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Churches' response to homosexuality


The Presbyterian Church (USA),
ordination and sexual orientation

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The Presbyterian Church (USA) is a mainline Christian denomination whose name is often confused with the Presbyterian Church in America, a smaller and much more conservative denomination. The latter group's beliefs and practices concerning lesbian, gay and bisexual ordination are discussed in a separate essay.


bullet"One side says we understand Scripture to say homosexual behavior is sinful, the other says it is a gift from God. Those are pretty disparate positions." Bob Davis, director of Presbyterian Forum, at the 212th General Assembly (2000)

bullet"...religion is a great source of pain among families dealing with sexual orientation and gender identity issues." Kirsten Kingdon, spokesperson for Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) at a dinner meeting of the 2000 General Assembly.


"Involvement in the issues of our day and church, including meeting with those with whom we disagree, has never been, nor is it now, about our way, or their way, or some other third way which might be mutually satisfying. Rather it is about Christ's way. Alone. Therefore, we have not, and we will not, engage in any search for an alternative to Scripture's clear and plain teaching." Joint statement by five Presbyterian Coalition leaders, rejecting an overture to dialog.

[What they are saying is that many sincere, intelligent, devout Presbyterians have studied the Bible and have reached different conclusions. However, these five know that they hold the only correct belief system and thus are not interested in dialogue with others. One might ask exactly how they have determined with certainty that they alone hold the truth]

bullet "Having lost sight of her clear, Christ-centered identity, the PC(USA) has continued to embrace our culture's beliefs and morals." Presbyterians for Renewal, a conservative group within the denomination reacting to the 2008 General Assembly's liberalizing decisions.

In brief:

Of the thousands of Christian denominations in the United States, the mainline faith groups are most actively discussing lesbians, gays and bisexuals in ministry:

bullet Liberal and progressive Christian groups have accepted homosexual orientation as normal and natural, as experienced by a minority of adults. These groups have eliminated bars to membership, the performance of marriage ceremonies, and ordination based on sexual orientation.

bullet Fundamentalist and other evangelical churches and denominations have generally not engaged the question; they have retained, unchanged, the historical Christian beliefs which condemn all same-sex behavior.

bullet The Episcopal Church (USA), the Presbyterian Church (USA), and the United Methodist Church are in transition. They are probably experiencing the greatest amount of conflict over equal rights for their gay, lesbian, and bisexual members and ordination candidates.

There have been over 25 cases pending in church courts in which clergy have been charged with violating the Church's constitution by knowingly ordaining gay clergy. 1 Some believe that the denomination is in danger of splitting over the issue. A few have endorsed its "gracious separation" into a conservative and a liberal denomination.

For the past few annual General Assemblies:.

bullet Liberals in the denomination wanted the bars against lesbians, gays, and bisexuals in loving, committed same-sex relationships as clergy and lay officers lifted.

bullet Conservatives seek to clamp down on infractions of existing church laws that have allowed a few gays, lesbians, and perhaps bisexuals in loving committed relationships to hold church office.

bullet Section G-6.0108 of the Book of Order -- the 1997 church law which requires office holders to "live either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman, or chastity in singleness" has been challenged. Proposals have been made to replace the marriage phrase with "a covenanted relationship between two persons." Others have suggested changing the entire section.

This was one massive deadlock. There is a general agreement that a "winner take all" solution whereby the majority completely imposes its will on the denomination would seriously threaten its unity. Even a local option compromise in which individual ordaining bodies in the denomination are given freedom to deviate from G-6.0108 would be too much for conservatives to handle. Meanwhile, liberals in the PCUSA would only be happy if ministerial candidates of all sexual orientations were treated equally.

A small breakthrough occurred in the General Assembly of 2006. A type of very limited local option was created so that ordaining bodies in the denomination have a small degree of wiggle room to ordain gay and lesbian candidates in loving, committed same-sex relationships. However, it did not settle the conflict.

