The decisions of the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s 221st General Assembly to allow pastors to officiate same-sex marriages and redefine the meaning of marriage prompted a Georgia pastor to leave his church.
The Rev. Dr. Jason Whitener, pastor of St. Luke’s Presbyterian Church in Dunwoody, Ga., a northern suburb of Atlanta, offered his resignation to the session during a meeting Sunday, June 29 and delivered his final message to the 850-member congregation on Sunday, July 20.
Whitener has answered the call to lead the congregation at Walker’s Presbyterian Church near Appomattox, Va., on an interim basis, leaving the outskirts of Atlanta for central Virginia. He delivered his first message to the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC) congregation on Sunday, Aug. 3.
“We’ll be here until the Lord opens a more permanent door,” said Whitener, noting the warm and inviting reception he and his family have received since arriving in Virginia. “We have started settling in, and everyone here has been so gracious.”
A ‘conflict of conscience’
In an email to the St. Luke’s congregation, Whitener, 41, indicated his decision was not based on any issue with the Georgia church, where he had served since 2010 following calls at Eastminster Presbyterian Church in Columbia, S.C., and Tinkling Spring Presbyterian Church Fishersville, Va. However, the decisions made by the GA in Detroit, Mich., created an “extreme conflict of conscience” to the point he no longer felt he could continue to serve as a PCUSA pastor and “maintain personal integrity.”
“I have a deep and abiding love for this particular congregation,” said Whitener, who has been a PCUSA pastor since his ordination in 1998. “It’s a very loving congregation, and this has been such a loving relationship. It feels like a mixed message I’ve sent, but it has nothing to do with the people at St. Luke’s. The congregation has been unbelievable. They have offered nothing but support, encouragement and understanding in the midst of this. That’s what made it so hard for me because I absolutely adored that church.”
He pointed out that he did not feel called to stay and lead St. Luke’s into a dismissal process because of the potential of a painful split in the congregation, choosing instead to follow a different path God laid out for him.
Whitener pointed out that God had been dealing with him for some time regarding decisions of the PCUSA, and he came to the point in his ministry that he no longer could be associated with a denomination that has chosen to follow the lead of culture instead of that of Scripture.
While the General Assembly’s decision to divest from companies doing business in Israel was a major concern, Whitener’s greater issue came with its decision to support same-sex marriage, a topic he said has “fallen in his lap year after year.”
In a June 19 vote, the assembly passed an Authoritative Interpretation (AI) to allow pastors discretion to conduct same-sex ceremonies in states that allow such unions, voting 371-238 in favor of the motion. The GA also voted to approve an amendment to the denomination’s Book of Order to change the definition of marriage from “a woman and a man” to “two people.” That motion, which would become part of the PCUSA constitution June 21, 2015, if ratified by a majority of the denomination’s 171 presbyteries, passed by a margin of 429-175.
“I’m not a one-issue pastor … but it has come to the point where the boundaries have been so widened that I’m at a place where I can’t, in good conscience, in my heart of hearts be associated with the denomination any longer,” Whitener explained. “It’s all symbolic of a different direction of the PCUSA. It has created an extreme conflict of conscience. I felt like I couldn’t be authentic if I stayed.”
Whitener is a third-generation Presbyterian pastor, following in the footsteps of his father Olin Jr. and grandfather Olin Sr.
“I’m a born and bred Presbyterian; I attended Presbyterian College (in Clinton, S.C.) and two Presbyterian seminaries. It breaks my heart to do this, but it’s what I feel God is calling me to do,” he said.
Whitener was contacted by representatives of Walker’s Presbyterian Church about the possibility of serving on a temporary basis not long after his decision to leave St. Luke’s. He met his wife Kristy at that church, which was founded in the 1700s and dismissed by Peaks Presbytery in February to join the EPC.
“The church reached out to me and let me know they were praying for us,” he said. “They let me know they were willing to have me come on board as a temporary pastor. It was a very gracious act of love on their part. I was humbled.
“It’s been a nice homecoming. I feel very grateful to them for providing this opportunity as we explore more permanent opportunities.”
