Thursday, 14 April 2011

Presbyterian Inclusion: Ratification Now Imminent

Since I last updated the status of the Presbyterian process for ratification of last year's vote permitting the ordination of openly partnered and lesbian or gay clergy, prospects have brightened even more. There are now 16 regional presbyteries that have switched from No to Yes -  compared with just two that have switched the other way, from Yes to No. This makes a net gain of 14 - against only 9 which are needed. It is likely that there will be others too, making the switch in the weeks ahead. The number of Yes votes still required for approval (7) is down to single figures, and only one fifth of the 35 votes still to be held. The opposition, conversely, in order to prevent ratification would need to win 28 of those remaining votes, including switching at least five from Yes to No - an unlikely task, when so far they have achieved only 2 such switches, out of 153 votes held.

This process is clearly of fundamental importance to lesbigaytrans Presbyterians in the USA, but I believe it has far greater importance for the entire Christian church, worldwide: it is just one, local manifestation of a much bigger process. The ECLA took a similar decision in 2009, and recently 33 retired Methodist bishops called for that denomination to do the same. Three openly gay and partnered bishops have been ordained in the Episcopal and Swedish Lutheran churches, and the German Lutherans have no problem with pastors living with same sex partners. The process extends beyond the ordination of gay clergy. There is increasing willingness in many local churches and (some national denominations) to bless same sex partnerships or even celebrate gay weddings in Church. These are not, as the conservatives claim, simply opportunistic accomodation to secular trends in defiance of Scripture, but are prompted in large part precisely by careful attention to scholarly Biblical study, prayer and attentive listening process. Even Catholic professional theologians are now recognizing what lay Catholics already know - that homoerotic relationships in themselves are not immoral. What is presently unfolding in the PCUSA, why I find it so riveting, is nothing less than a wholesale transformation of Christian responses to homosexuality.



I have reproduced below my original post on this, showing how the numbers have changed in the past thee weeks, showing the current status as at 17th March:


Last year, the Presbyterian Church of the USA voted to approve changes in the criteria for ordination of clergy, in terms which do not discriminate against partnered gay or lesbian candidates. The resolution removes a paragraph which includes 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.

and inserts instead:

Standards for ordained service reflect the church’s desire to submit joyfully to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in all aspects of life (G-1.0000). The governing body responsible for ordination and/or installation (G.14.0240; G-14.0450) shall examine each candidate’s calling, gifts, preparation, and suitability for the responsibilities of office. The examination shall include, but not be limited to, a determination of the candidate’s ability and commitment to fulfill all requirements as expressed in the constitutional questions for ordination and installation (W-4.4003). Governing bodies shall be guided by Scripture and the confessions in applying standards to individual candidates.

In effect, this is a vote for full inclusion of LGBT Presbyterians in the life of the Church. The vote at General Assembly must be ratified by a majority of local presbyteries before it takes effect. 2010 was not the first time that General Assembly voted in favour of inclusion: similar resolutions were passed in 2009, and   and - but failed to secure ratification. This year could be different.

An analysis of the votes held so far shows that presbyteries voting in favour of ratification presently lead those opposed by 46 67 80 (as at 13/04) to 34 48 , 58, with just 93 58 35 presbyteries still left to vote.  While we cannot predict with certainty what those votes will be until they have been concluded, there are useful clues in how they voted previously. My own investigation of the spreadsheet shows that with 46 67 80 presbyteries having voted in support, only 41 20 7 more are needed to secure ratification. Conversely, the 40 48 58voting against still need to add 53 39 28 presbyteries to defeat the proposal - a much tougher prospect. While we cannot predict with certainty how the remaining presbyteries will vote, there are clues. For each one, the published spreadsheet shows how it voted on the previous similar measure from General Assembly 2009. If each of them were to vote in precisely the same way as it did last time around, the result would be :

Votes in favour - 86 90 102 ;  Votes against -  78 81. This is a clear win for inclusion.

However, there is no reason to suppose that they will vote the same way as before. Where votes have already been held, there has been a clear increase in support. The record from the raw votes cast shows that in fact, across all presbyteries the percentage level of support increased by an average of 5%. If that applies uniformly across those presbyteries that have not yet voted, there could be a further 4 switching from "No" to "Yes", adding to the 9 16  that have already done so. (So far, only two have switched the other way, from support to opposition).  That would lead to:

Votes in favour  - 97 106;  Votes against -  76 77, and ratification for inclusion by a clear margin.

The people at More Light Presbyterians constantly remind us that progress doesn't just happen - it takes hard work and organisation. (MLP have a permanent feature in their newsletters advising of local workshops, where participants can learn how to help in influencing their own congregations).  I do not wish to celebrate until we know positively that those remaining seven votes have been secured, but it really does seem that it is now just a matter of time.

When we reach that point, I will elaborate further on why I believe this is a really big deal for all queer Christians, of any denomination - or none.

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