F.C. Presbyterian Pastor Hails End of Ban on Openly Gay Clergy

018Earlier this month, the national Presbyterian Church approved a change in its constitution to allow openly gay church members to serve as ministers and church leaders. It is a change that one local church pastor says has been a long time coming.

018Earlier this month, the national Presbyterian Church approved a change in its constitution to allow openly gay church members to serve as ministers and church leaders. It is a change that one local church pastor says has been a long time coming.

“It’s been a Presbyterian family quarrel for about 30 years,” said Jonathan Smoot, interim pastor at Falls Church Presbyterian Church.

The national church’s constitution was amended about 10 years ago to address its policy on gay clergy serving in the church, but Smoot says the amendment made matters worse because of its requirement that all ministers and officers practice “fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman or chastity in singleness.”

In recent years, a call from the local churches to change that amendment to allow for men and women in monogamous homosexual relationships to serve as church leaders caused the national church to consider changing the language regarding heterosexual fidelity and chastity in the amendment to its constitution.

The Falls Church Presbyterian Church belongs to the Covenant Network of Presbyterians, an organization which has been pushing for those changes.

Last summer, the national church opened the change to a vote among its 173 presbyteries, which comprise ministers and leaders as representatives from each national region’s Presbyterian churches. The deciding vote was cast May 10 by the Presbytery of Twin Cities Area in Minnesota, bringing the total number of presbyteries in support of the change to a majority of 87.

Falls Church Presbyterian Church is part of the National Capitol Presbytery, which represents about 100 churches in the Washington, D.C. area. On April 30, the presbytery voted 204-80 in favor of the removing the heterosexual fidelity and chastity language from the amendment.

Though the four representatives from the Falls Church Presbyterian Church, including Smoot, chose to attend a memorial service for a church elder instead of casting their votes, and could not vote in absentia, Smoot says that the presbytery would have had four more votes in the affirmative.

On July 10, after all presbyteries have had the chance to vote, the change will take effect and openly gay people will be invited to serve as church leaders and clergy.

For Smoot, the altered amendment is important because it both allows for openly gay church members to become leaders in the church, and it restores the responsibility of choosing church leaders and ministers to the local churches and presbyteries, respectively.

“It’s just ridiculous to lift up sexual orientation as a primary criterion for that person’s character or suitability for ministry,” Smoot said. “I hope this puts an end to it.”

Presbyterian Church representatives who have disagreed with the amendment often say that the Bible is clear in its language that homosexuality is a sin against God. But Smoot disagrees with that interpretation.

“It needs to be read in its historical context and not just used as a bludgeon. It needs to be carefully interpreted as the original writers meant,” Smoot said. “I would disagree with my conservative sisters and brothers that the Scripture is making definitive statements about sexuality.”

Smoot considers his church progressive, noting that it offers its sanctuary for blessings of same-sex unions, and that some of his church’s leaders may be gay.

“It’s a matter of don’t ask, don’t tell,” Smoot said, decrying the “witch hunts” that some conservative church officials undertook to remove gay ministers from their positions. “I feel it is inappropriate and intrusive to inquire as to the sexual orientation of our leaders.”

While Smoot believes the decision may result in some churches splitting from the national church, he said that he doubts any members will leave his church even though some may disagree with the decision, because the church has been forthright with its known stance on “seeking to fully include all of God’s children in the leadership of the church regardless of sexual orientation.”

Smoot plans to hold educational workshops as venues for discussion for his church members, as the church’s previous pastor did when the original amendment was first introduced.

While the national church’s shift in allowing gay clergy reflects increased efforts toward inclusion, Smoot said that he thinks more can be done to include all those who wish to worship, specifically by focusing on multicultural and multiracial worship and witness and taking a stand on the social issues that are “ripping the nation apart.”

“I wish we could find our voice again, to speak against social ills,” Smoot said. “We used to do that better.”

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