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The Presbyterian Church (USA) and gay/lesbian ordination:

1998 TO 2000 Incl.

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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:

Amendment A

The Fidelity and Integrity Amendment 
A G-6
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." 1

    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

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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 recommended that:
    • 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 individuals."
    • 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 homosexuals.
    • 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 about that."

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 ordination: 
    • 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 (ENI) 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 relationships;
    • 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:  

      Amendment 00-A

       "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."

Continue reading:

Developments in gay/lesbian ordination during the year 2001

References used:

  1. Jeff Wright, "Church wrestles morality," Eugene Register-Guard, 1998-MAR-7
  2. J L. Van Marter, "Covenant Network of Presbyterians Vows to Carry On,"   PC(USA) News mailing list, Item #98380, 1997-NOV-18
  3. J. L. Van Marter, "Role of gays and lesbians sure to dominate 211th General Assembly," PCUSA NEWS, 1999-MAY-3.
  4. PCUSA News release, 1999-JUN-26 #GA99131
  5. ENI news summary for 2000-FEB-24: ENI-00-0064
  6. PCUSA News release, 2000-JUN-25 #GA00025

Copyright © 1996 to 2001 incl. by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Excerpted from our web site's main Presbyterian-Homosexuality Ordination on 2001-OCT-24
Last update: 2001-
Author: B.A. Robinson

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