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The Presbyterian Church (USA) & gay/lesbian ordination

Events during 2001 & 2002

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Pre-2001 background:

As of 1998, the Presbyterian Church's policy excluded sexually active gays and lesbians from consideration for ordination and/or for installation as deacons, elders, or ministers of the Word and sacrament in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

In early 1998, the presbyteries turned down an ambiguously worded Amendment A which some members might have interpreted as allowing ordination of sexually active gays and lesbians.

At the 1999 General Assembly, delegates called for two years of study and discussion on the matter. This, in effect, implemented a two-year moratorium on further legislation.

At the 2000 General Assembly, the delegates voted to continue the moratorium. However, they passed Amendment 00-A to the presbyteries for a vote. It would have encouraged an inclusive church.

Year 2001 activity:

  • 2001-FEB: The 173 presbyteries voted on Amendment 00-A. If passed, it would have made the denomination's membership more inclusive. It would have been a small step towards 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."

    Up-to-date totals were kept available online. 4

    The amendment was very narrowly defeated. The final tally was: 88 presbyteries opposed; 85 in favor. This vote reaffirms that the denomination is split into two almost exactly equal groups:

    • One opposed to any statement that would indicate acceptance of gays and lesbians at any level.
    • The other in favor of equal treatment of persons of all sexual orientations.
  • 2001-MAR-1: Presbyterian congregations request opt-outs: According to PCUSA News for 2001-MAR-1, various overtures (motions) had been received for inclusion on the agenda of the church's General Assembly in 2001-JUN. 
    • Some would install a local option clause. They would allow individual congregations or presbyteries, whose conscience insist, to opt out of G-6.0106b -- the part of the Book of Order which prevents non-celibate gay and lesbian candidates from being considered for ministry. 
    • Other overtures call for the repeal of the amendment or a major modification of it. 
    • Still other overtures suggest that the church try to find a "third way" -- some method of affirming theological truths while dealing with differences and diversity in the church. 
    • Another group of overtures dealt with female ordination. The Presbyterian Church (USA) started to consider women candidates for ordination in 1956. Now, almost five decades later, overtures have been proposed that would empower individual congregations to refuse to consider female candidates for ordination purely on the basis of their gender.
  • 2001-JUN: Year 2001 General Assembly: The 213rd General Assembly met in Louisville, KY, on JUN-10. The two year moratorium on discussions on lesgay ordination had ended.
    • Theological commission: Earlier in 2001, General Assembly moderator Syngman Rhee endorsed a proposal to form a theological commission similar to the one created in 1925 during the Fundamentalism - Modernism crisis in the church. Its purpose would be to try to steer the denomination safely through its present turbulence -- called by some, the "Presbyterian civil war." The concept received a great deal of support. It was implemented as a task force rather than a commission. This would allow the inclusions of gays and lesbians; they would have been frozen out of a theological commission.
    • New moderator: The assembly elected a new moderator: Jack Rogers. He describes himself as agreeing with conservatives within the denomination on "nearly every issue except [that he favors] the ordination of gays and lesbians." Having friends in both the liberal and conservative camps, he feels that he can bridge the gaps between the warring factions.  He notes that the church has historically reversed direction on issues like slavery and the ordination of women "as a result of more careful reading of scripture and openness to the Holy Spirit." He believes the church will eventually do the same with gay and lesbian ordination.
    • The Ordination Standards Committee was inundated with overtures and extensive testimony. They gave serious consideration to Overture 01-8 from the New York City Presbytery. It would implement the opinion of the Advisory Committee on the Constitution (ACC) which had stated that the best way to permit gays and lesbians to be considered freely for ordination would be to:
      • Remove G-6.0106b from the Book of Order. It requires "fidelity in marriage between a man and a woman or chastity in singleness."
      • Void what has been referred to as the authoritative interpretation of the constitution. It has been in effect since 1978, and has barred the ordination of "self-affirming, practicing homosexuals."

      Familiar arguments were voiced. Some speakers promoted equal justice for persons of all sexual orientations; others were concerned with sin. Two typical responses were:

      • Mary Kuhns, a minister member of Mid-Kentucky Presbytery and supporter of ordination for persons of all sexual orientations said: "We've had enough talk. Equal opportunity has been paralyzed by G-6.0106b. Justice comes first."
      • Mary Brondyke, an elder in Boston Presbytery, said, "Biblical obedience is mandatory, not optional. If we can't call sin 'sin,' how can we have any credibility?"

