4. Amendment B rests on select biblical texts condemning homosexual acts: There is no consensus on the interpretation of these texts. Further, the,amendment appears to ignore other themes of the Bible such as the emphasis,on grace (Romans 9:30ff), the diversity of gifts (1 Corinthians 12), the,priority of baptism over all other distinctions (Galations 3:25ff), the gift,of the Spirit to the Gentiles (Acts 10), and the freedom of the Spirit to,lead the church to new insights (Acts 11-15).
5. Amendment B stands in contradiction to several parts of the Book of,Order, (See Attachment C-1).
6. Amendment B seeks to legislate where there is no clear consensus. We learn from the Book of Order, when we have differences about the nature of the truth it is our "duty to exercise mutual forbearance" (G-1.0305).
7. Amendment B casts a very wide net. Apparently, intended to exclude non-celibate singles, it is in fact applicable to almost every church member in some way. A large number of church members, officers, and clergy actively commit many of the hundreds of "sins" listed in the "historic confessional standards of the church," and they do so with the conviction that the acts they commit are not "sin."
8. Under Amendment B sessions and presbyteries will have to examine candidates on their sexual practices. Practically speaking -- Who will agree to ask the questions? Who will agree to serve? Who will investigate more deeply the chastity and fidelity of potential candidates? Who will agree to judge? We must also ask ourselves -- Who will counsel the victims? Who will counsel the judges? Who will counsel the pastors and elders in having to administer this prohibition?
9. Amendment B opens the door to gossip, innuendo, and injustice.
10. Amendment B asks the church to ignore that non-celibate homosexuals have been given gifts of ministry and leadership by God and that it is God that calls these same individuals to leadership within the church.
11. Amendment B sets apart those with a homosexual orientation; adding fuel to the arguments of those whose language inspires prejudice, violence, and persecution. On the contrary we are called "to do justice, and to love kindness, and walk humbly with (y)our God" (Micah 6:8).
In obedience to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who alone is Lord of our conscience (G-1.0301), guided by Scripture, the legacy left to us by those who went before us, our confessions and the Book of Order, and after individual and collective study, consideration, and prayer, we:
1. will remain loyal to the Presbyterian Church (USA);
2. will seek to discern God's will individually and together as a congregation.
3. will elect, ordain, and install as officers those members with suitable gifts who are called by God to ministry, who are persons of strong faith, dedicated discipleship, and love of Jesus Christ, and whose manner of life is a demonstration of the Christian gospel in the church and the world (G-6.0106). However, we declare a scruple and take exception to Amendment B because it violates our informed conscience, faith, and interpretation of our obligations (G-6.0108) (See Attachment C-2).
4. covenant to love and respect one another; maintaining a fellowship where differences are allowed, discussion is vital, and discernment is shared.
Signed: THE SESSION OF FIRST PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH
STAMFORD, CONNECTICUT May 20, 1997
In response to a request from a presbytery for clarification, the 1978 General Assembly gave "definitive guidance" to the church, declaring that "self-affirming, practicing homosexual" persons are not eligible for office.
This definitive guidance has been upheld by subsequent actions of the Permanent Judicial Commission and the Assembly itself. In 1993 the Assembly called upon the church to engage in a three-year discussion and study of human sexuality as it applies to membership, ministry, and ordination. In the continuing dialogue since 1978, the church has also become more aware of the life and faith of homosexual persons in our membership.
The 1996 General Assembly was again faced with numerous overtures on both sides of the issue. The Advisory Committee on the Constitution suggested that the Assembly choose one of three approaches: 1) send down an amendment banning ordination of openly homosexual persons, 2) send down an amendment leaving the matter in the hands of ordaining bodies - sessions and presbyteries, or 3) both. The Assembly chose number one by a vote of 57% for and 43% against, phrasing the proposed amendment in general terms intended to apply to everyone. The amendment became known as "The Fidelity/ Chastity Amendment" or "Amendment B".
On October 16, 1994, the First Presbyterian Church (FPC) of Stamford, Connecticut held its first discussion regarding the issue of homosexuality with a presentation by the Presbytery's Task Force on Homosexuality.
On February 26, 1995, the Reverend Jane Spahr spoke at a public meeting at the First Presbyterian Church of New Canaan. Several members of FPC, Stamford attended.
On April 23, 1995, the Reverend William Sloane Coffin preached at FPC, Stamford and spoke at a Community Forum entitled "Homosexuality: Uses and Misuses of the Bible."
