The Rev. Dr. Laura S. Sugg
Presbytery of the James
October 16, 2010
My name is Laura Sugg and I am a minister member of the Presbytery of the James. I serve as Associate Pastor and UVA Campus Minister at Westminster Church, Charlottesville, and I rise to speak in favor of Amendment 10-A.
Conversations like the one we are having now are difficult and sometimes painful. Each of us here shares a commitment to Christ that is based in scripture, informed by the essential tenets of the Reformed tradition and by the confessions, and we respect our polity. Each of us has promised to seek the peace, unity and purity of the church. In all this, we seek to be guided by the Holy Spirit. There is so much upon which we agree. Yet there are times when we come to different conclusions even when we prayerfully engage with the same scripture, the same confessions and theological traditions. So, there is pain in the voices of our speakers—both pro and con.
When language was added to the Book of Order thirteen years ago, I remember being concerned that it was a departure from previous language that held up national standards without imposing one particular interpretation of God’s call in scripture. The then-new language is easy to follow if you are married, but all church members and ministers were being told that in this one area of their lives, their consciences would be bound by their denomination’s polity. We have no similar specific prescriptions about how much money elders and ministers should give to the church, how they should keep the Sabbath, whether or how many children they should have, or other important matters.
Nine years ago, the church gathered a very diverse group of Presbyterians to study the Peace, Unity and Purity of the Church, and four years ago their report was received. Even after hours of Bible study and prayer, they never came to an agreement about sexuality; that is partly why they pointed the PCUSA back to our historical affirmations that “God alone is Lord of the conscience;” and in 222-year-old language: while “we think it necessary to make effectual provision that all who are admitted as teachers be sound in the faith, we also believe that there are truths and forms with respect to which men of good characters and principles may differ. And in all these we think it the duty both of private Christians and societies to exercise mutual forbearance toward each other.” (G-1.0305)
This amendment is in keeping with the Task Force’s desire for clear national standards that are applied by the local governing bodies who are best equipped to discern whether or not a candidate lives up to those criteria. By lifting up standards that all Presbyterians can affirm and leaving out language that binds the conscience of some, Amendment 10-A balances the historic principles of church government of the right of private judgment, the value of corporate judgment, and the necessity for mutual forbearance.
I have spent about 17 of my 23 years in ministry working with young adults. Over these years I can see the faces of so many gifted students—people who loved Jesus, who had gifts to share with the Church. I see faces of people who are now leaders in other denominations because their gifts and desire for service were rejected, or because of the dismay they felt at the exclusion of their gay friends.
Today, I see young people looking for a church that is focused on worshipping God, helping our neighbor, caring for creation, and understanding God’s word. Even students who grew up in more conservative congregations are seeking a discipleship that moves beyond a fixation on the bedroom, and moves out into the sanctuary, into the marketplace and the public square. They are good Presbyterians whose views are in keeping with those voices from 1788 that recognized both the need for standards AND the need for mutual forbearance when believers disagree.
Amendment 10-A brings us closer to the church they seek. It is language that all Presbyterians—young and old—can affirm. To honor that “God alone is Lord of the conscience” and to exercise mutual forbearance is not a watering down of the gospel. Both sides of this debate care deeply about God’s written word and engage with scripture deliberately and prayerfully. 10-A recognizes what Presbyterians have known for centuries: the Church cannot always speak with one voice on all issues. It does not take a position on the contested issues surrounding sexuality but does hold up high standards of submission to the Lordship of Christ in all of life.
I ask you to vote in favor of the Amendment.
*Standards for ordained service reflect the church’s desire to submit joyfully to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in all aspects of life (G-1.0000). The governing body responsible for ordination and/or installation (G-14.0240; G-14.0450) shall examine each candidate’s calling, gifts, preparation, and suitability for the responsibilities of office. The examination shall include, but not be limited to, a determination of the candidate’s ability and commitment to fulfill all requirements as expressed in the constitutional questions for ordination and installation (W-4.4003). Governing bodies shall be guided by Scripture and the confessions in applying standards to individual candidates.
Reprinted from the Covenant Network