Since 1997 the church’s constitution required those seeking ordination to be living “in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman, or chastity in singleness.” Now the constitution only requires church officials to examine “each candidate’s calling, gifts, preparation and suitability for the responsibilities of office.”
Regional church bodies will still be able to decide whether or not to ordain open homosexuals. However, some presbyteries have already ordained homosexual clergy and lay leaders without approval.
The change could lead some churches to leave the denomination or seek to join presbyteries more aligned with their views.
Rev. Dan Chun, pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Honolulu, told the Los Angeles Times his church has formally petitioned to move from the Pacific Presbytery, which favors homosexual ordination, to the San Diego Presbytery, which does not. The ordination of homosexuals was a major motive for the request.
He said he feared the vote would be “divisive for our denomination, which has, for the past 50-plus years, been losing membership.”
Michael Adee, a presbyter and executive director of the pro-homosexual group More Light Presbyterians, said the change was an “important moment in the Christian communion.”
“I rejoice that Presbyterians are focusing on what matters most: faith and character, not a person's marital status or sexual orientation,” he told the Los Angeles Times.
Knox Presbyterian Church in Ladera Heights, California hosted the Pacific Presbytery meeting.
Linda Fleming, 63, an elder and deacon at the church, said she had changed her mind on the issue because she thought it was “inevitable.”
“I think it's like letting black people come to white churches, or letting women become ministers. It's inevitable.”
Rev. Mark Brewer, pastor of Bel Air Presbyterian and an opponent of homosexual ordination, said he did not think the vote would cause any immediate crisis.
“I think this is a tectonic plate slowly separating, more than a big earthquake,” he said. He thought Presbyterians would “Stay on the same ship” but “live on different decks.”
(Story continues below)
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The Presbyterian Church USA becomes the fourth mainline Protestant church in the U.S. to approve of openly homosexual clergy, after the Episcopal and Evangelical Lutheran churches and the United Church of Christ.