During 2010-summer, the General Assembly passed a resolution for the fourth time to reword Section G-6.0108 of the Book of Order. Again, the 173 U.S. presbyteries were asked to ratify the decision. A major breakthrough happened in 2011-MAY-10, when The Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area voted 205 to 56 in favor of the resolution. Their's was the 87th affirmative vote among the denomination's presbyteries and resulted in ratification of the resolution. Lesbians, gays, and bisexuals in covenanted relationships can now be considered for ordination to deacon, elder or minister. 2

It may prove ironic that the deciding vote was held at the Peace Presbyterian Church in St. Louis Park, MN, because the decision may temporarily result in increased conflict. A number of conservative congregations will have to decide whether to leave the denomination.

Topics covered in this section:

bulletOverview: Church history, recent conflicts over homosexuality.

bulletStatements on homosexuality, mainly by the PCUSA's General Assembly:
bullet1976 to 1999

bullet2000 to now

Recent trials and other controversies:
bulletShower of Stoles project and the Women of Faith award.

bullet Church trials of Elder "Doug," Rev. Jane Spahr, Scott Anderson, and Laurie McNeill. Part 1 Part 2
bulletAffirmation 2001, the new "Auburn Affirmation."

The two main "Issues"
bullet Ordination of gays and lesbians in covenanted relationships: 1978 to 2011 << a big section


Recognition of same-sex unions:

bulletChurch responses to internal conservative / liberal stresses
bulletPresbyterian resources on gay/lesbian issues
bulletWithin mainline denominations, is compromise possible, or is schism inevitable? An examination of the homosexual conflict in various Christian denominations

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Some books on the PCUSA conservative / liberal conflict:

A strongly recommended book; an incredible resource:

"Ordination Standards:  Biblical, Theological, and Scientific Perspectives," iUniverse, Inc., (2005), 588 pages. Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store.

The Ordination Standards Task Force of North Como Presbyterian Church in Roseville, MN, has produced a most impressive book on homosexuality. Its main theme is whether candidates who are in loving committed same-sex relationships should be allowed to be ordained in the Presbyterian Church, (USA). It also covers many other topics associated with sexual orientation, including reparative therapy, suicide among gay and lesbian youth, homosexuality in the natural world, etc. Unlike almost all other books which take either a liberal or conservative approach, this book attempts to explain all viewpoints objectively. An amazing accomplishment.

Other books:

bulletR.G. Hutcheson, P.L. Shriver, "The Divided Church: Moving liberals and conservatives from diatribe to dialogue," Intervarsity Press, (1999) Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store This is written by two Presbyterians: Hutcheson is a conservative Evangelical; Shriver is a liberal feminist.

bulletClifton Kirpatrick & William Hopper, Jr., "What Unites Presbyterians: Common ground for troubled times," Geneva Press, (1997) Read reviews or order this book

bullet Jack Rogers, "Claiming the Center: Churches and conflicting worldviews," Westminister John Knox Press, (1995) Read reviews or order this book safely From a reviewer: "Rogers presents a persuasive case for the moderate majority within denominations to take center stage, reasserting the common ground among us in spite of our controversies. He combines effectively historic perspective with contemporary relevance." He uses the Presbyterian Church (USA)) as an example.

Sources of information from Presbyterian groups:

bulletThe official home page of the Presbyterian Church (USA) is at: http://www.pcusa.org/

bulletThe Presbyterian Forum, a conservative renewal group, maintains a page of links to Presbyterian groups, both liberal and conservative. See: http://www.pforum.org/links.htm


  1. "Presbyterians May Debate Gay Clergy Ban," The Associated Press, 2003-MAY-23. Online at: Beliefnet.com at: http://www.beliefnet.com/
  2. Rose French, "Presbyterians to allow gays to be ordained ministers," Associated Press, 2011-MAY-11, at: http://www.startribune.com/

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Copyright © 1996 to 2011 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update 2011-OCT-14
Author: B.A. Robinson
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