From the Worldwide Faith News archives

GA Judicial Commission hears arguments in landmark ordination case

Date 3 Dec 2001 09:13:32 -0500

Note #6961 from PCUSA NEWS to PRESBYNEWS:


GA Judicial Commission hears arguments in landmark ordination case

Decision expected next week on Stamford session's examination of gay elder

by Bill Lancaster

ATLANTA - How far must a session go in inquiring into the sexual practice of
candidates for elder?  If a person has acknowledged that they live in a
committed, same-sex relationship, but refuses to answer the direct question
if they are sexually active in that relationship, can the session proceed to
install them? Or is the examination incomplete?

These are among the questions with which the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission (PJC) must wrestle in
deciding the appeal of a case presented to them here Nov. 30. The PJC is
expected to make a decision in the case before adjourning Nov. 2.
The Rev. Mark Tammen, director of constitutional services for the Office of
the General Assembly, said the PJC is expected to report its decision next

The case involves the decision by the session of First Presbyterian Church
of Stamford, CT, to install elder Wayne Osborne, who had previously been
ordained in 1994 and had been reelected in 1997 to another term of active

The case had previously been heard by the Permanent Judicial Commissions of
the Presbytery of Southern New England and the Synod of the Northeast.  The
appeal was brought by Mairi Hair and James McCallum.

Walter Baker, counsel for the appellants, argued that two errors were made
by the Synod PJC.  The first error, he said, was that the Synod "failed to
rule that the session's examination disqualified the candidate for active

Facts supporting this argument, Baker said, were the candidate's own words. 
"He acknowledged, on his own initiative, during the first examination, that
he is living a life-long, loving, committed, homosexual relationship with
another man, which includes sharing a home.  When asked, 'is this a
sexually-active partnership,' he said, 'I decline to answer the question.' 
One and a half years later, during a PJC-mandated  reexamination, the
candidate was asked whether he wanted to amend his answer. He said he did
not.  The question was asked because the Synod had ruled it pertinent to his
eligibility," Baker said.

By this admission, Baker said, the candidate "manifestly, yet in a discreet
manner" informed the examining body that he did not intend to comply with
Book of Order G-6.0106b, the "fidelity and chastity" provisions for
installed officers.  Baker argued that "the candidate did not have to use
more explicit language" and that the session should have understood that
this relationship would have included sexual activity.

Baker said, "apparently, the session did not want to hear what the candidate
had told them explicitly."  He said the session told the Presbytery PJC "the
candidate has not made any public acknowledgment of personal homosexual
practice or any practice indicating non-celibacy..."

He said the session had previously declared that they could not abide by

Baker argued that the Synod PJC should have ruled that the Presbytery PJC
erred in upholding the session's examination.

The second error, Baker said, was that the Synod PJC failed to rule the
examination incomplete.  He said the candidate twice refused to supply
pertinent information. He said the session's "model" for conducting an
examination should be ruled incomplete.

This "model" for an examination should not be allowed to stand, Baker said. 
He said the candidate told the session he did not intend to abide by
G-6.0106b.  "How can this candidate respond affirmatively to the question
that he will 'be governed by our church's polity and abide by its
discipline,'" a reference to a constitutional question asked candidates for
ordination or installation.

He said the session's examination should be ruled incomplete until the
pertinent information is on the table, then the session could determine

"Synod finds session had to investigate by asking.  Session finds the
candidate doesn't have to tell," Becker noted incredulously.  "Why didn't
Synod rule this rationale is incomplete, inconsistent with its own finding?"

He said when a candidate withholds information that is pertinent, the
examination is in "limbo."

Three elders on the session of First Presbyterian Church, Stamford, argued
the case as counsel for the church, John Harter, Deborah Harrell and Meg

Harter countered that the entire argument of the appellants "rests on the
unfounded allegations that Mr. Osborne has self-acknowledged current
homosexual practice and has expressed the intention of continuing such
unrepentant sinful practice in the future."

Harter said, "The record of this case contains no evidence of sexual
practice, no acknowledgment of unrepentant sinful practice, no refusal to
repent of any self-acknowledged practice which the Confessions call sin, and
no expressed intentions to violate our constitution.  The record includes
findings by the session, the presbytery PJC and the synod PJC that Mr.
Osborne's same-sex relationship does not constitute any constitutional

Harter argued that self-acknowledgment is required and that Wayne Osborne
did not disclose any sexual practice. "The session was obliged to inquire if
there was homosexual practice, and did. Wayne was given the opportunity to
acknowledge unrepentant sinful practice.  He did not do so.  The examining
body is compelled to precede with love, sensitivity, discretion, and care. 
The session acted within the bounds of our constitution.  It has been
expressly found and affirmed by the relevant governing bodies, the fact that
Mr. Osborne's same-sex relationship is not an acknowledgment of engaging in
any practice which the confessions call sin."

Harter argued that the appellant's case is not supported by the PC(USA)
Send your response to this article to

To unsubscribe from this mailing list, send an 'unsubscribe' request to

Browse month . . . Browse month (sort by Source) . . . Advanced Search & Browse . . . WFN Home