PCUSA: Church Court Says Ordination Standards Include Ministerial Candidates
- PJC says ordination standards include ministerial candidates: Mission
Presbytery case moot since candidate withdrew from consideration
by Evan Silverstein, PCUSA News Service
May 14, 2007
LOUISVILLE - The highest court of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has
affirmed that the standards for ordaining non-celibate gays and
lesbians extend to those seeking to become candidates for the ministry.
The statement came in a ruling issued last week by the PC(USA)'s
General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission (PJC) in the case of
George R. Stewart vs. Mission Presbytery.
The case involved a woman who in October 2005 was accepted as a
candidate for ministry by Mission Presbytery, which is based in San
Antonio, TX. The presbytery voted to approve her candidacy even though
its moderator informed members that the candidate "is a lesbian and
lives in a committed (same-sex) relationship."
Presbyterian church law allows for the ordination of only those
who are in a faithful, heterosexual marriage or who are single and
living in chastity. However, the moderator told the presbytery that
under church case law, the requirement did not apply to those seeking
to enter the candidacy process.
"Although our Book of Order (G-14.0305a-i) requires those coming
to be ordained to observe fidelity in marriage and chasteness in
singleness, the Book of Order does not place this standard on those in
the candidacy process," the moderator said during the meeting,
according to the PCJ's history of the case.
Mission Presbytery accepted the woman's candidacy for the
ministry 169-111 with none abstaining. Stewart, who is a retired
Presbyterian minister, challenged the decision by initiating a
remedial complaint against the presbytery in January 2006.
He asked the Synod of the Sun to "order the presbytery to remove
[the candidate] from the roll of candidates for minister of the Word
The Permanent Judicial Commission of the Synod of the Sun heard
his appeal on Sept. 8, 2006, but by tie vote did not sustain it.
Stewart then appealed the case to the General Assembly PJC on
Oct. 11, 2006.
The woman withdrew her candidacy on Nov. 17, 2006, and the
presbytery then filed a motion, requesting the PJC drop the case on
the grounds that the candidate's withdrawal rendered it moot.
The PJC agreed that the case is moot since the woman withdrew her
candidacy, but also said that the presbytery had been "misled" in its
understanding of church law.
The PC(USA)'s highest court said the presbytery and the synod
relied on an annotated edition of the Book of Order (G-014.0305d),
where it cites a court case in 2000, Sheldon, et al. v. Presbytery of
West Jersey,which involved a gay candidate from New Jersey.
The General Assembly PJC said the annotation is a "misstatement"
because the inquirer being considered for candidacy was a "celibate
gay man, and therefore eligible to become a candidate," the PJC said
in its decision.
The ruling in the New Jersey case added: "However, if the
[presbytery] should determine the candidate to be ineligible for
candidacy at some point in the future, the [presbytery] should remove
the candidate's name from the roll of candidates, as provided by
The General Assembly PJC said the annotations found in the Book
of Order can be helpful to the church as it "seeks to be faithful in
its life and service; however, they are not authoritative."