Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area ‘Fidelity/chastity’ ordination standard not an essential of Reformed faith and polity, commissioners decide
By Craig M. KiblerStaff Writer
The Layman Online
Monday, January 28, 2008
EDINA, Minn. – Scripture and the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (USA) both took a beating Jan. 26 when the Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area overwhelmingly voted that the “fidelity/chastity” ordination standard in the Book of Order is not an essential of Reformed faith and polity. With several inches of snow on the ground and temperatures hovering in the high teens, more than 350 people were in the sanctuary of Christ Presbyterian Church as commissioners voted on a declared scruple to that clause by Paul Capetz, an openly gay former minister in the PCUSA. Later, the presbytery also voted overwhelmingly to restore Capetz to the exercise of the ordained office of minister of Word and sacrament, as well as validating his service as an associate professor at United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities in New Brighton, Minn.Commissioners voted on the following motion: “The Committee on Ministry recommends that Dr. Capetz’s declared departure from G-6.0106b be not found to constitute a failure to adhere to the essentials of Reformed faith and polity under G-6.0108 of the Book of Order.” Of the 283 votes cast by written ballot, 197 commissioners voted in favor of permitting the scruple; 84 voted against; and there were two abstentions. In a statement, Interim Executive Presbyter Sarai Schnucker said, “We are overwhelmed by the grace and love that this presbytery exhibited today. The members of the presbytery have conducted themselves with respect and restraint, even while handling such a controversial issue. As a presbytery, we listened to each other and heard each other. In the midst of this time of debate and discernment, there was true worship by the Body of Christ as we sang songs and broke bread together.” “We are unaware of what might take place as a result of today,” she said, “but we have come together as the Body of Christ and we are grateful for the presence of the Spirit with us. Thanks be to God.” Second declared scruple It was the second time in 10 days that a presbytery had approved a declared scruple regarding the denomination’s “fidelity/chastity” ordination standard. On Jan. 15, San Francisco Presbytery approved a scruple in the case of Lisa Larges, a lesbian who is seeking to take the first steps in the ordination process. The three votes in Edina came in response to a request by Capetz that he be restored to ordained ministry. In April 2000, he had requested, and the presbytery agreed, that he be released from the exercise of ordained ministry because of clause G-6.0106b in the denomination’s Book of Order.That “fidelity/chastity” clause, approved by a majority of the PCUSA’s 173 presbyteries in 1997, requires those called to office in the denomination to “lead a life in obedience to Scripture and in conformity to the historic confessional standards of the church,” including living “either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman (W-4.9001), or chastity in singleness.” At the time, Capetz said in a document provided to the presbytery for the Jan. 26 meeting, he was “unable to construe that amendment to the constitution as implying anything other than commitment to a life of permanent celibacy on the part of homosexually-oriented persons who serve as ordained officers in the church.”
In June 2006, the 217th General Assembly approved the report of the Theological Task Force on Peace, Unity and Purity that included an authoritative interpretation that allows individual church sessions and presbyteries to declare whether G-6.0106b is essential. The authoritative interpretation focuses on the “conscience” clause (G-6.0108) and states that the judgment of ordaining bodies cannot be bound by any rule that they deem non-essential.In August 2007, Capetz cited the PUP report in making a request for restoration as a minister to the presbytery’s committee on ministry. At that time, he said he was “grateful for this new authoritative interpretation of section G-6.0108 in our Book of Order that makes it possible for me to request reinstatement as a minister with a good conscience and for this presbytery to have the authority to determine my fitness for holding this office once again.” According to a November letter provided to commissioners by Stated Clerk Nancy E. Grittman, at the time he was released from ordained office, Capetz “was a member in good standing of the presbytery. … There were no charges pending against Paul, nor was there reason to believe that there might be. As Paul says in his letter, he acted in good conscience following the passage of Book of Order G-6.0106b. …” “Following the passage by the denomination of the Peace, Unity and Purity report and the authoritative interpretation,” Grittman wrote, “Paul has asked to be restored to the ordained office of minister of the Word and sacrament.” The presbytery’s committee on ministry voted 11-3 that same month to approve Capetz’s request, saying that his declared scruple to the “fidelity/chastity” clause did not constitute a failure to adhere to an essential of Reformed faith. A Dec. 1 special meeting to consider the issue was postponed, however, after presbytery commissioners at their November meeting directed the committee to provide the presbytery with “a clear statement of what the departure from the constitution is and what was the rationale of the committee on ministry to recommend his reinstatement.” That material was provided to commissioners for the Jan. 26 meeting.