William Klempa is the Principal of Presbyterian College, Montreal, Quebec.
Note from the Executive Director
- General Assembly Committee Considers Presbytery's Action in Seeking to Appoint a Homosexual as Minister.
The forthcoming Assembly meeting in Charlottetown, P.E.I. in June will report its findings concerning an appeal from members of the Presbytery of Montreal about the action of the Presbytery in seeking to appoint a practising homosexual as minister of a congregation. When the interim-moderator brought forth the name of the candidate, the Moderator of Presbytery, the Rev. Bill Manson, ruled it out of order but the ruling was challenged and subsequently overturned by the Presbytery court. This action in turn led to the dissent, and later an appeal to Assembly by the Rev. Ken Wheaton and others, including the Rev. Bill Klempa, Principal of Presbyterian College. Because this issue has such far-reaching ramifications for our Church we believe it is necessary for the Church as a whole to be aware of the issue so that they may be earnest in prayer and discussion as the Committee and Assembly give serious consideration to this matter. The submission of Rev. Bill Klempa to the Assembly Committee sums up clearly the concerns many of us share.
I wish to summarize and amplify my dissent to the action of the Presbytery of Montreal regarding the call of Mr. Darryl Macdonald by the St. Andrew's, Lachine congregation.
1. My first objection is based on the Bible. It is the uniform teaching of both the Old and New Testaments that homosexual practice is contrary to God's will and intention for humanity. This is stated clearly in a number of biblical passages in both testaments and proceeds from the fundamental understanding that one man and one woman constitute the marital relationship (Gen. 2:24). "Becoming one flesh or one body" is the language the Bible uses for sexual coupling and nowhere is it used of any other coupling but that of a man and a woman. This central teaching was re-affirmed by Jesus (Matt.19:5; Mk.10:7) and by Paul (1Cor.6:16; Eph.6:16-17). It excludes, as other biblical passages make clear, a one-body relationship between two persons of the same sex, a bodily relationship with a prostitute, adultery, bisexual relationships, and of course, polygamy, which though practised by Old Testament patriarchs and kings was against this fundamental teaching (cf. J. Calvin, Comm. on Genesis 21:1, Comm. on 1 Tim.3:2 and Sermon on Titus 1:6, and Westminster Confession of Faith, XXIV, 1).
Therefore, if we are serious about Scripture being the canon of all doctrine by which Christ rules our faith and life (cf. Preamble to Ordination Vows), to place the name of a self-declared practising homosexual on a gospel call is to act contrary to God's will and intention as witnessed to by Scriptures. To be sure, there are those who argue that this biblical teaching must be properly interpreted and applied to our contemporary situation. I concur. Yet this does not mean that the Bible is a wax nose that can be shaped as the interpreter wills. The plain sense of the biblical witness is clear. One may argue that it is no longer applicable because of some new light that comes from theology or the biological or social sciences or from present-day experience. Yet, I know of no new light from theology, science or present-day experience that sets aside this fundamental Judeo-Christian understanding. The burden of proof is on the side of those who so contend.
2. My second objection is based on the Christian tradition. Throughout Christian history, until the second half of this century, the Church has consistently rejected homosexual practice. What compelling reason is there for the Church to change its position? Of course, I deplore the way in which both Church and society have harried homosexuals and denied them their fundamental human rights. The Church and all Christians must include homosexual persons in the orbit of their love and active concern and yet must do so without approving or condoning their homosexual behaviour. To approve the call of the Lachine congregation to Mr. Macdonald as a gospel call and to ordain him, is for our presbytery and our whole Church (which is an interconnectional Church rather than a collection of independent congregations), to sanction and to give its blessing to homosexual behaviour. Can the Church do so and still be faithful to Christ, who calls us to conduct ourselves in both our public and private lives as befits his gospel?
