The Presbyterian Church (USA) and gay/lesbian ordination:
1998 TO 2000 Incl.
As of 1997, gays and lesbians in sexually-active committed relationships
could not be considered for ordination and/or
for installation as deacons, elders, or ministers of the Word and sacrament in
the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Amendment B was passed by the
1996 General Assembly and approved by a slim majority of presbyteries. It
would have formally recognized the ban. However The 1997 General Assembly did
not ratify the Amendment. Instead, they passed
a replacement Amendment A and submitted it to the 173 presbyteries for a vote:
|The Fidelity and Integrity
Those who are called to office in the church are to lead a life in
obedience to Jesus Christ, under the authority of Scripture and instructed
by the historic confessional standards of the church. Among these
standards is the requirement to demonstrate fidelity and integrity in
marriage or singleness, and in all relationships of life. Candidates for
ordained office shall acknowledge their own sinfulness, their need for
repentance, and their reliance on the grace and mercy of God to fulfill
the duties of their office.|
This amendment was cleverly worded. The phrase: "demonstrate fidelity and
integrity in marriage or singleness, and in all relationships of life" could
mean different things to different people:
- Religious conservatives in the denomination might assert that "fidelity
and integrity" means celibacy outside of heterosexual marriage, and
monogamy inside of marriage.
- Religious liberals might interpret the phrase as requiring heterosexual
married couples, homosexual couples in a civil union, and couples of all
sexual orientations simply living together in a committed relationship to be
committed to each other and monogamous.
Developments during 1998:
- Individual presbyteries were required to vote on
Amendment A, in early 1998. By 1988-MAR-3, 84
out of 173 presbyteries had had their votes officially tallied. 54 were opposed and 30
favored the Amendment.
Jim Hazlett, pastor of the Gateway Presbyterian Church in The
Dalles, said that Amendment A
was losing because it's intentionally
ambiguous and would lead to the ordination of lesbians and gays. "It would open
the door to political chaos in our denomination, and people are recognizing that...What in
the world does 'integrity in relationships' mean?...We live in a very permissive and
promiscuous culture, and there are great pressures on the church to adopt that same
mentality. But we've got to draw the line somewhere. If anyone is going to be a model of
sexual standards to the world, it should be the church."
By mid-March, the majority of presbyteries had rejected the Amendment.
Thus, the Fidelity and
Chastity Amendment (Amendment B) with its implicit condemnation of all committed
relationships outside of marriage remains the only Amendment supported by
the presbyteries. However, it has never been ratified by the General
Assembly and is thus not in force.
During 1998-OCT, the Presbyterian Coalition held its annual meeting in Dallas
TX. This group opposes gay and lesbian ordination.
During 1998-NOV-5 to 7, the Covenant Network of Presbyterians
(CNP) held their second annual meeting in Denver CO. They unanimously reaffirmed their
"Call to Covenant Community" declaration
which supports equal rights for gays and lesbians. 2
Executive director Pam Byers of San Francisco, CA, stated that "more than 1,650
Presbyterian ministers, 200 sessions and thousands of other Presbyterians"
have signed the call. Referring to their organized opposition, the Presbyterian
Coalition, CNP co-founder the Rev. Robert Bohl said: "The Coalition is not
the enemy. The enemies are uncontrolled anger, dislike of other people because of their
beliefs and arrogance.There is room in this Presbyterian family for all of us and
we've got to learn to love each other."
- 1998 General Assembly: On 1998-JUN-15, the Assembly Committee on
Church Orders and Ministry discussed the call by many denominational leaders for a
sabbatical on further amendments to the standards for ordination. There were concerns of
weariness over the endless debate caused by the issue. There were concerns that the
denomination might split. Expressing the opposite view, the Milwaukee Presbytery asked
that section G-60106b of the Book of Order be deleted; this is the "fidelity
and chastity" clause. After intense debate, the Milwaukee overture was
rejected by the committee. On JUN-19, the General Assembly voted
overwhelmingly (412 to 92) to kill the Milwaukee overture. The
presbyteries will not be voting on another ordination amendment.
The Assembly decided to call a national conference before year end to "address
the theological and ethical issues in the current crisis." The conference
"is to focus on an informed analysis of the modern history of ecclesiastical
conflicts within the Reformed tradition and their resolution; the nature of and need for
justice in church and society; the meaning of the love and grace of Jesus Christ in
Reformed theology; and the values and contributions of our various diversities in light of
the unity already given to us."
Also approved is an "authoritative interpretation" of two clauses of
the Book of Order which discuss eligibility for ordination. It reads: "Standing
in the tradition of breaking down the barriers erected to exclude people based on their
condition, such as age, race, class, gender, and sexual orientation, the Presbyterian
Church (U.S.A.) commits itself not to exclude anyone categorically in considering those
called to ordained service in the church, but to consider the lives and behaviors of
candidates as individuals." Celibate gays and lesbians would not be
categorically excluded. However, the Book of Order continues to exclude
non-celibate homosexuals (e.g. gays and lesbians in committed relationships).
