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Ordination Standards:
Biblical, Theological, and Scientific Perspectives

A great resource for the ordination debates

Gene TeSelle reviews Ordination Standards: Biblical, Theological, and Scientific Perspectives – a very thorough guide for studying and discussing the complex questions surrounding the debates of inclusive ordination.   [2-8-06]

Ordination Standards: Biblical, Theological, and Scientific Perspectives is a survey and study guide prepared by the elders of the North Como Presbyterian Church in Roseville, Minnesota. The 556-page paperbound book is published by iUniverse (a subsidiary of Barnes and Noble) at a price of $46.95. Both Amazon and Barnes and Noble have new and used copies at lower prices, starting at around $35. The whole guide can also be downloaded as an Adobe eBook for $6 per copy (go to either iUnivers or Amazon).

It's impressive, for starters, that something like this could be done at all. It is the result of five years of study by the elders and members of a local church. After looking into an issue that has agitated the church for three decades, they offer here a curriculum designed to stimulate discussion in other congregations. There are fourteen "modules" — four dealing with biblical and theological issues, ten with scientific.

They did not do it alone. The bibliographies indicate how much reading, research, and consultation they did. They had on-the-scene advice from two professors from United Theological Seminary, as well as many other academics and professional practitioners. They make much use of Jack Rogers' book Reading the Bible and the Confessions: The Presbyterian Way(1999), and Rogers has an endorsement on the back cover.

The opening modules look at the Bible and the Presbyterian approach to interpreting it. To prepare us for dealing with the contemporary debate about same-sex relationships, they look at two other controversies, those concerning slavery and the status of women. The Bible can be quoted on both sides of these questions, and what most of us regard as the "right" approach was not given serious consideration until the 19th century in the case of the former, the 20th in the case of the latter.

Then we are led, step by step, through the history of the Presbyterian church's ordination standards, all the way to the addition of G-6.0106b to the Book of Order, its interpretation by the Permanent Judicial Commission, and the attempts to remove it. All the relevant passages — study documents, General Assembly actions, judicial decisions — are quoted, so that there is no need to hunt up the sources. There is also a helpful explanation of the way a condemnation of "homosexual perversion" got into Question 87 of the Heidelberg Confession (C-4.087) although it is absent from the original texts.

This leads, quite naturally, to a consideration of how the Bible is to be applied to the ordination standards as they currently stand. We get detailed discussions of the image of God (Gen. 1:27-28), Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 19), the Levite's concubine (Jud. 19), several key passages from Leviticus, and the negative statements in Paul (Rom. 1: 26-27, 1 Cor. 6:9-10).

In the case of Genesis 19 and Judges 19, it is clear that the real issue is the violation of hospitality by humiliating other males — proving that they are "girlie-men," to use contemporary rhetoric. (Yes, the sin of Sodom is being perpetuated in our own day, at least "in their hearts" (cf. Mt. 5:21-28), by those whose bumper stickers say, "Don't be a girlie man, vote Republican.") The socially approved way of satisfying masculine assertiveness was to substitute women as the legitimate victims. So much for what appears, at first glance, to be "biblical ethics." We discover that passages like these must be understood in the light of "the circumstances in which they were set down" (C-5.010) and the "views of life, history, and the cosmos which were then current" (C-9.29).

In dealing with Romans 1, we are reminded that the ancient world had no notion that same-sex attraction might be the result of inherent dispositions. Paul, furthermore, shared the assumptions of his time about the inferiority of women and the "natural use of women" (yes, that's his language). This, too, requires interpretation rather than proof-texting.


The modules on scientific perspectives are even more detailed. Following an introduction dealing with scientific method, we are led through topics such as homosexuality and transsexuality in the natural world; psychological studies of prejudice, rejection, and suicide as they affect GLBT persons; the debate between "essentialism" and "constructionism," genetic versus environmental factors; and the many issues surrounding "conversion therapies." There is a detailed survey of ex-gay ministries and individual leaders, some of whom subsequently left the movement. The last major segment deals with issues of professional ethics in attempting conversion therapy.

