At its 50th General Assembly last week, the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) debated and voted on several overtures, or church-legislation measures, related to women in ministry, sexuality, and sexual abuse response. Leaders and representatives of the Atlanta-based denomination met in Memphis, Tennessee, to celebrate the body’s silver anniversary and to conduct church business.
Commissioners, or voting delegates, approved the limitation of the title of pastor, elder, and deacon to ordained people—a reaction to some PCA churches naming women as deacons. They passed overtures clarifying that only heterosexual men can hold church offices. And they rejected several overtures related to sexual abuse prevention and response measures.
Presbyterian Church in America Reaffirms Only Straight Men May Hold Church Office
Currently, the Presbyterian Church in America’s Book of Church Order states that church offices are “open to men only.” The overture passed at last week’s General Assembly will amend the wording to state that only ordained individuals may hold those positions.
During a debate, Missouri Pastor Charles Stover said, “The peace and the purity of the church has been disturbed by churches attributing offices to candidates not qualified for said office.” Such a practice “is misleading to our sisters and mothers,” he added.
Passed overwhelmingly, the overture needs to be approved by two-thirds of the denomination’s presbyteries and also ratified by an upcoming General Assembly.
Commissioners also passed overtures requiring male office-holders to follow PCA beliefs regarding sexuality in their “convictions, character, and conduct.” Debate about the eligibility of same-sex celibate men to hold church office stemmed from the controversial Revoice conference launched in 2018.
If the overtures are approved and ratified, they will settle ongoing discussion about the topic. Previous overtures didn’t receive two-thirds approval, so new versions were created. At the General Assembly, Alabama Pastor Stephen Tipton said, “If you are tired of this controversy and you wish to see an end to the debate, the doubt, and the division, vote for this overture because it is sufficient.”
Four PCA Overtures Regarding Sexual Abuse Fail
Also at the General Assembly, commissioners rejected four overtures aimed at tightening the prevention of sexual abuse within PCA churches. Two dealt with who can testify in church courts—and whether they have to “believe in God, heaven, and hell.” Other overtures dealt with background checks for new and transferring clergy, as well as communication among PCA officials regarding reports of abuse.
After vigorous discussion, all four were voted down. Some attendees said the overtures simply weren’t needed. “The current system has worked and is working and…shouldn’t be changed to accommodate remote possibilities,” said Alabama Pastor Steve Dowling.