The Covenant Network of Presbyterians rejoices in the decision of the Synod of the Pacific Permanent Judicial Commission (SPJC) moving Candidate Lisa Larges one step closer to ordination as a teaching elder.

The SPJC ruled this week that the Presbytery of San Francisco’s approval of Ms. Larges for ordination “is constitutionally valid.”

Ms. Larges’ first trip through Presbyterian judicial process was in the early 1990’s; despite a rebuff based on the old “definitive guidance” (before G-6.0106b), she has remained under care, insisting on calling the PC(USA) to follow its own best principles.

The 2006 General Assembly approved the recommendations of the Theological Task Force on the Peace, Unity, and Purity of the Church highlighting the ability of a presbytery to approve a candidate for ordination with a departure.  The Presbytery of San Francisco, accepting her Statement of Departure from G-6.0106b, has voted twice to move Ms. Larges toward ordination.  Each time, dissenters have filed remedial cases objecting to the presbytery’s decision.

In in latest case, Parnell et al. v. Presbytery of San Francisco, the Synod of the Pacific PJC had upheld the presbytery’s vote to approve Ms. Larges’ ordination.  The General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission, meeting in late July to consider the appeal of that decision, did not sustain most of the specifications of error (i.e., affirming the SPJC), but remanded the case to the SPJC to rule “on the Appellants’ contention that Scripture and the Confessions prohibit certain sexual behavior.”

Citing the reality that there is wide disagreement about the interpretation of Scripture when it comes to same-sex relationships, the SPJC has now ruled “that Presbytery’s decision to ordain the candidate was neither doctrinal error nor an abuse of its discretion.”

The GAPJC had suggested that the SPJC might instruct the presbytery to re-examine Ms. Larges under the newly-approved expression of our ordination standard, G-2.0104b, but the SPJC unanimously declined to require that step.

The complainants in Parnell have 45 days to appeal the SPJC decision.

Three dissenters on the SPJC, while acknowledging that testimony demonstrated differing interpretations of Scripture among Presbyterians, nevertheless wanted to choose one interpretation and impose it on the whole church — substituting their judgment for that of the presbytery.  According to their dissent, anyone who does not accept their conclusion that Scripture and the confessions condemn all same-gender practice is incapable of responding in the affirmative to all the ordination promises.  Such a position would disqualify thousands of Presbyterians from serving in ordered ministry.

In addition to our gratitude to Ms. Larges for her faithful persistence and forbearance, we are indebted to the Covenant Network’s recently-retired Executive Director, Pam Byers, who serves on the Committee of Counsel for the Presbytery of San Francisco, and to CovNet Director Doug Nave, who has represented the presbytery pro bono by writing numerous briefs and arguing their case at multiple hearings.

We hope and pray that it won’t be necessary through the church courts — but the Covenant Network will continue to support councils and individuals in the quest to
ordain those whom God is calling to serve.