Twin Cities Presbytery Restores Capetz' Ordination
- January 28, 2008
Twin Cities presbytery restores Capetz' ordination
Openly gay man set aside ordination in 2000 to protest
by Duane Sweep
Presbyterian News Service
MINNEAPOLIS - The Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area voted Jan. 26 to
restore the ordination of Paul Capetz, an openly gay man, as minister
of word and sacrament.
Capetz had laid aside his ordination in 2000 in response to the 1997
addition of G-6.0106b to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)'s Book of
Order. The section requires ordained church officers to practice
"fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and woman or
chastity in singleness."
In asking the presbytery to restore his ordination, Capetz declared a
principled objection or "scruple," noting that he could not affirm
G-6.0106b, and cited the 2006 General Assembly's authoritative
interpretation of The Book of Order section G-6.0108 that allows
candidates to raise principled objections and reaffirms the
presbytery's responsibility to determine fitness of candidates.
Capetz claimed the fidelity and chastity amendment makes it necessary
for homosexuals to take a "vow of celibacy" if they seek or hold
ordained office. Capetz said such a vow is inappropriate because one's
sexuality is "inescapable" and that the vow creates a "false kind of
In two separate votes, the presbytery determined that Capetz's
declared departure from ordination standards regarding sexual practice
did not constitute a failure to adhere to the essentials of reformed
faith and polity, and then restored Capetz to the exercise of the
ordained office of minister of word and sacrament.
The first motion passed 197 to 84 with two abstentions and the second
passed 196 to 79 with three abstentions.
The votes took place late in the afternoon of a day-long special
meeting of the presbytery at Christ Presbyterian Church in Edina, MN,
a Minneapolis suburb. The meeting, called to consider the single issue
of Capetz' ordination, included a discernment process in the morning
led by the Rev. Vicky Curtiss, who had been a member of the
Theological Task Force on the Peace, Unity and Purity of the Church
(PUP), which proposed the controversial authoritative interpretation,
which was adopted by the Assembly with one crucial amendment. That
task force encouraged governing bodies to use a discernment process
when considering matters of substantially divergent opinions.
The presbytery voted 140 to 118 to go into executive session for the
discernment process, essentially closing that part of the meeting to
visitors and the media. The discernment process took place around
tables in the church's fellowship hall.
The presbytery later opened the proceedings for a statement from
Capetz, following which Capetz took questions from the floor.
In his presentation, Capetz said he "grew up in the church," noting,
"From earliest childhood through my
teen-age years to young adulthood, the church provided the framework
within which I came to know myself as a child of God."
His call to the ministry came through a "campfire sermon" that he said
"deeply affected my sense of call." That sermon was based on the story
from John's gospel where Jesus asks Peter if he loves him and then
ultimately tells Peter to feed his sheep.
"That night is was as though Jesus had posed the question directly to
me," Capetz said. "In responding affirmatively to that call, I had
found the direction for my life."
He attended the University of California at Los Angeles, Yale
Divinity School and the University of Chicago Divinity School, and was
ordained in 1991 in the Chicago Presbytery.
His first call took him to Union Theological Seminary in Virginia
where he taught reformed theology. However, after one year at UTS,
Capetz said he left when "attempts were made to revoke [the call] on
the grounds that I was a gay man."
He has spent the past 15 years as associate professor of reformed
theology at United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities, New
Brighton, Minn. United has a non-discrimination policy with respect to
those who are gay.
Capetz strongly disagrees with the position of the Presbyterian Church
(U.S.A.) regarding the ordination of homosexuals. He said, "I have
never heard a sermon that offered wisdom as to how a gay man should
live his life in a faithful Christian manner. All I have heard is
silence, or when there was something other than silence, the words
have been condemning."
Describing the church's current position, Capetz said, "In its
categorical opposition to all expressions of homosexuality, the
Protestant church has unintentionally found itself having to deny one
of its own essential tenets, namely that vows of celibacy are wrong
because they imply works-righteousness before God."
