The General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission — the highest court in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) — has declined in two new rulings involving controversial cases to take on some of the central questions involving departures of conscience from the denomination’s ordination standards.
The new rulings, both issued Nov. 2, come in cases involving Lisa Larges, a lesbian candidate for ministry from California, and Paul Capetz, a gay theology professor from Minnesota who set aside his ordination in 2000 because he objects to the denomination’s requirement that those being ordained practice fidelity if they are married or chastity if they are single. Capetz has since asked that his ordination be reinstated.
Ever since the General Assembly in 2006 adopted an authoritative interpretation – following the recommendations of the Theological Task Force on the Peace, Unity, and Purity of the PC(USA) — that allows candidates to declare conscientious objections to the “fidelity and chastity” standard — some in the church have been waiting for definitive word from the GAPJC over whether that authoritative interpretation is proper.
Under the current rules, when a candidate declares a scruple, the governing body then must determine whether or not that objection involves an “essential” of Reformed faith and practice. If the governing body determines it does not, the exception to the standard can be granted.
The GAPJC’s most recent rulings did not address the central architecture of that authoritative interpretation, in other words, whether such scruples involving “fidelity and chastity” should be permitted. In both cases, the court ruled on procedural issues involving timing and process, not on more key issues on which some advocates would like to hear a definitive word soon.