‘The Will of Christ’

Knox Calgary

A movement that began with an open letter posted online is gaining traction in some of the courts of the church. The Presbytery of Waterloo – Wellington has endorsed an overture to the General Assembly which asks the church’s highest court to allow “every person regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity” to be full participants in the life and work of the denomination.

The presbyteries of East Toronto and Calgary – Macleod also considered the overture at their September meetings and agreed to work on it for a few months before making a final decision in November.

The overture (a document through which a lower court of the church requests action from a higher court) was prepared by a group of Presbyterians. It came before the presbytery of Waterloo – Wellington through Rev. Dr. Mark Lewis, minister of preaching and worship at St. Andrew’s, Kitchener, Ont., and moderator of the 2002 General Assembly.

“I’m glad the presbytery agreed to forward the overture with support,” he said the day after it was endorsed at the Sept. 9 meeting. “I do not put this overture forward in order to appeal to the ethos of the 21st century, or to attract millennials to the church, or because I personally know people whose lives are diminished by our present exclusion of LGBT persons. I put this overture forward because I am convinced that it is the will of Christ. The foundation of Christ’s ministry was, and is, inclusion.”

The Presbyterian Church’s official stance is that homosexual orientation is innate and is not a sin, but homosexual practices are. Homosexual people are barred from ordination unless they are celibate, and same – sex couples cannot be married or have their relationships blessed in Presbyterian worship services.

Rev. Wes Denyer, minister at Rosedale, Toronto, introduced the overture at East Toronto presbytery and was one of the driving forces behind its creation. He was also one of a group of ministers and elders who worked on the online open letter calling for the full inclusion of LGBT persons in the Presbyterian Church. In just over four months, the letter garnered more than 400 signatures. (Read the letter at pccforinclusion.jigsy.com.)

“This for me has been a cause I’ve felt strongly about for a long time,” Denyer said. “I have as a friend a minister in the Presbyterian Church who was gay and felt he had to leave the church, and in fact was advised to leave the church, because of his sexual orientation.”

There are homosexual ministers who remain a part of the Presbyterian Church and are afraid to let their sexual orientation be known, he said. “It drives me crazy that within the church people have to be afraid.”

The issue of homosexuality and ordination has been divisive in the church in the past, perhaps most dramatically in the case of Darryl Macdonald, a gay candidate for ordination whose call to St. Andrew’s, Lachine, Que., was nullified by the 1998 General Assembly after years of messy battles in the church’s courts. He was stripped of his licence to preach and was barred from the pulpits of Presbyterian churches. The issue caused deep divisions in the Presbytery of Montreal, and the congregation of St. Andrew’s left the denomination. Macdonald went on to become a United Church minister. In 2012 assembly lifted the ban that prevented him from preaching in Presbyterian churches.

“I regret that acceptance of the overture may be controversial; it should not be,” Mark Lewis said. “The foundation of Christ’s ministry was, and is, inclusion. … We should have moved towards inclusion 20 years ago, and I am embarrassed that we are still stumbling over this matter.

“To avoid this matter for fear of dividing the denomination is a weak excuse,” continued Lewis. “Jesus never said, ‘I know what I should do, but I don’t want to offend the established church.’ If we believe that inclusion is at the heart of the gospel and the teaching of Jesus, then we must move towards inclusion, even in the matter of ordination, and trust God for the future. If it is the right thing to do in the sight of Christ, then we must do it.”


About Connie Wardle

Connie Wardle is the Presbyterian Record's senior writer and online editor.