Friday, 24 February 2012
“I am writing this paper to ask a question of our presbytery and by extension our denomination. The question is ‘If I am biblically persuaded that women can serve as deacons in the church, am I outside the bounds of PCA polity presently or in the foreseeable future?’”
At its February 17, 2012 stated meeting, Northern California Presbytery heard a paper prepared by TE Sam Wheatley, pastor of New Song Presbyterian Church in Salt Lake City, Utah. In his paper TE Wheatley stated the purpose for his paper: “I am writing this paper to ask a question of our presbytery and by extension our denomination. The question is ‘If I am biblically persuaded that women can serve as deacons in the church, am I outside the bounds of PCA polity presently or in the foreseeable future?’”
In light of this discussion, Northern California Presbytery voted to erect a committee to study the nature of ordination.
In response to TE Wheatley’s paper, the Sessions of Danville Presbyterian Church, Danville, Calif., and Grace Presbyterian Church, Livermore, Calif., sent the following letter:
February 13, 2012
Northern California Presbytery
Fathers and Brothers,
RE: TE Sam Wheatley’s Question Regarding Women Deacons
This letter is in response to TE Sam Wheatley’s January 30, 2012 letter to The Northern California Presbytery regarding “women deacons.” This issue was ruled on by the SJC in their decision in Joint Cases 2009-25, TE David Brown v. Northern California Presbytery, and 2009-26, Grace Presbyterian Church v. Northern California Presbytery. The final decision was issued in late 2010 and a concurring opinion amplifying the decision was issued in March 2011. As stated clerk of the Presbytery, TE Wheatley presented written and oral arguments on behalf of Northern California Presbytery to the SJC in the subject cases. A brief summary of the ruling was presented to the Presbytery at the May 6, 2011 meeting at Canyon Creek Church. A copy is attached. The two main issues raised by TE Wheatley and our responses are as follows:
1. “ If I am biblically persuaded that women can serve as deacons in the church am I outside the bounds of PCA polity presently or in the foreseeable future?”
No. The ruling states that a minister may “hold such views” and not be in violation of PCA polity. Teaching such views, however, would be a violation.
2. “Therefore, our congregation will continue to nominate, train, elect and install men and women as deacons of the church as we have practiced for the past several years.
This stated practice is in clear violation of the SJC ruling which says that congregations may not ELECT women, even with the approval of the Session, to serve as deaconesses who assist the male deacons. This is prohibited since it would reasonably lead many to mistakenly believe that an elected “deaconess” had the same status as an elected deacon (officer). Women may be appointed by the session to assist the deacons, but their installation must be sufficiently distinct from that used for ordained officers such that it would not lead a competent observer to conclude the woman had the same authority as a deacon who is ordained.
In summary, a minister is permitted to hold disparate views regarding women deacons but, until the BCO is changed, he must not teach such views and in practice must conform to the BCO and the rulings of the SJC that specifically address this subject. TE Wheatley can, of course, overture the Presbytery or the General Assembly to permit ordination of women deacons but we would not support such an overture.
SUMMARY OF SJC 2009-25 & 26 DECISION
(Cliffs Notes Version)
Appointed Deaconesses and Use of the term “Deaconess”
It is acceptable for a session to select and appoint women to assist the male deacons and to call them “deaconesses” but only if both of the following are true:
1. The title of “deaconess” would not lead a competent observer to conclude the woman had the same authority as a deacon who is ordained, and/or to conclude the word “deaconess” was being used essentially the same as the title deacon used for an ordained officer in the BCO, and
2. The use of the term “deaconess” for a non-ordained woman is made plain to the competent observer by employing a distinctive means of appointing such women, and by the way such women are publicly acknowledged in relation to the ordained officers in that church and in the PCA.
Congregations may not ELECT women, even with the approval of the Session, to serve as deaconesses who assist the male deacons since it would reasonably lead many to mistakenly believe that an elected “deaconess” had the same status as an elected deacon (officer).
In churches where men are ordained as deacons and women serve as deaconesses without ordination, the women may not be equal partners (i.e. have equal authority) with the ordained men.
No Ordained deacons
It is acceptable for a church to have both men and women serve in diaconal ministry and to be described as “deacon” or “deaconess” though no one is ordained to this ministry. But, it would not be acceptable if any of the following is practiced:
1. The Session unilaterally institutes the practice, rather than the congregation voting to do so.
2. The congregation is asked to elect these men and women.
3. These men and women are said to be on a “diaconate” or occupy the “office of deacon”
4. The congregation is asked to promise something like that promised to deacons (BCO 24-6).
5. These men and women are commissioned or installed in a manner or in a service not sufficiently distinct from that used for ordained officers.
6. These men and women are afforded the right to vote on matters coming before the diaconate or board of deacons or hold the office of chairman or secretaty.
Note: This summary is not intended to replace each elder’s review of the SJC Concurring Opinion.
Danville Presbyterian Church: Grace Presbyterian Church
TE David R. Brown TE Thomas Brown
RE David M. Brown RE Brian Eschen
RE Terry L. Thompson