The leader of the Presbyterian Church (USA) said pastors and churches who withhold money from the denomination in protest are violating their ordination vows and promoting schism.
In a strongly worded Jan. 3 letter to the church’s 173 regional governing bodies, called presbyteries, Stated Clerk Clifton Kirkpatrick said the church’s constitution “should not be taken lightly.”
Kirkpatrick chastised parts of the church that “seem to be less than vigilant” in upholding the constitution. He was indirectly referring to the case of an openly gay woman in Northern California who was recently ordained, in violation of a church ban on noncelibate gay clergy.
Presbyteries are currently voting on a measure, passed by last year’s General Assembly, which would remove the ban from the church’s constitution. In early voting, the measure appears doomed for defeat.
“Until such time when this or a similar amendment is approved, (the gay pastor ban) is the `law of the church’ and should be upheld,” Kirkpatrick wrote. “No session or presbytery has the right to ordain anyone who is unwilling to live by the `fidelity and chastity’ standard, and I encourage you to faithfully uphold this provision in your governing body.”
Kirkpatrick also spoke to church conservatives who, upset with the church’s liberal drift, have proposed withholding monies in protest. Kirkpatrick said such efforts are “unconstitutional.”
“It is a violation of our ordination vows to promote schism or the defiance of constitutionally sanctioned governing body directives,” he said.
Kirkpatrick said these are “fragile times” in the 2.5 million-member denomination and appealed for calm. “It will take a special measure of grace for Presbyterians on all sides of the current controversies among us to preserve the peace, unity and purity of the church.”