Pastors and church leaders in the Presbyterian Church in America passed an overture at its General Assembly this week saying those who identify as gay are not qualified for ordination in the conservative Presbyterian denomination.
The overture includes any identity Christians may profess “that undermines or contradicts their identity as new creations in Christ,” though it singles out “gay Christian,” “same sex attracted Christian,” and “homosexual Christian” among those identities.
The denomination already bars any “practicing homosexual” from ordination.
Overture 23 was overwhelmingly approved 1,438-417 late Thursday night at the Presbyterian Church in America’s annual business meeting in St. Louis.
“This has been a hot topic in our denomination, so it won’t surprise you to hear that we spent more time on this overture than any other overture,” Scott Barber, chair of the Overtures Committee, said before the vote.
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According to byFaith, the official publication of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), the final, approved overture read:
Officers in the Presbyterian Church in America must be above reproach in their walk and Christlike in their character. Those who profess an identity (such as, but not limited to, ‘gay Christian,’ ‘same sex attracted Christian,’ ‘homosexual Christian,’ or like terms) that undermines or contradicts their identity as new creations in Christ, either by denying the sinfulness of fallen desires (such as, but not limited to, same sex attraction), or by denying the reality and hope of progressive sanctification, or by failing to pursue Spirit-empowered victory over their sinful temptations, inclinations, and actions are not qualified for ordained office.
Barber told the elders voting on the overture that its intent is not to exclude Christians who are gay but remain celibate.
Rather, he said, “What we said is if we use terms like that that undermine or contradict our identity as new creations in Christ, if such an identity becomes higher than our identity in Christ, that would eliminate us from being qualified in the PCA.”
Barber’s message is consistent with those who have opposed the controversial ReVoice conferences that PCA churches began hosting in 2018. ReVoice leaders promote the view that LGBT identity is compatible with Christianity. Yet they say that Christian LGBT persons should refrain from sexual relationships.
Rev. Greg Johnson is the lead pastor of Memorial Presbyterian Church in St. Louis, which has hosted the ReVoice Conference, and opposes the overture.
“We don’t need to amend our constitution to make a non-affirming denomination (hostile) to gay people who want to follow Jesus in celibacy,” Johnson said in an email.
Johnson, who voted against the overture, has previously shared his story as a “gay atheist kid who experienced a conversion to Jesus in college and has joyfully walked with him in celibacy ever since.” His faith hasn’t changed his sexuality in the years since he became a Christian, he said, but it has convicted him to live celibately, following the denomination’s conservative beliefs about sexuality, which reserve sex for between a married man and woman.
Johnson doesn’t believe the overture will remove him from ministry, he said. But he does worry about its impact on younger generations, saying their poor treatment of LGBTQ people is the No. 1 reason why young adults leave conservative religious traditions like the Presbyterian Church in America.
Yet advocates praised the overture for its consistency with the denomination’s beliefs about sexuality.
Bart Harmon of the Southeast Alabama Presbytery spoke in favor of the overture at General Assembly, calling it “most consistent with the gospel — and because it’s consistent with the gospel, it is by definition compassionate.”
Harmon shared several stories from the biblical accounts of Jesus’ life in which Jesus tells others to give up everything to follow him.
And on Twitter, conservative Christian commentator Erick Erickson called the overture’s approval “a strong vote for Biblical sexual ethics.”
“Very proud of the elders in St Louis who are standing for orthodoxy against cultural currents,” Erickson tweeted.
To take effect, Overture 23 still must be approved by two-thirds of the denomination’s regional presbyteries and then again by a majority at the next General Assembly, scheduled for 2022 in Birmingham, Alabama.