3. My third objection is theological and moral. The issue of the ordination of practising homosexuals is often represented today as an issue of human rights and therefore a matter of justice. Confusion arises when the issue is viewed from this perspective. The issue is theological and moral. The "gay" and "lesbian" Christian movement contends that homosexuals must be recognized in terms of their homosexuality which is essential to their nature and about which they have little or no choice. Yet to speak of being born "gay" or for that matter, "straight," as an essential state of nature is misleading. We are born "male" and "female," and it is in virtue of being created in the image of God as "male" and "female" that we have a dignity, a worth and therefore human rights. What is fundamentally a theological, spiritual and moral issue must not be confusedly made into a human rights issue. As we know, complex sexual urges crowd in upon us, as a consequence of the Fall. We fall far short in varying degrees of God's intention for our lives, sexually and otherwise, Yet the good news of the gospel is that Christ has come to redeem us and has redeemed us and called us to "leave [our] former way of life, [therefore, we] must lay aside that old human nature which, deluded by its lusts, is sinking towards death. [We] must be made new in mind and spirit, and put on the new nature of God's creating, which shows itself in the just and devout life called for by the truth" (Eph.4:22-24, NEB).
A Christian minister ought to be an example to the "flock of God", to the wider community, and especially to children and young people. Homosexuality, in many cases, does not appear to be something indelibly ingrained. Individuals have gravitated to homosexuality from heterosexual experiences, or have always been bisexual in orientation, or live in a society that encourages homosexuality. Dennis Prager is correct in his statement that "By and large, it is society, not the individual, that chooses whether homosexuality is widely practised" ("Judaism, Homosexuality and Civilization" in Ultimate Issues, April-June, 1990, 23). The Church as a moral and spiritual force in society, while showing great sympathy for the exclusively homosexual individual, must strongly oppose the social acceptance of homosexuality. While, there is no question that many homosexuals have found in their homosexual relationships, love, mutual concern and personal significance, nevertheless, as the Ramsay Colloquium has said: "Where there is love in morally disordered relationships we do not censure the love. We censure the form in which that love seeks expression" (First Things, March, 1994, 19).
If we are concerned about the importance of example, what kind of signal is being sent to young people, to the Church and wider community by ordaining declared homosexual persons?
4. My fourth objection is on the basis of Presbyterian Church polity. In my dissent and appeal I made the point that the candidature of Mr. Macdonald for the Lachine vacancy, the actions of the interim-moderator, the vote of the Lachine congregation and the actions of the Presbytery of Montreal were highly irregular and not in accordance with our Church's practice and procedure. Our Church, through its highest court and in consultation with the presbyteries, has consistently stated that homosexual practice is not a Christian option. A mechanism is readily available by way of petition or overture, for those who disagree with the Church's stand, for making changes in Church doctrine and practice. Instead of using this mechanism, the interim-moderator, congregation and presbytery have defiantly acted against the Church's stated position. (It is a futile and demeaning argument to say, as I have heard it said in the presbytery, that no other candidates were available.) As I have said, this whole matter has brought hurt and pain to Mr. Macdonald, to the St. Andrew's, Lachine, people and has further divided our presbytery. This issue has the potential of dividing our Church.
I wonder to what end? Are we prepared to travel along the road the United Church of Canada has taken with its loss of congregations and members over this issue? Very few openly homosexual persons have been called in the United Church and when ministers have declared that they are homosexual as in the case of Rev. Erin Shoemaker, in Balcarres, Saskatchewan, the congregation has split (see Joan Breckenridge, "Clerics stay in the closet despite United Signal", Globe and Mail, September, 1995). Indeed, it is estimated that about 100,000 members have left since the United Church voted to welcome declared homosexuals into the ministry seven years ago. At least 25,000 left because of that decision. Are we prepared to suffer similar losses? Indeed are we prepared to follow the theological route that the United Church is taking? In 1925, we indicated that we were bound by Scripture and the Reformed Confessions and for that reason as well as other reasons we chose to remain Presbyterian. Is it not incumbent upon us to maintain a strong biblical and theological Presbyterian witness in our Canadian context? If we fail to do so other Churches will come in to fill the vacuum that has been created.
This coming summer the Presbyterian Church in the United States will deal with the issue of ordaining declared homosexuals. I doubt that they will vote to do so. My hope is that God's wisdom and good common sense will prevail in their struggles with this issue as in ours and I will pray constantly for the committee in its work and the Church in its decision. May God bless and guide you!