Looking to the future
Whitener did not renounce jurisdiction of the PCUSA, and, therefore, remains an at-large member of the Presbytery of Greater Atlanta. However, he is discerning God’s call for his next full-time pastorate, whether that will be in the EPC or as part of ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians. He plans to transfer his credentials when God shows him the path he is supposed to follow.
While not sure what route St. Luke’s will take now that he has concluded his service to the congregation, Whitener is certain God will provide for leaders and members of the church as well as for him, his wife and their three children.
“There are very strong, faithful leaders (at St. Luke’s), and they have been a source of stability and strength,” he said. “They will trust in God’s providence to lead them just as we will as we sort out the next place God intends us to be.”
The PCUSA is going to have more pastors with an ‘extreme conflict of conscience.’ Eventually they won’t be able to find young people who want to enter a seminary & be a pastor in the PCUSA that doesn’t support Isreal. Terrorists are trying to destroy Isreal & are be-heading Christians in the Middle East. I’m on the side of Isreal.
God bless Dr. Whitener and his family.
I couldn’t find any info on Walker’s Presbyterian; it doesn’t appear to have a web site. I also couldn’t find it on Google Maps to see a street view. If the photo accompanying the article is Walker’s, it seems to be much smaller than St. Luke’s, the PCUSA church Dr. Whitener left. Most EPC and ECO churches are small. But I suspect the one that calls Dr. Whitener will grow.
“He pointed out that he did not feel called to stay and lead St. Luke’s into a dismissal process because of the potential of a painful split in the congregation”
No surprise here, especially in red states where gay marriage is not legal. People are not going to rock the boat if it’s not at their churches altar.
James, states are not red or blue, but different shades of purple. Same with congregations. The congregation of which I used to be a member is in a Dallas-Fort Worth suburb; but many of the members are not Texans, they are from all over the country. And they represent varying views on political and social issues. Likewise, Dr. Whitener, in one of his last sermons at St. Luke’s, noted that one or both of the associate pastors did not agree with him that same-sex “marriage” was against God’s will. So any effort on his part to lead St. Luke’s out of PCUSA would, indeed, have caused a painful split. (Of course, the cost of avoiding that may be a long, drawn out struggle that ends up being even more painful for St. Luke’s in the long run).
Don, point taken, I quess I’m just thinking that in states where gay marriage is not legal, and there’s no pressure to marry gay couples according to the AI, I have noticed this even with my church, they’re like “well whatever” does’nt affect us.
Yes I think your point is certainly valid.
1 Corinthians 12:18. But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the Body just as HE pleased.
Pray for the churches divided and the Pastors who lead them. Pray for the boldness that is like
Jason Whitener’s to follow God’s leading, even though that may mean leaving the denomination.
I am praying for pastors who will stand up, speak out, move with the Spirit, proclaim truth,
and lift up Jesus alone. We need more leaders like Rev. Whitener.
Walker’s Presbyterian Church
Address: Worships at intersection of Hixburg and Hollywood Roads Pamplin, VA 23958
Postal Address: c/o Marvin Glover, Jr., 727 Cutbanks Road, Pamplin, VA 23958
Pastor: Pulpit Vacant
Presbytery: Mid-Atlantic Presbytery
From the EPC website, epc.org
Jason, thank you for your wisdom and courage. Your words ring so true with my experience and with my pain as I experience the denomination I adopted over 30 years ago as an adult, leave me.
Be strong and of good cheer. God has good things in mind for his faithful children.
Separating from the apostasy is Biblical while there is time.
I commend this brave pastor in his decision. He cannot lead his flock with one set of Biblical beliefs and continue to faithfully uphold the polity and set of standards set forth by the PCUSA . It is a matter of conscience and faith.
‘extreme conflict of conscience’. not to be confused with his usual conflict of conscience? a freudian slip if ever there was one.
correct me if i am wrong, but it is my understanding that virtually ALL Presbyterian denominations/doctrine includes a loophole for abortion in cases of rape, incest, hardship and so forth. in other words, it’s perfectly ok to murder an innocent child. why is it that we don’t see a major debate here about this life or death issue, while preachers and laymen alike get verbally violent about what, money and real estate. give me a break. none of these preachers are teaching the truth as far as i know, not one of them. all anyone seems to really care about is where their next paycheck is coming from, and how to protect property and public image.
