Perhaps you’ve heard by now, but the Presbyterian Church (USA) [PC(USA)] has voted to make a significant change in its constitution.  They have deleted the denomination’s expectation for ministers to of “fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman, or chastity in singleness.”  Initially, this is being hailed as a victory for ordination of homosexual clergy, but I can’t help but think that there’s something going on here that exceeds that particular issue.  Now, of course, it does open the door for the ordination of homosexual clergy, but it also opens a lot of other doors that maybe need to stay shut.

Basically, by deleting this clause, the PC(USA) has removed any kind of expectation of sexual ethics on behalf of its clergy.  Sure, homosexuals can now be ordained in the PC(USA), but also there is no expectation that ministers be faithful in their marriage, or that single pastors be celibate.  While this may be a “victory” for homosexuals, it is a pretty significant blow to sexual standards within the clergy.

SIDEBAR – I put victory in quotation marks because I question the use of that particular word.  Is the church at war in which a victory needs to be declared?  Victory implies two competing sides – one of whom conquers the other.  Is that type of language healthy within the Church?  I think not.

The question that immediately came to my mind is: who determines our standards?  As people to claim to be followers of Scripture, shouldn’t we allow Scripture to dictate what our standards should be, and not the surrounding culture?  In our culture, it’s perfectly acceptable for people to sleep around, with whomever they should choose.  There is a multi-billion dollar industry that is devoted to people sleeping around.  Watch just about any television show or movie, and you’ll see the same thing: it doesn’t matter who you have sex with just as long as you are “careful” about it and are having fun doing it.  Is this really the message to which the Church needs to be conforming?

I’m not even talking about the issue of homosexuality here.  I’m talking about standards that set the Church apart from the world with regards to our attitude about sex.  I’m not saying that we should be repressed or ignore sex as a topic.  I think that sex should be celebrated within its proper context.  But now, the PC(USA) is another mainline denomination that is no longer holding to its foundation of Scripture, which, by the way, has a fair amount to say regarding sexual ethics.

Now, you may be thinking: Don’t be ridiculous, Swish.  This doesn’t apply at all to what is going on in the PC(USA).  It’s not like people are going to just start sleeping with whoever they want simply because they took that clause out.  How can you be so sure?  If there was once an expectation that a single pastor be celibate, and now that expectation is no longer there – what are the consequences?  If a single pastor is being conformed by the sexual standards of contemporary American culture, then, guess what: “monkey see, monkey do.”  There are no repercussions for this person if he/she sleeps around, and the culture seems to think that it’s all right to do so.

Look, I’m not saying that there’s going to be a sudden influx of single pastors adding the title “Baby Daddy” to Reverend, but what I am saying is that, over time, if we set the bar of sexual standards lower, don’t be surprised when it happens.  Don’t be surprised when a married pastor cheats on his/her spouse and there are no consequences from those who are higher up on the ecclesiological food chain.  I realize that what I’m talking about may be on the fringe, but isn’t that how this kind of stuff starts – on the fringe?  Eventually, it comes to the forefront.  Don’t believe me?  Where we having these conversations 100 years ago?  No.  Where did they start?  On the fringe.

Unintended consequences are still consequences, and we need to pay attention to them, or else they will hit us hard and fast, and there’s nothing that we can do to stop them.