PCUSA: Lesbian's Bid to Become Minister Moves Forward
- January 18, 2008
Lesbian's bid to become minister moves forward
San Francisco Presbytery first in PC(USA) to apply 2006 Authoritative
Interpretation to openly gay candidate
by Evan Silverstein
Presbyterian News Service
LOUISVILLE -- San Francisco Presbytery has made way for an openly gay
candidate for ministry in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to take the
first steps in the ordination process under a controversial
Authoritative Interpretation approved by the 2006 General Assembly.
After three hours of debate in closed session, the presbytery voted
167 to 151 on Jan. 15 to approve as "ready for examination, with
departure" Lisa Larges, a lesbian who has been blocked from ordination
for more than 20 years.
Larges' case marks the first time a presbytery has approved action to
consider a candidate who declared a conscientious objection -- or
"scruple" -- to the denomination's ordination standards involving
"I wasn't surprised but still it was quite a moment," Larges told the
Presbyterian News Service on Jan. 17, referring to the vote. "It just
makes me proud of the presbytery."
The vote, which took place at First Presbyterian Church in Richmond,
CA, focused on Larges' statement of conscience and is only the
beginning of her ordination process.
If extended a call, Larges, 44, could now move onto the trials of
ordination, an oral examination by the presbytery that all candidates
must pass. As part of the examination, she would be required to answer
questions about her faith, theology and character.
The presbytery must also validate any call Larges might receive.
That procedure could come as early as April -- when the next stated
meeting of San Francisco Presbytery is scheduled -- but is likely to
be delayed by legal challenges, amid warnings by opponents that the
presbytery action violated the church's constitution and would quickly
Larges, who is blind, is a deacon at Noe Valley Ministry Presbyterian
Church in San Francisco.
She is also minister coordinator for That All May Freely Serve, which
works for the full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and
transgendered (LGBT) Presbyterians in the life of the church,
including their ordination as officers.
While the ordination attempt represents a third try for Larges, it is
thought to be the first test of the controversial Authoritative
Interpretation adopted by the PC(USA)'s 217th General Assembly in 2006.
The policy, enacted in response to a report by the Theological Task
Force on the Peace, Unity and Purity of the Church (PUP), made way for
actions such as San Francisco's, despite a long-standing church law --
G-6.0106b of The Book of Order -- that requires clergy and lay leaders
to practice either "fidelity within the covenant of marriage between
a man and a woman or chastity in singleness."
Though it maintains current ordination standards for church officers,
the policy gives ordaining bodies greater leeway to ordain candidates
who declare conscientious objections to specific Presbyterian
teachings, as long as the ordaining body does not consider them
"essentials" of church belief.
The Assembly amended the PUP report to require ordaining bodies, when
considering a candidate's "departure" to determine "whether the
(ordination) examination and ordination and installation decision
comply with the constitution of the PC(USA)."
"The particular issue now before us is whether or not a presbytery has
a right to suspend what I consider to be an essential of polity in the
case of a specific person," said the Rev. Mary Holder Naegeli, a
minister member of San Francisco Presbytery, who argued against the
ordination during the meeting on Jan. 15. "I just think that the
presbytery took an unconstitutional action and the fact that the
disagreement about that assessment requires judicial review."
Larges, in her written objection, known as a "statement of departure,"
wrote that she would not concur with the church's requirement that she
be married to a man or be chaste in order to become a minister.
She called the provision a "mar upon the church and a stumbling block
to its mission" and said it did not express essentials of Presbyterian
Larges graduated from San Francisco Theological Seminary in 1989. In
1985 she became a candidate for ministry in the Presbytery of the Twin
Cities Area in Minnesota, where she grew up.
Following her graduation from seminary, Larges notified the
presbytery's Committee on Preparation for Ministry (CPM) of her sexual
orientation. However, her candidacy in Twin Cities Area Presbytery
went forward until it was turned down in 1992 by the General Assembly
Permanent Judicial Commission, the highest court in the PC(USA).
Larges transferred her membership to San Francisco Presbytery and
tried again, beginning in 1997. She met annually with that
presbytery's CPM, which eventually voted against recommending her for
ordination in 2004. But, with a view toward a possible shift in
denominational policy, also let her continue as a candidate.
The Rev. Jon M. Walton, a co-moderator of the Covenant Network of
Presbyterians, which advocates for the full inclusion of homosexuals
and transgendered people in the PC(USA), said he was pleased with San
Walton told the Presbyterian News Service that he believes it was
in-line with the intentions of the General Assembly and the PUP report.
"I think this represents exactly what the task force report and the
General Assembly intended when it adopted the task force's report to
consider people on the basis of their call and gifts for ministry,"
said Walton, who is pastor of First Presbyterian Church in New York
City. "The kind of departure Lisa discussed with her presbytery is
exactly the kind of thing the presbyteries should be considering."
Meanwhile, another case prompted by the General Assembly's action in
2006 is expected to be considered soon.
Paul Capetz, a professor at United Theological Seminary of the Twin
Cities and an openly gay man, set aside his ordination in the PC(USA)
in 2000 based on the denomination's policy at the time.
Now Capetz is asking Twin Cities Area Presbytery to allow him to
declare a scruple regarding the denomination's ordination standards on
sexual practice, and to be reinstated to the ministry. He is scheduled
to go before the presbytery on Jan. 26.
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