The conservative Presbyterian Church in America voted Thursday to disqualify all gay men from serving in its ministry.
The 1,400-400 vote to change its governing document came at the denomination’s 48th General Assembly, held this week in St. Louis.
The rule change, known as “Overture 23,” will go to local church bodies known as “presbyteries” for a vote before a second round of convention balloting next year that would place the language in the denomination’s “Book of Church Order,” which governs PCA practice.
The document’s revised language reads: “Those who profess an identity (such as gay Christian,’ ‘same-sex attracted Christian,’ ‘homosexual Christian,’ or like terms) that undermines or contradicts their identity as new creations in Christ, either by denying the sinfulness of fallen desires (such as, but not limited to, same-sex attraction) or by denying the reality and hope of progressive sanctification, or by failing to pursue Spirit-empowered victory over their sinful temptations, inclinations, and actions are not qualified for ordained office.”
During a lengthy debate, Chris Norris of the Calvary Presbytery said, “Sanctification begins with one’s identity as a new creation in Christ… Taking a gay identity flies in the face of the new creation.”
By a vote of 1,130-692, the PCA also affirmed Overture 37, which says of pastoral candidates: “…Careful reflection must be given to his practical struggle against sinful actions, as well as to persistent sinful desires. The candidate must give clear testimony of reliance upon his union with Christ and the benefits thereof by the Holy Spirit, depending on this work of grace to make progress over sin. … While imperfection will remain, he should not be known by reputation or self-profession according to his remaining sinfulness (e.g., homosexual desires, etc.), but rather by the work of the Holy Spirit in Christ Jesus.”
The two votes are part of a continuing trend in the PCA, which has almost 400,000 members in the U.S., to uphold biblical views of marriage and sexuality. Liberal elements, led by a group known as Revoice, have urged the church to have a more accepting attitude toward gays in ministry, which conservative Christian churches have resisted.
The Rev. Greg Johnson, pastor of the Memorial Presbyterian Church in St. Louis who opposed the measures and has admitted his struggles with same-sex attraction, expressed his disappointment via Twitter: “Tonight’s [PCA General Assembly] sexuality amendments that passed still require approval of 2/3 of regional presbyteries and approval of next year’s [Assembly]. If approved, they won’t remove me from ministry. But it sends a sad message. To you who are grieving, I grieve with you.”
Radio talk show host Erick Erickson, a PCA member who is studying at Reformed Theological Seminary, praised the vote.
“Very proud of the elders in St Louis who are standing for orthodoxy against cultural currents. A strong vote for Biblical sexual ethics tonight,” Mr. Erickson tweeted.
The PCA’s news website, ByFaithOnline.com, was subjected to frequent service interruptions during and after the assembly. Not only were visitors often subjected to “database error” and other service-related messages, but those who did connect to the site were sometimes confronted with porn-related web pages when clicking on links to stories about the most controversial measures. There was no indication that the website had returned to normal function Friday afternoon.
At the end of 2018, the Presbyterian Church in America reported about 385,000 members in 1,927 congregations across the United States.