He added, too, that the denomination's ordination standards on sexual
practice "would not in fact be a vow of celibacy for gay people if the
church recognized the validity of marriage between two men or two
women." He added, "If that were the case, I would have no difficulty
abiding by the standard of chastity in singles and fidelity in marriage."
Capetz took several questions from the floor, noting on several
occasions that he would not take a vow of celibacy. When asked to
elaborate on his view of the works of Martin Luther and John Calvin,
Capetz cited justification by faith alone and not by works, noting
that sexuality is an "inescapable" part of humanity. Demanding
celibacy is "kind of works righteousness," he said.
When asked if he would marry a man, Capetz said, "I would avail
myself" to the possibility.
When questioned if his departure from the chastity and fidelity
section would be in both belief and in practice, Capetz said, "I
refuse to be in compliance with The Book of Order as it now stands."
Capetz also pointed out that the specific section â" G-6.0106b â" was
not in The Book of Order when he was
originally ordained. He also noted that he struggled with his
ordination after the measure passed, and he considered leaving the
But he decided to remain Presbyterian. He said, "I do believe God was
calling me to make that particular
After another executive session for discernment, closed to visitors
and members of the media, presbytery commissioners broke for lunch
before resuming for an open debate in the church sanctuary before
voting. The afternoon session opened with worship and communion for
both commissioners, who numbered nearly 300, and approximately 40
During the afternoon session, the presbytery accepted the minority
report from the committee on ministry that sought a negative response
to Capetz' request for restoration of ordination. The minority report
was not submitted as a motion to prevent a second debate on the issue
of departure and restoration.
The minority report noted, in part, "We believe that the restoration
of ordination to an individual intending to depart in practice from a
clearly stated constitutional standard essentially allows the will of
the [presbytery] to supersede the Constitution of the Presbyterian
That argument reflects the Assembly's amendment to the authoritative
interpretation, which requires 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)."
On that basis, an appeal of the presbytery's decision to restore
Capetz' ordination, seems likely in the church courts. At a recent
meeting of San Francisco Presbytery, candidate Lisa Larges â" an open
lesbian â" also declared a scruple to G-6.0106b and the presbytery
voted to allow her candidacy (but not ordination yet) to continue.
Opponents of that decision immediately announce their intention to appeal.
The Twin Cities Area Presbytery minority also noted, "Furthermore, we
are uncomfortable with the hermeneutical or interpretive gymnastics
required to provide biblical sanction for sexually intimate same sex
Following the votes on the first two motions, the presbytery also
validated, on voice vote, Capetz' service as an associate professor at
United Theological Seminary.
Capetz has no particular plans now that his ordination has been
restored. "I can't anticipate what subtle differences it might have
for me," he said.
The process, he said, "reminded me how much respect I have for
The Rev. Sarai Schnucker, interim executive presbyter of the Twin
Cities Area, said, "We are overwhelmed by the grace and love that this
presbytery exhibited today. The members of the presbytery have
conducted themselves with respect and restraint, even while handling
such a controversial issue. As a presbytery, we listened to each other
and heard each other. In the midst of this time of debate and
discernment, there was true worship by the body of Christ as we sang
songs and broke bread together."
The Rev. Deb Kielsmeier, a signatory to the minority report, added,
"We [members of the presbytery] care about each other even if we have
Capetz said, "I'm not elated, but I wouldn't have been dejected" if
the vote had gone the other way. "I think I'm tired more than anything."
He had pointed out during his earlier presentation that the day's
decision was relatively minor in his case, but that it had broader
ramifications. "What is of ultimate significance, however, is whether
the Christian church will ever have anything other than a counsel of
despair to offer to all those gay persons who grow up in its midst or
who would gladly turn to it for spiritual and moral wisdom."
Duane Sweep is communications director for the Synod of Lakes and