      Advocates for the 29 overtures and concurrences which suggest the deletion of G-6.0106b combined to make a single presentation. Rev. Susan Andrews of New Brunswick Presbytery said: "Jesus sometimes broke the law in order to fulfill it. His ministry was gracious and flexible...a purity not based on a narrow legal code, but on love."  Professor Nancy Ramsey of Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary argued that freedom of conscience is "an essential" in the denomination, but that standards of sexual conduct is not. Doug Nave, of New York City Presbytery said: "No home should force a choice between authenticity and inclusion; but our family home, the Presbyterian Church, does just that ... and so people leave home...This issue is not important enough to split our family. Perhaps we should say what Jesus said about homosexuality: nothing."  The committee approved a resolution to remove G-6.0106b and void the authoritative interpretation.  14 out of 60 members of the Committee issued a minority report which would have retained G-6.0106b, kept the interpretation, and sent a pastoral letter to the church stating that "prayer and study provide a more excellent way than endless debates over legislation." 1

    • General Assembly action: By a vote of 317 to 208 on JUN-15, the 213th General Assembly voted to:
      • Delete section G-6.0106b from the church's Book of Order. Replacing the deleted text would be a statement that church officers' "suitability to hold office is determined by the governing body where the examination for ordination or installation takes place, guided by scriptural and constitutional standards, under the authority and Lordship of Jesus Christ."
      • Declare the "authoritative interpretation" of the constitution as having "no further force or effect."

This is the biggest margin ever on a matter related to gay/lesbian ordination.

If both actions by the General Assembly are approved by a majority of the church's 173 presbyteries, then sexually active gays and lesbians, and sexually active unmarried heterosexuals could attain church office. Deletion of G-6.0106.b would leave any decisions on ordaining gays and lesbians in committed relationships up to the individual presbytery. In conservative areas of the country, homosexual candidates would be automatically rejected for consideration. In liberal areas, sexual orientation would not be a factor. Removal of the section would simply be a recognition that the denomination cannot reach a consensus, and so are passing decisions down to the local level. Deleting G-6.0106.b would neither prevent a church from ordaining a gay person, nor would require a church to do so. Some are calling this "middle way."

Reactions to the General Assembly's decision were swift and predictable.

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  • 2001-SEP-25: Former moderators ask for civility: Twenty-nine former moderators of the PC(USA) decried the characterization of the Assembly as "apostate" and the rude reception that they feel moderator Jack Rogers has received from some conservatives within the denomination. They wrote that it is inappropriate for anyone to doubt Roger's faith or motives simply because they disagree with him. "We often met with those who disagreed with stands taken by General Assemblies or who disagreed with us personally. We urge the church to extend to him the same respect the church extended to us during our year as moderator...some in our church have assailed Jack Rogers...with comments that have questioned his theological commitments and his very faithfulness as a minister of the church." Two former moderators declined to sign the letter.
  • 2001-SEP-30: Presbyteries about to vote on deleting "fidelity and chastity" amendment: Moderator Jack Rogers discussed the amendment at a meeting of the Westminster Presbyterian Church in Fruit Heights, UT. He said that each presbytery will vote during 2002-FEB.  Rogers said that the action makes no judgment on homosexuality. "It just says that we haven't been able to agree, so we're going to allow the governing bodies to decide, following its conscience according to the Bible. We've disagreed on many things over the years and we've taken the time to work them through." 2
  • 2001-OCT-5: Presbyterian Coalition meets: More than 1,300 evangelical and other conservative Presbyterians concluded their sixth annual meeting of the Presbyterian Coalition in Orlando FL. Delegates were present from all but five of the church's 173 presbyteries. They are committed to defeat Amendment A, and retain section G-6.0106b in the Book of Order. That provision requires "fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman or chastity in singleness" of church officers." The Coalition has hired a full-time organizer and has budgeted $300,000 to defeat the Amendment, and retain the ban on gay & lesbian ordination. "...a quick show of hands demonstrated that about half of those on hand want to at least consider "graciously separating" from the PC(USA) - that is, negotiating a way to take their pensions and property with them when they go - while the other half want to stay and fight." They affirmed the Confessing Church movement of 930 congregations which believe that:
    • Jesus Christ is the sole path to salvation.
    • The Bible is the church's only rule for faith and life.
    • Sexual activity is appropriate only within a heterosexual marriage.

    Delegates agreed with the eight recommendations made by their board in 2001-JUL:

