From the Worldwide Faith News archives www.wfn.org
Permanent Judicial Commission Backs Presbytery
04 May 1996 19:53:46
95447 Permanent Judicial Commission Backs Presbytery
in Gay Ordination Case
by Robert Bullock
"The Presbyterian Outlook"
LOUISVILLE, Ky.--The General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission (PJC)
has upheld a decision of the Synod of the Northeast Permanent Judicial
Commission, sustaining Long Island Presbytery's decision not to respond to
a request from Central Presbyterian Church in Huntington, N.Y., to
investigate the alleged ordinations of a homosexual elder and deacon by
First Presbyterian Church of Sag Harbor, N.Y. Both congregations are
members of Long Island Presbytery.
A concurring opinion signed by seven PJC members was filed, along with
a dissenting opinion by three members.
At issue was the responsibility of a presbytery to respond to a
request made to it from a session regarding an alleged irregularity by
According to the history of the case set forth in the majority
opinion, the pastor of the Sag Harbor church allegedly stated during a May
25, 1993, meeting of the presbytery that her church had recently ordained
two homosexual members to the office of elder and deacon.
Central Church's session wrote a letter dated Feb. 14, 1994, to Long
Island Presbytery alleging that these ordinations were made by Sag Harbor's
session with full knowledge. The Central Church session stated its belief
that the ordinations constituted irregularities that were subject to review
and correction by the presbytery. The session requested that the
presbytery take corrective action at its next meeting with respect to the
The presbytery's council wrote a letter to the Sag Harbor session
asking for verification of the allegation, but in its March 15, 1994,
meeting the presbytery voted
not to concur in the action of its council
to direct its council to take no further action in the matter
to direct the Sag Harbor session to make no response to the
The presbytery also voted to send a statement to all the congregations
of the presbytery stating that "at this time" the request for corrective
action "hampers the process of dialogue" regarding human sexuality called
for by the 205th General Assembly (1993).
In response the Central Church session filed a remedial complaint with
the synod PJC asserting that the presbytery's actions constituted an
irregularity. It requested that the presbytery be ordered to investigate
the ordinations, to correct any irregularities found by rescinding the
ordinations and removing the individuals from office, and to remain in
compliance with the constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and to
direct the Sag Harbor session to do likewise.
Following a pretrial conference, the synod PJC dismissed the complaint
and Central Church then appealed to the General Assembly PJC.
In its opinion, the Assembly PJC rejected all of Central Church's
contentions, finding that the language contained in the "Book of Order"
(D-3.0200) regarding investigation of irregularities is "permissive" and
that the presbytery was acting within its constitutional discretion when it
chose not to investigate the alleged irregularity during the General
Assembly-authorized three-year study of sexuality.
On the other hand, the opinion states: "This constitutional grant of
discretion does not sanction attempts of a lower governing body to nullify
or disregard the law of the church as constitutionally determined by a
higher governing body," adding: "... dialogue attempted in an atmosphere
where one side or the other faces immediate potential remedial or
disciplinary action is not likely to be productive. Presbytery could
constitutionally find that unprotected dialogue leads inexorably to wholly
In a concurring opinion, seven members expressed agreement with the
decision and reasoning of the majority opinion but rejected the opinion's
assumption "that there are circumstances in which a presbytery may take
action against a session for the ordination of officers solely because such
officers are self-affirming, practicing and unrepentant homosexual persons.
The concurring opinion rejected the 1978 and 1979 General Assembly
statements on the ordination of homosexuals and all succeeding General
Assembly statements and General Assembly PJC decisions on the matter under
the "authoritative interpretation" provision of the "Book of Order"
(G-13.0103r) as being unconstitutional.
In reaching this conclusion, the concurring opinion relied on a
principle of polity adopted by the Assembly in approving the report of the
Special Commission of 1925, along with a series of cases, limiting the
review of ordinations by higher governing bodies to "the most extraordinary
situations and for the most extraordinary reasons."
In sum, the opinion argues that an amendment to the Constitution would
be necessary to prevent ordination of homosexual church officers.
In a dissenting opinion, three members of the Assembly PJC argued that
the PJC had erred in not overturning the synod PJC's ruling and not
sustaining Central Church's complaint. This opinion maintained that the
majority opinion "tends to interpret a governing body's discretionary
powers more broadly than provided by our Constitution."
In its reading of D-3.0300a(5), the dissenters argued that a
presbytery must determine "whether the lawful injunctions of a higher
governing body have been obeyed ... [and that] upon learning that an
irregularity may have occurred, the higher governing body has the power to
inquire into the matter and if necessary take any action that it deems
For more information contact Presbyterian News Service
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Louisville, KY 40202
phone 502-569-5504 fax 502-569-8073
E-mail PCUSA.NEWS@pcusa.org Web page: http://www.pcusa.org
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