THE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH (USA)
AND GAY / LESBIAN ORDINATION
EVENTS DURING YEARS 2004 & 2005
Since 1998, the Presbyterian Church's policy has excluded sexually active gays and lesbians -- whether single or in loving,
committed relationships -- from consideration for leadership roles in the denominations. These include ordination and/or installation as deacons,
elders, or ministers of the Word and sacrament.
Various General Assemblies have passed resolutions to allow ordination; they once declared a two year moratorium on legislation. But
no changes have been approved by the presbyteries. The problem remains unresolved. An internal tension between
liberals and conservatives within the denomination appears to be widening in two main areas: the criteria for salvation and whether to
ordain sexually active gays and lesbians.
|Opinions on salvation are largely determined
by the members' views in the inerrancy and
inspiration of the Bible. |
|Opinions on the homosexual ordination are very heavily influenced by the
members' beliefs concerning the nature of
homosexuality. Most express one of two viewpoints:|
|Conservative Presbyterians generally side with Fundamentalist and other Evangelical denominations in their belief about the nature of
homosexuality. They view it as sinful,
condemned by the Bible, hated by God, abnormal,
unnatural, chosen and changeable. They encourage gays and lesbians to seek therapy to change their sexual orientation to heterosexual. They regard
any sexually active homosexual as unfit for service in a leadership role in the church, regardless of the nature of the person's relationship.|
|Liberal Presbyterians generally side with the vast majority of mental health professionals, human sexuality researchers, gays,
lesbians and religious liberals. They view homosexuality as normal and natural for a minority of adults. It is neither chosen nor changeable.
They reject suggestions to change a person's sexual orientation as useless and potentially devastating. They see safe sexual activity within a
committed, monogamous relationship to be free of sin, whether the couple is gay or straight. They view gay ordination and recognition of gay
relationships as fundamental human rights issues. They believe that denial of these rights are akin to racism and sexism.
Essentially no dialogue exists between the two sides. None seems possible.
Year 2004 General Assembly:
The 216th General Assembly began in Richmond, VA, on 2004-JUN-26. They chose another ironic theme: "That all may have life in
fullness." Like the theme for 2003, this implies an inclusiveness that is not present in the denomination for its gay and bisexual members
and candidates for the clergy.
|Liberals in the denomination want the bars against sexually active homosexuals as clergy and lay officers lifted.|
|Conservatives seek to retain the prohibition against gay and lesbian officers, and to clamp down on infractions of existing church
law which have allowed a few sexually active gays and lesbians to hold church office.|
For the third time, the 1997 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" came up for review. A proposal has been made to replace the marriage phrase with "a covenanted
relationship between two persons." This would apparently include Vermont civil unions,
California Domestic Partnerships and Massachusetts marriages.
Debate at this assembly was somewhat muted, in anticipation of a report in 2006 by an emergency task force on denominational "peace, unity and
Important activities during the Assembly:
|Selection of moderator: Rick Ufford-Chase, 40, an Elder from the Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson, AZ, was elected moderator on
2004-JUN-26 on the second ballot. When asked the inevitable question concerning the "Fidelity and chastity" clause which prohibits the
ordination of sexually active gays and lesbians, he said: "I have close friends who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. This church
should welcome their gifts....Although it is quite fair for you to ask my opinion and for me to share it, if I am elected, it is not appropriate for me
to advance my opinion." 3 |
|Overture 05-06: Four Presbyteries -- of National Capital, Southern New England, Genesee Valley, and
Des Moines initiated a motion to remove G-6.0106b from the Book of
Order. It said in part: "Section G-6.0106b does serious harm to our
church by forcing the appearance of consensus and depriving the church of the
benefit of discussion." This overture was combined with Overture 05-07.|
|Overture 05-08: The Presbytery of Detroit initiated a motion
to delete definitive guidance statements of 1978 and 1979. They note that a
substantial liberal "minority,
40 to 45 percent, affirm an interpretation of Scripture that differs from the
guidance of the 1978 and 1979 General Assemblies." They wish to see an
acknowledgement of diversity of opinion on homosexuality within the
denomination. This overture was also combined with Overture 05-07.|
|Overture 05-09: The Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area initiated a
motion concerning Section G-6.0106b They said:|
"We believe that the presence of G-6.0106b within our Book of Order
has created a hostile and divisive environment in our church that is
contrary to God’s reconciling love and the spirit of our Reformed faith.
We are greatly saddened over the increasing number of accusations and
judicial cases that have arisen in recent months as a result of this
measure. These trials are causing the church to spend inordinate
financial and human resources defending an exclusionary policy that is
not an essential of the Reformed faith, drawing precious resources away
from the primary mission of the church."
Their motion asked that the presbyteries be asked two questions:
|Whether Section G-6.0106b should be stricken in its entirety, and|
|Whether it should be modified to allow a local option, by allowing the suitability of candidates for ordination "....to hold
office...[be] 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."
This overture was also combined with Overture 05-07.
|Overture 05-09: The Presbytery
of the Western Reserve, with the concurrences of the
Presbyteries of Albany, Long Island,
Milwaukee, New York City, and Santa Feinitiated a motion
that stated: |
"In carrying out their responsibilities under the Constitution to
determine fitness for office, sessions and presbyteries are not bound by
statements of the General Assembly and its commissions, regarding
ordained service by homosexual persons, that predate the adoption of
The Presbytery noted that
"....General Assemblies and Permanent Judicial Commissions of
the PC(USA), the UPCUSA, and the PCUS issued various policy and
interpretive statements regarding ordained service by 'self-affirming,
practicing homosexual persons.' Such statements were largely grounded in
the 'Policy Statement and Recommendations' issued in 1978 by the 190th
General Assembly of the UPCUSA, known as 'definitive guidance.'