In Spring of 1995 FPC, Stamford held six sessions for members of Session to study the book "Presbyterians and Human Sexuality 1991".
In September 1996 FPC, Stamford placed 25 books in the Church library which discussed issues regarding homosexuality and the ordination of openly gay and lesbian clergy.
On January 12, 26, and February 9, 1997, three forums on homosexuality were held at FPC, Stamford. They were led by the co-pastors, Mary Thies and Blair Moffett, and covered the background of the homosexuality debate, homosexual ordination in the Presbyterian Church, the interpretation of scripture, the role of our confessions, the nature of sin, and the review of several issues that seriously divided and troubled the church in earlier times. We saw how attitudes and mores evolved in the society at large and in the church, and how prospects for reconciliation of differences improved over time.
In December of 1996 five elders were commissioned to attend the January and March 1997 Southern New England Presbytery meetings. In the March Presbytery meeting a vote was taken on Amendment B.
The Southern New England Presbytery voted against Amendment B on March 8, 1997 by a vote of 106 against, 86 for, and 2 abstentions. The entire Synod of the Northeast voted against Amendment B.
As of May 2, 1997 and out of 171 presbyteries, the national vote is 97 presbyteries for and 74 presbyteries against Amendment B. The commissioners' votes are 13,238 for, 12,442 against, and 100 abstentions. [Moderator's Note: the last Presbytery, the Presbytery of New Brunswick, voted "no" to Amendment B on May 13, 1997.]
Our mission is to know and share God's grace in Jesus Christ. We are a worshipping, learning, caring and serving community. We are accustomed to biblically based preaching that is spiritually and intellectually challenging. We are a congregation of singles, the elderly, families and youth. As a center of ecumenical and interfaith leadership we value differences. In a spirit of evangelism we utilize many means of outreach.
We seek to serve the broader community following Christ's call to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger and visit the sick. We seek to be a welcoming house of worship to people of all ethnic backgrounds and reflect within our family of faith the diversity of contemporary society. Through strong and creative programs we strive to meet the changing social and spiritual needs of our brothers and sisters.
As a strong family of faith we have the courage to risk sharing that faith.
We seek leadership that will inspire and empower the laity.
The church is enjoined to practice openness and inclusiveness in the name of Jesus Christ (G-3.0401b, G-4.0403, G-5.0103), and no person shall be denied membership because of any reason not related to profession of faith (G-5.0103).
The right of the people to elect their own officers is inalienable (G-6.0107, G-1.0306).
Active members are entitled to all the rights and privileges of the church, including the right to vote and hold office (G-5.0202). Officers differ from members in function only (G-6.0102).
Elders agree to "be led" by the confessions (G-14.0207c). Our Book of Order does not require "conformity" to the standards of the Book of Confessions (G-14.0207c,d; G-14-0405c,d). The wording of the ordination vows requires only that ordainees "sincerely receive and adopt the essential tenets of the reformed faith as expressed in the Confessions," and "are led" by them.
Confessions have "provisional authority" (and are therefore subject to revision and correction) because all confessions are the work of limited, fallible, sinful human beings and churches... "All synods or councils since the apostles' times, whether general or particular, may err, and many have erred; therefore they are not to be made the rule of faith or practice, but to be used as a help in both" (C-6.1753).
Confessions have a "temporary authority"...because faith in the living God present and at work in the risen Christ through the Holy Spirit means always to be open to hear a new and fresh word from the Lord (C-8.11).
Confessions have a "relative authority"...because they are subordinate to the higher authority of Scripture, which is the norm for discerning the work and will of God in every time and place (C-6.010, 9.03).
Scruple - (n.) a moral or ethical consideration or standard that acts as a restraining force or inhibits certain actions. (i.v.) to be reluctant on grounds of conscience.
In the "Adopting Act of 1729", the Presbyterian Church, faced with a crisis of orthodoxy, disclaimed any attempt to legislate the conscience and declared Christ and the Bible as the source and rule of Christian faith and life. It then described theWestminster Confession and the catechisms "as being in all essential and necessary articles, good forms of sound words and systems of Christian doctrine." It also required that all members of presbyteries verbally assent to these documents. The Presbyterian Church then provided for a way of "scrupling," that is, of allowing those who wished to do so to express any disagreement with the standards. The ordaining body would decide if disagreements fell outside the parameters set by the "necessary and essential" articles.