The Presbyterian Church’s recent decision to lift an outright ban on gay and lesbian ministers in the United States isn’t expected to have much effect locally, say some clergy.
The Presbytery of the James, the denomination’s regional governing body in Richmond, was not among those that voted in favor of the change, which took effect July 10.
The presbytery’s leaders and ministers from more than 100 central Virginia churches voted 152-152 on the measure last fall. In 2009, the vote on a similar measure was 192-125.
The Rev. Rosalind Banbury, associate pastor for adult ministries at First Presbyterian Church in Richmond, says the measure isn’t likely to lead to the ordination of many gay and lesbian ministers in the local presbytery. “Generally this is a more conservative region,” she says.
The Rev. Carla Pratt Keyes of Ginter Park Presbyterian Church says the church will bring about “a little” change locally — some churches will now feel freer to ordain gays and lesbians, but others that believe homosexuality is a sin won’t be moved.
In 1997, the Presbyterian Church (USA), which is the largest organization of the denominination, changed language in its governing Book of Order to say that church officers must live “either in fidelity in the covenant marriage between a man and a woman, or chastity in singleness.”
The new language doesn’t specifically address sexual behavior, but says that, “Governing bodies shall be guided by Scripture and the confessions in applying standards to individual candidates.”
Ginter Park Presbyterian several years ago decided that sexual orientation wasn’t a barrier to leadership in its church and issued a statement on its website that put it at odds with the national church. “Our action might have been challenged, but it never was,” Keyes says.
Does it signal an important shift in the church? “I’d like to think so,” she says. “Others hope not.”
Banbury says she has heard from one or two church members upset about the change. “Generally, there has been very little reaction,” she says.