    • Establishing a prayer ministry.
    • Defeating Amendment A.
    • Creation of regional networks to connect Evangelicals within the denomination.
    • Increasing financial support for One by One, a network that attempts to "heal" homosexuals.
    • Creation of a theological Swift Witness Action Team (SWAT) to help Evangelicals with questions and analysis.
    • Attempting  to elect evangelical commissioners and youth delegates to the next General Assembly.
    • Trying to coordinate the commissioners and youth delegates.
    • Creating overtures which exalt Christ. 3
  • 2001-NOV-1: Comments on the amendment: PCANEWS reported some comments on the proposal to delete G-6.0106.b:
    • Rev. Gene Bay, is pastor of the 3,500-member Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church in suburban Philadelphia, PA. He will shortly be co-moderator of the Covenant Network, the largest gay-positive Presbyterian group working for the deletion of G-6.0106.b. He said: "My own sense is that many in the church feel that 'G-6.0106.b' has not brought peace to the church, has not brought unity to the church. It really has only served to create more disunity...Even if folks happen not to agree on homosexuality or ordination, we have a chance to return to the traditional Presbyterian way of doing things...Congregations and presbyteries are in the best position to determine who qualifies for ordination....But this issue is not going to go away as long as G-0106.b is in The Book of Order, as long as this issue is facing the church. The quickest way to get people to stop talking about it is to get it out of The Book of Order."
    • Elder Michael Adee of Santa Fe, NM, also supports the deletion of the clause. He says that "we are going to be faithful to bring a call to justice to the church every year until it happens."
    • Pam Byers, executive director of the Covenant Network, said: "We're not asking the church to change its teaching on homosexuality. We're not asking people to change their minds on what they think the Bible says. We're just pointing out that half of this denomination disagrees with the other half. And the only way to have peace is to get off the subject."
    • Rev. Jerry Andrews of Glen Ellyn, IL, is one of the co-moderators of the conservative Presbyterian Coalition. He commented "The whole church participates" in each ordination. So, if his presbytery ordains gays over his objections, he will be forced to participate in that action.
    • Rev. David Henderson of West Lafayette, IN, warned 1,300 people attending the Presbyterian Coalition's annual meeting that the denomination's foundation is "severely compromised," like that of a termite-infested house. He suggested that the church's liberals, gays and lesbians are pests that must be "stomped on" and "sprayed" until evangelicals manage to "get rid of the problem."
    • Rev. Chris Iosso, of Scarsdale, NY is coordinating a 'Third Way Project' in 2002-FEB. PCUSA reported: "He says he doesn't want folks to feel bound to the old litigious or legislative method, in which liberals consider themselves harbingers of justice and conservatives consider themselves defenders of Biblical integrity. He wants discussions to include the 'whole Gospel,' not just isolated texts cited in support of a particular point of view."
  • 2001-NOV-26: Some presbyteries vote: PCANEWS reported that 24 out of 173 presbyteries have completed their vote on Amendment A. Twenty-two voted to preserve G-6.0106.b and its ban on gay and lesbian ordination; 2 voted to delete the section. Twenty-three of the 24 presbyteries voted the same way that they did in 1997. If this trend continues, then the amendment will fail by a vote of about 56 to 116. 6
  • 2001-DEC-18: Opinion survey: PCANEWS reported that a recent Presbyterian Panel survey shows that:
    • A large majority of elders will vote to preserve G-6.0106.b and its ban on gay and lesbian ordination by a vote of 63% to 27% with 9% uncertain. Those supporting the ban are most numerous in the South (71%) and West (67%), and lowest in the Northeast (57%) and the Midwest (55%).
    • Ministers are split on the issue: 46% for the ban, 48% opposed; 6% uncertain -- a statistical dead heat.

    "While all ministers are eligible to vote at presbytery meetings, only a small minority of elders can do so.  That means, [Jack] Marcum noted, that the outcome 'depends a lot on which elders are elected by their sessions as commissioners' when it comes time for their presbyteries to vote." Marcum is administrator of the panel.

Year 2002 activity:

  • 2002-FEB-19: Amendment rejected: 87 out of 173 presbyteries have voted to reject the amendment. G-6.0106.b has been preserved. The ban on ordination of gays and lesbians continues. The final vote was about 72% in favor of rejecting the amendment. 8

Internet and Media References:

  1. "Ordination Standards committee inundated with testimony," PCUSA News, 2001-JUN-11.
  2. Jamie Lampros, "Church faces controversial issues," 2001-SEP-30, at: http://www.standard.net/standard/news/
  3. Alexa Smith, "Coalition evangelicals unified on Amendment A," PCUSA News, 2001-OCT-5,
  4. "Proposed amendment vote tallies," at: http://www.horeb.pcusa.org/oga/
  5. "Now's a good a time to fight as any, liberals say," PCUSA News, 2001-NOV-01.
  6. "Early returns show Amendment A is in trouble," PCUSA News, 2001-NOV-26.
  7. "Elders support rejection, ministers split on Amendment 01-A," PCUSA News, 2001-DEC-18.
  8. Dylan Lovan, "Group wins fight over gay clergy," Associated Press, 2002-FEB-19, at: http://story.news.yahoo.com/news?

Copyright © 1996 to 2003 incl. by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Excerpted from our web site's main Presbyterian-Homosexuality Ordination essay on 2001-OCT-24
Last update: 2003-MAR-28

Author: B.A. Robinson

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