Here is a story of hope and a call for change. This is the statement of Rev. Richard Hong, Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, Englewood, New Jersey, to his presbytery expressing his support for the 218th General Assembly's Ordination Amendment 08-B. Rev. Hong offered this statement as part of the discernment and dialogue time before the vote on 08-B in Palisades Presbytery. Palisades Presbytery approved Amendment 08-B by a vote of 35 Yes to 20 No. This is a 63.6% approval rating for 08-B. (Posted by Michael Adee, on the mlp.org website: 2/5/09)
Rev. Richard Hong on the 218th General Assembly's Ordination Amendment 08-B:
I am on the Bills and Overtures Committee representing the Committee on Preparation for Ministry, and it is from that perspective that I comment on 08-B. On CPM, our job is to discern whom God has called. For pastors, elders, and deacons, the question to the congregation at our installations asks that they affirm that the person being elected was “chosen by God through the voice of this congregation.”
“Chosen by God” – that is why I oppose the sort of categorical limitations that were so unwisely added to G-6.0106 a decade ago. Every time we categorically exclude persons from office: persons of color, women – we’re wrong. God has and will continue to surprise us by the people God chooses.
The proposed new language for this section of the Book of Order is far superior because it puts the emphasis where it should be: on the call of God and the desire of those who are called to undertake their office with sincere fidelity to the standards as they are understood by the ordaining body.
That is not to say that there are no limitations appropriately placed on the behavior of persons in office. But in the case of gay/lesbian people, is celibacy a reasonable requirement? The question of whether celibacy could ever be a reasonable standard for officers is not a new question; in fact, it is a 400-year old question: one that Calvin answered “no.” Calvin said that while celibacy was a spiritual gift given to some, it could not reasonably be demanded of all who were called to ministry. To Calvin, the demand was unjust.
The new language does not mean that anything goes. It simply means that a categorical pre-emptive exclusion will be replaced by individual discernment and evaluation by the governing body to whom the person is accountable.
Some of you are concerned about the effect this may have on the church. The defenders of the status quo have always tried to scare us into believing that integration would be the end of the church, that expanding our confessional standards beyond Westminster would be the end of the church, or that the ordination of women would be the end of the church. Yet those things happened and the church lives on.
But the church suffers when we choose the status quo and fail to act on the side of justice.
My favorite quote of Desmond Tutu’s is “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”
This presbytery has a long history of voting to lift its feet off of those who are being stepped on by the world or by the church. Tonight we have an opportunity to do so again, and I pray that we will.