The Assembly first voted to eliminate funding of the National Network of
Presbyterian College Women. Then they reinstated funding for one year. This group
links Presbyterian college women among 80 U.S. campuses. They were criticized for their
beliefs on premarital sex and standards for ordination. The Assembly appointed a committee
to review the group. They recommended that sponsorship of the network be continued
and that its funding be increased. 3
Developments during 1999:
- 1999-MAR: CT: Two congregation members, Mairi Hair and James
McCallum, had brought charges over the nomination of an elder to the governing
board of their church, the First Presbyterian Church in
Stamford, CT. The New England Presbytery's Permanent
Judicial Commission ruled in 1999-MAR that the church did not violate a
church law that prohibits gays or lesbians from serving on church
boards. The vote was 4 to 1. The decision was appealed on MAR-18. Meanwhile, financial
pledges and congregational membership are up.
- 1999 General Assembly: The 211th General
Assembly was convened in Ft. Worth TX, on
1999-JUN-19. A committee of the General Assembly voted 24 to 14 to recommend
deleting the "fidelity
and chastity" clause from the Book of Order. The committee also
- Presbyteries would hold unity and diversity conferences to promote
understanding and seek common ground.
- Section G-6.0106b of the Book of Order states: "...the
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) commits itself not to exclude anyone
categorically in considering those called to ordained service in the
church, but to consider the lives and behaviors of candidates as
- One of the roles of the church is to promote social righteousness.
The General Assembly commissioners rejected the report, and instead voted
293 to 243 to accepted the minority report of the Committee as the main
motion. That called for two years of study and discussion on ordaining gay or
lesbian ministers, elders and deacons. The final vote which approved the study
was 319 to 198.
On JUN-22, the General Assembly Committee approved a resolution which calls on
the General Assembly to instruct the denomination's Board of Pensions to
conduct a feasibility study. The study would investigate extending the
benefits of the denomination's employees, then reserved for married couples, to "long-term committed
[same-sex] relationships." The vote was 20-15. It was rejected by the
General Assembly itself on JUN-25 by a vote of 304 to 215.
On 1999-JUN-24, they passed a resolution concerning reparative
therapies for gays and lesbians. "The response states that no
church should insist that gay and lesbian people need therapy to change their
orientation, nor should it inhibit or discourage those who are unhappy with or
confused about their sexual orientation from seeking therapy they believe
would be helpful. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) affirms that medical
treatment, psychological therapy, and pastoral counseling should conform to
recognized professional standards." 4
By deciding on a two-year study, the Assembly has, in effect, decided to
implement a two-year moratorium on further legislation. The 2000 Assembly
would not debate the ordination question, only hear a progress report on
church-wide dialogues which are designed to explore "the nature of the
unity we seek in our diversity."
- 1999-OCT: CT: the Permanent Judicial Commission
(PJC) of the Synod
of the Northeast ruled on two cases involving the ordination of
- One involved the Presbytery of Northern New England which was
been ordered to require compliance with the Book of Order by
Christ Church congregation in Burlington CT. In 1997, the church had
passed a resolution stating that a conflict existed between G-6.0106b
and the rest of the constitution. Thus, they decided to continue
ignoring the sexual orientation of church officers.
- The other decision involved the First Presbyterian Church
of Stamford CT. They were instructed to reexamine whether a gay elder
should continue in that post.
- 1999-NOV: NJ: ON NOV-22, the Permanent Judicial Commission
(PJC) of the Synod
of the Northeast dismissed complaints against two presbyteries. One was
related to ordination:
- The West Jersey Presbytery voted 81 to 61 to elevate the status
of Graham Van Keuren from an inquirer to a candidate for
ordination. He is a gay male who testified "I understand
that I am called into a loving, same-sex, monogamous
relationship...I intend to participate in a fully sexual way in
any future relationship." The court ruled that although
van Keuren "is not prepared to meet the requirements of"
G-6.0106b, the "fidelity/chastity" amendment,
"a presbytery may receive an inquirer who may still move
into compliance while being nurtured in the covenant relationship
as a candidate." Gary R. Griffith, the complainants'
attorney. said that he was disappointed with the decision: "There's
no reasoning in the decision, no analysis. I expected there would
be cogent analysis of the issues. I expected a higher level of
scholarship." John Reisner, attorney for West Jersey
Presbytery felt that the ruling was appropriate: "It
recognizes the covenanting and counseling relationship the
presbytery has with its inquirers and candidates." Van
Keuren said: "I was pleased with the decision. The
presbytery has seen some promise in me for the ministry, and has
approved my move from inquirer status to candidacy. This decision
means that process can go forward, and naturally I'm very pleased
Developments during 2000:
- 2000-JAN-11: VT, NJ: According to PCUSA NEWS, three judicial cases
from the Synod of the Northeast have been appealed to the General
Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission (PJC). Two dealt with gay
- Christ Church in Burlington VT had notified its
presbytery that it would not enforce G-6.0106b which calls for
marriage or chastity for ordained church officers. The synod PJC
ordered the Northern New England Presbytery to continue
attempting to bring Christ Church into conformance with the church
law. The Presbytery has voted to appeal that decision.