" 'Definitive guidance' and 'authoritative interpretations' that
followed had the effect of amending our constitutional standards for
ordination without the ratification of the presbyteries. This effect has
been neither definitive nor authoritative. Rather, these statements have
contributed to conflict and confusion in the church, and have undermined
respect for the Constitution.
"The 208th General Assembly (1996)
moved to end this conflict and confusion by approving a new provision in
the Constitution, G-6.0106b, that specifically addresses our standards
for the sexual conduct of candidates for ordained office. This provision
was ratified by the presbyteries, and actually changed the Book of
Order. In order to eliminate continuing confusion and
conflict, the 216th General Assembly (2004) should make clear that the
language of the Constitution itself takes precedence over older General
Assembly statements interpreting the Constitution before it was
The Assembly Committee narrowly voted to approve the overture by a
vote of 35 to 30 with no abstentions. However, the Committee also created a
"We, the 216th General
Assembly (2004), recognizing the church’s commitment to a churchwide
process of discernment with the leadership of the Theological Task
Force on Peace, Unity, and Purity of the Church, call upon the
church to pray for the task force and to engage faithfully in the
processes of discernment as led by the task force."
The General Assembly rejected the
overture, and voted to adopt the minority report. The various policy and
interpretive statements remain in effect. 4
Year 2005 activity:
|General Assembly: There was no assembly this year, for the first
time in the denomination's history. The PCUSA will hold future assemblies only
on even numbered years. |
|Unconstitutional ordination: On 2005-NOV-13, Raymond Bagnuolo of
White Plains, NY, was ordained as a minister at the South Presbyterian
Church in Dobbs Ferry, NY. The congregation is one of at least 16 within
the Hudson River Presbytery that have indicated their willingness to
call non-celibate gay and lesbian ministers in defiance of the
denomination's constitution. |
During the ritual, Bagnuolo affirmed that he accepted the Scriptures,
believed in one God and creator, and that he would proclaim the word and
sacrament. But he had one qualifier when he was asked whether he would
follow the PCUSA's constitution: he said that he would not abide by Section
G-6.0106b which excludes sexually active gays and lesbians from ordination.
According to Hannan Adely of The Journal News: "Bagnuolo, who is openly
gay, believes the amendment questions God's creation and contributes to
violence against the gay community."
The Rev. Janie Adams Spahr, director of That All May Freely Serve,
said: "Thank you for your integrity, your honesty and for saying out loud
what is just and what is right." Spahr's group promotes the ordination
of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender candidates in the PCUSA. She also
said that: "Our work is to continue to make it possible so the faith
community can choose the best candidates. We want to give people the chance
to do what they were born to do."
The Rev. David Prince, interim executive presbyter, or ruling elder, of
the Hudson River Presbytery, said "It gives me hope that the
presbytery of which we are part of will again someday be at the vanguard of
The Rev. Joseph Gilmore, who presided at the ordination said that the members of
Presbyterian Church feel enormous pride. He said:
"The struggle around sexual justice is what I mean. There’s been a long
and protracted argument — it’s almost thirty years old.....When the writers of the original sacred text — the Bible — wrote all those
years ago, they thought the earth was flat. Am I obliged to think the earth
is flat? They also thought that there was only one sexuality, and that was
Earl Tilford is a professor at Grove City College, a PCUSA liberal arts
college in Grove City, PA. He described the ordination as another step in the
denomination's long march to apostasy. He said:
"It started in 1967 when the Presbyterian Church decided that the Bible
was not the word of God, but that it contains the Word of God – along with a
lot of nice suggestions. [The PCUSA is].... hemorrhaging its membership. If
gay ordination and/or gay marriage ever becomes the law of the church, you
will see half the members leave."
He predicts that. at its current rate of decline, the denomination will
disappear by 2040.
Rev. Bagnuolo will serve as minister of the Palisades Presbyterian
Church in Palisades, N.Y., unless his ordination is judicially
challenged by the PCUSA. 5,6
|The Theological Task Force on Peace, Unity, and Purity of the Church
completed four year study and issued its report on 2005-AUG-25.
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
- "Presbyterians to Wrangle Over Gay Clergy," Associated Press,
- Evan Silverstein, "Family report returned for further study. Assembly
wants ACSWP, Theology and Worship to rethink family policies,"
Presbyterian Church (USA), 2003-MAY, at:
- Bill Lancaser, "Arizona elder chosen as moderator. Ufford-Chase urges
Presbyterians to 'get in the boat with Jesus'," Presbyterian Church (USA),
- "PresbyTel's database of actions for the 216th General Assembly (2004),"
- Hannan Adely, "Gay minister ordained in Dobbs Ferry," The Journal
News, 2005-NOV-14, at:
- "Presbyterian Church Ordains Gay Minister," CitizenLink, Focus on
the Family, 2005-NOV-17, at:
Copyright © 2004 to 2006 by Ontario Consultants on
Last update: 2006-JUN-24
Author: B.A. Robinson