This is a thorough discussion guide. In fact, given its length it is a discussion all by itself. In that sense it would be suitable for solitary reading, and in the process you can learn an awful lot! But it does invite — even requires — live discussion, since various perspectives are explored without reaching final resolution. As we know, there will always be new resources coming out. But that does not mean that this guide will become out-of-date, for it envisages exactly that kind of open-ended discussion.

Preview the first chapter and order the book at Also available at and .

Ordination Standards:

Biblical, Theological, and Scientific Perspectives

by North Como Presbyterian Church


Study the broad range of Biblical, theological, and scientific source material concerning these critical issues:

bulletWhat does the Bible say about sexual orientation and behavior?
bulletAs Christians. how do we deal with controversies facing the church?
bulletWhat determines sexual orientation?
bulletCan homosexuals be converted to heterosexuality?

Most books that address issues of sexuality and ordination have either a liberal or a conservative point of view. This book presents information from a variety of perspectives and invites readers to do the hard work, ask the tough questions, consider the evidence, and make their own informed decisions,

Ordination Standards: Biblical, Theological, and Scientific Perspectives is a curriculum for studying the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) ordination standards within an integrated framework that strives to be fait's will. The current ordination standards state that in order to be ordained as a deacon, elder. or minister of the word and sacrament. a person must "live either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman,. or chastity in singleness." This requirement has been challenged by those who believe that gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender persons in life-long committed relationships should not be excluded from ordination,

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has addressed these concerns through the Definitive Guidance statements and General Assembly task forces examining ordination standards. General Assembly directed that all congregations study these issues. Six years ago, the members of North Como Presbyterian Church embarked on an in-depth study of the topic. At the request of Session, the Ordination Standards Task Force researched, edited, and produced an ordination standards curriculum, What we learned forms the basis of this balanced and comprehensive textbook.. We went to the source documents cited in the church positions on ordination standards and incorporated the material into this curriculum so that readers can understand the reasoning behind the various positions. Biblical scholars, theologians, and experts on human sexuality read drafts of the material and advised the taskforce on content and balance.


The book is divided into Part I, Biblical and Theological Perspectives, and Part II, Scientific Perspectives. Each Part contains its own introduction that explains the structure and intention of the modules within the Part, The book can be used by academic audiences and church organizations studying ordination standards. The material in this book is geared toward adult learners. We have attempted to maintain a neutral tone throughout so that textbook users can evaluate the material and draw their own conclusions.

Preview the first chapter and order the book at Also available at and .



Some blogs worth visiting

PVJ's Facebook page

Mitch Trigger, PVJ's Secretary/Communicator, has created a Facebook page where Witherspoon members and others can gather to exchange news and views. Mitch and a few others have posted bits of news, both personal and organizational. But there’s room for more!

You can post your own news and views, or initiate a conversation about a topic of interest to you.


John Shuck’s new "Religion for Life" website

Long-time and stimulating blogger John Shuck, a Presbyterian minister currently serving as pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Elizabethton, Tenn., writes about spirituality, culture, religion (both organized and disorganized), life, evolution, literature, Jesus, and lightening up.

Click here for his blog posts.

Click here for podcasts of his radio program, which "explores the intersection of religion, social justice and public life."


John Harris’ Summit to Shore blogspot

Theological and philosophical reflections on everything between summit to shore, including kayaking, climbing, religion, spirituality, philosophy, theology, The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), New York City and the Queens neighborhood of Ridgewood -- by a progressive New York City Presbyterian Pastor. John is a former member of the Witherspoon board, and is designated pastor of North Presbyterian Church in Flushing, NY.


Voices of Sophia blog

Heather Reichgott, who has created this new blog for Voices of Sophia, introduces it:

After fifteen years of scholarship and activism, Voices of Sophia presents a blog. Here, we present the voices of feminist theologians of all stripes: scholars, clergy, students, exiles, missionaries, workers, thinkers, artists, lovers and devotees, from many parts of the world, all children of the God in whose image women are made. .... This blog seeks to glorify God through prayer, work, art, and intellectual reflection. Through articles and ensuing discussion we hope to become an active and thoughtful community.


Got more blogs to recommend?

Please send a note, and we'll see what we can do!


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