Despite the sensitivities surrounding the issue of homosexuality in the Presbyterian Church (USA), a minister in Austin, Texas took part in the “blessing” of the “marriages” of 50 same-sex couples on the campus of the University of Texas (UT). The pastor, Rev. Jim Rigby of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Austin, now faces a formal complaint and may be stripped of his own ordination.
Rigby defied church law by coordinating the “marriages” on April 23. PCUSA law, similar to that of most denominations, strictly states that active homosexuals may not be ordained, that the homosexual lifestyle is not compatible to the scripture, and that PCUSA ministers may not take part in or oversee gay “marriage” ceremonies.
When a 19-year-old University of Texas student and his pastor filed a formal complaint against the “ceremonies,” Rigby defiantly responded with a challenge to “try” him.
"Either they have to strip me of my ordination or the church has to change," Rigby exhorted, saying he wants to go on trial because that will force Presbyterian officials to confront the issue of homosexuality.
Ironically, Rigby’s actions are not new. The PCUSA has been locked in an avid battle over homosexuality for several decades, with conservatives calling against all forms of homosexuality in the church and liberals calling for the complete integration of homosexuality in the denominational ranks. While the majority of Presbyterians voted and fought - time and time again - to keep the current ordination standards, dozens of pro-gay pastors publicly violated the laws by stating that they a) are practicing homosexuals, b) have conducted marriages for homosexual couples or c) have participated in the ordination of practicing homosexuals.
Paul Rolf Jensen, a conservative Presbyterian, had been involved in most cases involving the issue; Jensen is handling the Rigby case as well.
Jensen said Rigby is “commendable” for his convictions, but also wrong for causing a “war” on the church.
"I have met with Mr. Rigby, and respect him for having the courage of his convictions. He says he is perfectly willing to lose his ordination over this issue, just like Steve Van Kuiken,” said Jensen, referring to another Presbyterian minister who was eventually booted out of the denomination. “Mr. Rigby doesn't understand that by defying his ordination vows, and by publicly attacking our church's historic Biblical stand, he is making war upon our church. I intend to stop him.”
Rigby, meanwhile, said is trying to “help” the church.
"This is what the church needs," he said, "this conversation."
But Jensen clearly noted that Rigby’s action will likely cause more damage than good to the denomination.
"The constitution of our church could not be clearer," Jensen said. "A small number of those on the other side of the issue are determined to disobey and defy the constitution, seeking to destroy the church instead of working within the constitutional (process) to try to change the Book of Order."
Ultimately, Jensen recommended Rigby find another church that will support his views rather than wreaking havoc in the PCUSA.
“He needs to find another denomination where his views will not cause him to defy his vows,” said Jensen.
In July, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) legislative assembly narrowly rejected a measure to allow regional governing bodies to ordain gay clergy and lay officers.
Under the 259-255 vote, the current interpretation of church law forbidding ordination of gay clergy remains binding on the church, including presbyteries.
During the same assembly, the PCUSA assigned a “Task Force” to tackle the different theological ‘views’ on the issue. The task force is set to report their findings publicly in 2006.