Actions of the 218th GA (2008) – 8/08

A Statement by the Covenant Network Board
in Response to the Actions of the
218th General Assembly
August 4, 2008

Since its founding, the Covenant Network of Presbyterians has worked to remove constitutional barriers that might prohibit the ordination of gay and lesbian Presbyterians who are called to the offices of the church.  We have held in equal regard the unity of the church despite theological disagreements, eager to learn from the faith and insights of those who differ with us and to share in faithful witness to the world.  Although these twin commitments may at times be in tension, we have been unwilling to sacrifice either to the other. 

The 218th General Assembly took several actions to remove legal impediments to the ordination of qualified GLBT Presbyterians:

  • By passing the John Knox overture, it restored the right of sessions and presbyteries to discern gifts for ministry in individual candidates and to consider any declared “departures” from G-6.0106b or other standards on a case-by-case basis.
  • By passing the Boston overture, it rescinded a denominational statement of 1978 that “practicing homosexuals” could not serve in ordained office, and also rescinded “all subsequent affirmations.”  That statement and its progeny have been deeply hurtful to faithful church members for 30 years, and we are grateful that they no longer have any force in church law.
  • It sent to the presbyteries a proposed constitutional amendment that would replace the exclusive focus of G-6.0106b with a more Reformed requirement that officers “live lives obedient to Jesus Christ the Head of the Church, striving to follow where he leads through the witness of the Scriptures, and to understand the Scriptures through the instruction of the Confessions.”  The proposed amendment rightly refuses to single out sexual activity from the fullness of discipleship.  A majority of presbyteries (87) must vote Yes to make this change.

The actions of the 218th General Assembly have made clear that qualified members in committed same gender relationships may respond to the call to serve as officers and ministers in the church where sessions and presbyteries deem their declared departures not to be essential to the faith or polity of the church.  By action of the Assembly, one of Covenant Network’s goals is substantially achieved.

The Board of the Covenant Network continues to believe that G-6.0106b has no place in a just and faithful Presbyterian Church.  It is a symbol of theological and social attitudes that we believe are wrong, that have done great damage in the church and world and of which, we are convinced, the church should repent.  We also believe that the nature and manner of the debate that lies before the church is even more important than is the outcome of the vote. We embrace the G.A.’s strong encouragement for presbyteries “to consider this overture using a process of listening and discernment.”

As the church begins to consider the actions of the 218th G.A., the Board of the Covenant Network commits itself:

To work in presbyteries for conversation rather than combat.  We urge presbyteries to take as much time as the constitution allows to make careful and reflective decisions.  We will work with any presbytery that wants our help to design processes that search the Scriptures, create meaningful theological exchange, and deepen understanding and respect among those who disagree.

To help presbyteries and sessions use the means now available to ordain GLBT Presbyterians who are called by God and the church to office.  It is our conviction that gifted GLBT officers will, by their manner of life, be a source of rejoicing, hope, and gratitude for the whole church.  

To support the replacement of G-6.0106b in the Book of Order, and also to work towards transformation in the church that is deeper than legislative change can accomplish by itself.  We pray that as the Spirit is given space to move through processes of discernment, governing bodies will build a substantial majority that can affirm constitutional change while allowing for loving disagreement.

To trust the Holy Spirit to guide the church in making this decision.  We invite other groups that likely harbor a diversity of views about strategy and tactics, just as we do, to join in this conversation. We will cooperate with all who seek to make consideration of the proposed amendment a grace- and Spirit-filled interval in the life of the church.  We ask all parties to set a high standard of civility and respect for divergent views, to offer the church thoughtful theological resources rather than political propaganda, and to think and act in ways that truly express the Gospel. 

Even as we rejoice with those who have waited, labored, and longed for this day for more than thirty years, we know that others in the church find these decisions of the Assembly deeply troubling.  We pledge to work, study, and learn with them so that we may continue to share in mission, evangelism, and service to our Lord and his world. Christ alone is our Unity and our Peace.  We pray that regardless of our differences, we may jointly affirm that unity in him, and support the critical mission of the Presbyterian Church (USA) to a world that is hungering for the Word of love, truth, and justice given to us in Jesus Christ.

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