From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Permanent Judicial Commission Backs Presbytery

Date 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 
another session. 
     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 
two ordinations.  
     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 
council's request. 
     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 
unproductive monologue." 
     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  
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