More Presbyteries Approve Overtures on Homosexuality

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The presbyteries of East Toronto and Calgary – Macleod both agreed at their November meetings to ask the church’s highest court to make the denomination more inclusive for homosexual members, ministers and candidates for ministry.

Through an overture to General Assembly, East Toronto presbytery has asked for the Life and Mission Agency and its Justice Ministries department to prepare a “declaratory statement for the General Assembly that affirms that the Presbyterian Church in Canada is fully inclusive of every person regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity in all aspects of church life, including calling, designation, ordination, and marriage equality as a matter of justice and hospitality.”

The document was endorsed by a strong majority of the ministers and elders that make up the regional court, although one member registered his dissent to the decision, and some said they could not support the overture.

“At this time I still cannot support the overture because I’m not convinced from my reading of scripture that it reflects the mind of Christ,” Rev. Dr. Kevin Livingston, associate professor of pastoral ministry at Tyndale University College and Seminary, said during the meeting. “But I don’t intend to debate this matter tonight. I imagine there will be plenty of time for debate in the next months and years. But I would urge us to keep the dialogue going … because I am concerned about how incendiary on all sides matters around this overture could be, and I do have great concerns and fears for the future of the church.”

Livingston voted against the overture, but did not ask for his dissent to be formally recorded in the minutes.
The Presbytery of Calgary – Macleod endorsed an overture prepared by Rev. Dr. Nancy Cocks, minister at St. John’s, Medicine Hat, Alta. and a former professor at Atlantic School of Theology in Halifax. It was based on an overture prepared by a committee of the presbytery.

The overture that passed asked for “declaratory legislation which enables presbyteries and sessions to consider for certification gay and lesbian candidates for ministry and which enables sessions to give permission for the celebration of marriage for gay or lesbian couples who come under their pastoral care.”

“Over now more than 33 years, I have seen the testimony of the work of the Holy Spirit through the gifts of people who are gay or lesbian and who have wonderful gifts for ministry,” Cocks said. “And I think the church needs those gifts.”

Six people registered their dissent to the presbytery’s decision to approve the overture, including David Caldwell, an elder from Grace, Calgary.

“I feel that an overture like this cannot or should not become a declaratory act unless there is a strong and very thorough theological foundation for it,” he said. “It’s got to be strong enough that people will accept that this is the will of God.”

Following the vote, Rev. Grant Gunnink asked the presbytery moderator to lead the court in a prayer for unity.
“The question really is: how do we continue to work together and keep together as a church when something like this disagreement and different understanding reveals such a wide gap between what people hold in common?” Gunnink said.

“I’m under no illusion that presenting an overture ends a conversation,” Cocks said, noting that she was part of the committee on church doctrine when it produced its extensive 1994 Report on Human Sexuality. “We will have a very reasoned conversation about this overture and all the overtures.”

The Presbytery of Waterloo – Wellington endorsed an overture in September that also called for the assembly to affirm that the PCC is “fully inclusive of every person regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity.”

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About Connie Wardle

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