I find it very hard to believe that this pastor would ever be asked to perform such a marriage give his bias. Makes me wonder if he would have any trouble marrying someone who had previously been divorced. The Bible is very clear on the impact of that. I guess when you pick an choose verses to match your own world view, you can do what ever feels comfortable, including surrounding yourselves with like minded people.
well said. it’s about time we start speaking up about these issues, before we are ALL held accountable, including sins of omission. so many sins have been ignored for so many years, it does seem rather strange that this one flips over the tables.
The pastor made a sacrificial decision based on his conscience and some of you just bash him. Pharisees.
John E., when his actions go public, they are no longer protected. His actions are not without impact to society and require inspection and discernment, especially when they involve cherry picking Bible verses and ignoring others. Children are being bullied, facing severe depression and much worse due to hate and fear caused by his and other paster’s decisions on how they handle this issue.
Scott, please clarify. In talking about sins ignored (marriage of divorced persons) are you agreeing that same gender marriage is unbiblical?
Clearly the traditional interpretation states that homosexual acts goes against Biblical teachings, but scholars such as Mathew Vines have made strong cases that the Bible never directly addresses and certainly does not condemn loving, committed, same sex relationships. Going a step further, it is quite easy to find hundreds of Bible verses teaching us how to love one another, not to judge and the importance of companionship. If we are in the business of saving souls, our tactical plan on how we treat homosexuals is not working. Clearly, shunning people who happened to be born with same sex attraction to the outskirts of society, banning them from serving as deacons, elders or clergy has not paid too many dividend. If this group of people are sinners based on the way God made them, then this is the churches problem too, and I do not believe the church has responded Biblically – but rather provided a Human response. Thanks for asking.
Ps, while I am not a Biblical scholar, I am fairly certain that the traditional interpretation only bans one type of activity between men, not the marriage itself.
fornication is mentioned countless times in the Bible. if it’s equal treatment that’s the issue, then let’s start talking about equal treatment for all sins of the flesh, without regard for preference. fornication, lust, adultery, inappropriate dress, virtually none of these sins are addressed from the pulpit, or taught. it’s not that homosexuals are being singled out, who knows by looking at someone what their preferences are, or whether they’re married or single. the purpose of marriage is not to make two people eternally happy. that’s the whole problem. somewhere along the way children were completely forgotten. what we have now is the end result, after 50-some years of ‘free love’. 50 million dead babies, and a whole lot of people on the internet holding a verbal gun to our heads, saying essentially approve of what i’m doing or i’ll call you and yours a lot of nasty sounding words. i hear Jesus is going to tell us all how much time we spent each day in prayer, i find that to be much more worthy of discussion. this entire sex topic is beginning to bore me. those of us who aren’t knee deep in sins of the flesh believe it or not never even think about all of this rubbish, and that’s exactly what it is.
Thank you, Kay. What the PCUSA ring leaders have forgotten is that Israel is on the side of God. The everlasting promise from God to Abraham has NOT changed. I never thought that I would see my childhood denomination rank with the likes of Adolf Hitler when it comes to anti-Semitism. Israel has EVERY RIGHT to defend itself. Has the PCUSA sent tunnel diggers for Hamas yet? I would not be surprised if it happened.
1 Corinthians 6:9-11New International Version (NIV)
9 Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men[a] 10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
1 Corinthians 6:9 The words men who have sex with men translate two Greek words that refer to the passive and active participants in homosexual acts.
REMINDER TO ANDREW: “I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you.”
Maybe I should have said that God is on the side of His people (as He has been throughout the centuries. ) This does NOT include the descendants of Ishamel. Against all odds they have been able to defend themselves against satanic Islamic forces.Israel is the apple of God’s eye, and it was from this people that we received our Lord Jesus Christ. Looks like you need to take a Bible course (especially the Old Testament). YAHWEH WAS QUITE EXPLICIT THAT THE COVENANTS APPLIED ONLY TO THE DESCENDANTS OF ABRAHAM, ISAAC, AND JACOB. May I suggest to you the movie series “Against All Odds” and how the Lord God has protected His people – ESPECIALLY SINCE 1948. There is also a book entitled, “As America Has Done to Israel.” Our nation will be punished because it has turned its back on God’s people who gave to us Jesus Christ.
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