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social sciences

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In 2006, the General Assembly adopted the recommendations of the Task Force. It voted overwhelmingly to affirm the "fidelity and chastity" section of the Book of Order and then by a considerably closer margin voted to allow the section to be waived in individual circumstances.

Although this change in policy appeared to open the doors to the ordination of practicing gay and lesbian aspiring leaders, in actuality that proved not to be the case. Conservatives within the denomination resisted the reform at every stage, exploiting the elaborate judicial system of the Presbyterian Church (USA) to frustrate the intended reform.

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Lisa Larges, for example, had hoped that the change in policy might quickly facilitate her long quest for ordination. She had first been recommended for ordination in 1991 by her local presbytery in Minneapolis, but her ordination was quickly challenged by other congregations and an ecclesiastical court rejected her as unsuitable. In 2006, she began the process all over again, this time in San Francisco.

Again, Larges was approved by the local presbytery and, despite the new policy, she was yet again challenged. In 2010, after a court trial, a Synod of the Pacific Permanent Judicial Commission affirmed by a vote of 5-4 the San Francisco presbytery's approval of her for ordination with a departure or "scruple." But then that ruling was challenged and overturned. Her ordination was not affirmed until 2012, and by that time the policy itself had been changed and personal circumstances caused Larges to no longer be able to accept the "call" to ministry.

Another breakthrough occurred in 2008. The General Assembly by a 54% to 46% margin voted to replace the "fidelity and chastity" ordination clause with the following language: "Those who are called to ordained service in the church, by their assent to the constitutional questions for ordination and installation, pledge themselves to 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. In so doing, they declare their fidelity to the standards of the Church. Each governing body charged with examination for ordination and/or installation . . . establishes the candidate's sincere efforts to adhere to these standards."

The General Assembly also reiterated the compromise adopted in 2006 allowing candidates for ordination to declare a "scruple" and giving discretion to ordaining and installing bodies.

The Assembly also began a process to revoke the Authoritative Interpretation of the Book of Order that homosexual behavior is sinful, an action that may prove particularly significant in the long run.

Again, a large majority of presbyteries rejected the proposal to remove the "fidelity and chastity" requirement.

However, in 2010, the amendment was again approved by the General Assembly and in 2011 finally adopted by a majority of presbyteries.

Amendment 10-A, as it was known, replaced the old ordination standard with the following language: "Standards for ordained service reflect the church's desire to submit joyfully to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in all aspects of life. The governing body responsible for ordination and/or installation shall examine each candidate's calling, gifts, preparation and suitability for the responsibilities of office. The examination shall include, but not be limited to, a determination of the candidate's ability and commitment to fulfill all the requirements as expressed in the constitutional questions for ordination and installation. Governing bodies shall be guided by Scripture and the confessions in applying standards to individual candidates."

Coming after more than 30 years of struggle, this victory to include gay and lesbians as full members of the church was sweet. It undoubtedly reflected changing attitudes toward homosexuals in society at large, but it was also the result of determined clergy and laity committed to the cause of justice within the Church who refused to give up or go away.

It may also have occurred because the opponents of the ordination of gay and lesbian couples simply left the denomination to join others. In any case, the battle for equal rights within the PCUSA was a long and arduous one that sharply divided the Church and has indeed led to schism, with a number of congregations leaving the denomination.

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