- The support of a gay candidate for the ministry by the West
Jersey Presbytery was upheld by the synod PJC. The complainants
in the case (11 ministers and 6 churches) have
decided to appeal the matter to the General Assembly PJC.
- 2000-FEB-24: GA Resolutions: Ecumenical News International
reported: "The general assembly of one of America's biggest
churches, the Presbyterian Church (USA), will be asked to consider a
series of resolutions later this year declaring that
"irreconcilable" differences exist within the denomination
over the ordination of gay clergy. One proposed resolution would allow
liberal Presbyterians who support such ordinations to leave the
denomination, taking church property with them." 5
- 2000-JUN: Year 2000 General Assembly: The 212th General
Assembly was held from JUN-24 to JUL-1 in Long Beach, CA. Delegates tackled 17 overtures (resolutions) related to homosexuality. Bob Davis,
director of the denominational renewal group Presbyterian Forum,
commented "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."
On JUN-24, the General Assembly voted to continue a two-year
moratorium on matters related to gay/lesbian ordination. Seven
overtures were referred to the 2001 Assembly. The Bills and Overtures
Committee did refer overture 00-43 from the Presbytery of Milwaukee WI
to the Polity committee. According to PCUSA News, the resolution
"urges that if legislative actions regarding ordination are
delayed until next year, there should be a concomitant delay in any
related judicial actions." The overture states, in part,
"If persons are to be denied ordination because G-6.0106b is
in 'The Book of Order' with no opportunity for legislative remedy for
that situation, then persons should, in like manner, not be subject to
any judicial action based upon that paragraph." The Assembly
Committee on Polity disapproved of the overture. Instead, they approved
a response that the General Assembly's "deep hope that all
Presbyterians and their respective governing bodies will refrain from
initiating any judicial actions with respect to the issue of sexual
orientation until the response of the 213th General Assembly ..."
The response would "further express our deep hope that all
Presbyterians and organizations advocating positions with respect to
these issues will exercise similar restraint in their public
statements and actions."
About 110 Presbyterians registered for a non-violent training seminar,
sponsored by Soulforce -- a group which promotes equal treatment of
gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transsexuals. They learned about the
non-violent teachings of Ghandi and Martin Luther King Jr. Meanwhile, Rev. Fred
Phelps of www.godhatesfags.com
mounted a counter-demonstration.
At the Soulforce demonstration, police arrested 81 demonstrators who
symbolically blocked an access road into the arena where the General
Assembly was engaged in the morning worship service. Every precaution
was made to prevent any disruption to the meeting. Rich Eychaner from
Des Moines, IA was one of the demonstrators. He said: "I am
here because so many people are being hurt by the various churches'
policies on gay and lesbian, bisexual and transgender issues. I
think it's very important that we quit debating it and just include
everyone as God's people." There were colored balloons,
rainbow-hued hats, hymn-singing and T-shirts
proclaiming "Stop the Spiritual Violence" and "This
Debate Must End! Include Us! Ordain Us! Let Us Serve!"
According to PCUSA NEWS, "The rally and arrests were carefully
choreographed so as not to disrupt the worship service. The event
outside was over before the benediction inside was pronounced."
About ten conservative Christians staged a counter-demonstration. They carried
placards saying "GOD HATES FAGS," "GOT AIDS
YET?" and "THANK GOD FOR AIDS" They said
that homosexual behavior is an abomination and that the demonstrators
were destined to spend eternity in Hell. 6
Two resolutions were passed by the 212th General Assembly.
The Stated Clerk was instructed to send these proposed
Book of Order amendments to the presbyteries for a vote:
- One would ban the church's recognition of gay/lesbian
- The other would make the denomination's membership more inclusive.
As a minimum, it is a step in the direction of allowing gays and
lesbians to be considered for ordination:
"The congregation shall welcome
all persons who respond in trust and obedience to God's grace in
Jesus Christ and desire to become part of the membership and
ministry of his Church. No persons shall be denied membership
because of race, ethnic origin, worldly condition, or any other
for any reason not related to profession of faith. Each member
must seek the grace of openness in extending the fellowship of
Christ to all persons. (G-9.0104) Failure to do so constitutes a
rejection of Christ himself and causes a scandal to the gospel."|
- Jeff Wright, "Church wrestles morality," Eugene
- J L. Van Marter, "Covenant Network of Presbyterians Vows to Carry On,"
PC(USA) News mailing list, Item #98380, 1997-NOV-18
- J. L. Van Marter, "Role of gays and lesbians sure to dominate 211th
General Assembly," PCUSA NEWS, 1999-MAY-3.
- PCUSA News release, 1999-JUN-26 #GA99131
- ENI news summary for 2000-FEB-24: ENI-00-0064
- PCUSA News release, 2000-JUN-25 #GA00025
Copyright © 1996 to 2001 incl. by Ontario Consultants on
Excerpted from our web site's main Presbyterian-Homosexuality
Last update: 2001-OCT-24
Author: B.A. Robinson