As follows is a letter from Honorably Retired Minister, Rev. Dr. George R. Estes, expressing opposition to proposed amendments to the Church Constitution. These amendments intend to remove persons in same-sex relationships from church leadership:

In a church fight, the first casualty is the gospel. Those whom our Lord especially charged to love one another find themselves harboring feelings of suspicion, anger and competitiveness toward brothers and sisters in Christ. Half-truths and exaggerations mark the tense dialog that often accompanies such disputes. When sharp differences of opinion arise in the church, it is incumbent upon us to reassess our commitment to the way of Christ as we make our way through the difficulties.

The proposed amendment(s) to the Constitution that General Assembly has sent to the presbyteries for deliberation and action is a matter eliciting strong emotions on all sides. Supporters of the amendment typically think of themselves as faithful to Scripture while its opponents argue the same from their perspective. Some self-styled “orthodox” Cumberland Presbyterians have sought to disengage from those they perceive to be “progressive” Cumberland Presbyterians. The antipathy of the latter group is less organized but no less dedicated to their vision of the Church.

There has been a tendency on the part of supporters of the amendment to regard its opponents as Constitutional Cumberlands as distinct from Confessional Cumberlands, i.e., themselves. There is no such line of demarcation. In the history of our Church the vows of church membership and of ordination have seen no ideological division between the Confession and the Constitution. The Cumberland Presbyterian Church came into existence in response to a legalistic predestinarianism and elitist requirements for clergy. Faith and constitution were involved. They still are.

The actions and attitudes of those fostering the amendment have been demonstrably schismatic. The Church is at risk as a result. The “whosoever will” gospel we have treasured is in jeopardy in this debate. If the purity of the Church is at stake in the minds of some, let it be said that the purity of the Church does not reside in right doctrine or scriptural certitude. If so, the Lord Jesus would have had no problem with the Pharisees! The purity of the church has little to do with cultural mores. Rather, it is has to do with fidelity to the example of Jesus Christ.

I tend to be a moderate theologically, no doubt because of my affirmation of the Cumberland Presbyterian Confession of Faith. I also adhere to the classic creedal statements of the church, notably the Nicene Creed and Apostles’ Creed. I am convinced that the doctrinal and constitutional perspectives enunciated in our Confession of Faith and Constitution are sufficient to preserve the integrity of Christian faith and practice in the church. There is no need for the proposed amendment. Throughout our history as a Church the ordination of persons to the ministry of Word and Sacrament has been a matter for the presbyteries to determine, subject to review by the synod. Presbyteries are not all in accord as to how best to do this, but the practice remains intact, under the Constitutional guidelines. The addition of sexual practices is a precedent not seen before in the Church, and opens the door to future “corrections” and/or “refinements.”

Like some who may read this communication, I have members of my family and friends who are part of the LGBTQ+ community. While I do not claim to fully understand this, I realize that I do not completely understand heterosexual life, either. Just as there are many life- affirming aspects to traditional marital living, the same is evidently true of those in lasting same sex relationships. Likewise, there are dehumanizing and demeaning aspects of LGBTQ+ experience just as there are in heterosexual life. We are all sinners, regardless of our sexual preferences. As a pastor I have worshiped and served with church members of the LGBTQ+ community and their families, and no doubt there have been elders and ministers in my experience who were. Unless this was mentioned specifically to me, I did not know. Frankly, the only person ever to ask my sexual preference was the nurse at my urologist’s office.

These comments are intended to be part of our deliberation on the proposed amendment. My hope and prayer is that our presbytery and others will deny passage of the amendment(s).

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