About this site
About us
Our beliefs
Your first visit?
Contact us
External links
Good books
Visitor essays
Our forum
New essays
Other site features
Buy a CD
Vital notes

World religions
Who is a Christian?
Shared beliefs
Handle change
Bible topics
Bible inerrancy
Bible harmony
Interpret Bible
Beliefs, creeds
Da Vinci code
Revelation, 666
Other religions
Other spirituality
Cults and NRMs
Comparing religions

About all religions
Important topics
Basic information
Gods & Goddesses
Handle change
Confusing terms
World's end
One true religion?
Seasonal topics
Science v. Religion
More info.

Absolute truth

Attaining peace
Religious tolerance
Religious hatred
Religious conflict
Religious violence

"Hot" topics
Very hot topics
Ten commandm'ts
Assisted suicide
Death penalty
Equal rights - gays & bi's
Gay marriage
Origins of the species
Sex & gender
Spanking kids
Stem cells
Other topics

Laws and news
Religious laws
Religious news


Religious Tolerance logo



horizontal rule

Sponsored link.

horizontal rule

Pre-2004 background:

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.

bulletOpinions on salvation are largely determined by the members' views in the inerrancy and inspiration of the Bible.
bulletOpinions on the homosexual ordination are very heavily influenced by the members' beliefs concerning the nature of homosexuality. Most express one of two viewpoints:
bulletConservative 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.
bulletLiberal 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.

horizontal rule

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.

bulletLiberals in the denomination want the bars against sexually active homosexuals as clergy and lay officers lifted.
bulletConservatives 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. 1

Debate at this assembly was somewhat muted, in anticipation of a report in 2006 by an emergency task force on denominational "peace, unity and purity." 2

Important activities during the Assembly:

bulletSelection 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
bulletOverture 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.
bulletOverture 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.
bulletOverture 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 Godís 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:
bulletWhether Section G-6.0106b should be stricken in its entirety, and
bulletWhether 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.

bulletOverture 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 G-6.0106b.

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 changed."

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 minority report:

"We, the 216th General Assembly (2004), recognizing the churchís 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

horizontal rule

Sponsored link:

horizontal rule

Year 2005 activity:

bulletGeneral 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.
bulletUnconstitutional 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 social issues."

The Rev. Joseph Gilmore, who presided at the ordination said that the members of South Presbyterian Church feel enormous pride. He said:

"The struggle around sexual justice is what I mean. Thereís been a long and protracted argument ó itís almost thirty years old.....When the writers of the original sacred text ó the Bible ó 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 heterosexuality."

Professor 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 Ė 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

bulletThe Theological Task Force on Peace, Unity, and Purity of the Church (TTF) completed four year study and issued its report on 2005-AUG-25. More information

horizontal rule

References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Presbyterians to Wrangle Over Gay Clergy," Associated Press, 2004-JUN-25, at: http://news.yahoo.com/
  2. Evan Silverstein, "Family report returned for further study. Assembly wants ACSWP, Theology and Worship to rethink family policies," Presbyterian Church (USA), 2003-MAY, at: http://www.pcusa.org/
  3. Bill Lancaser, "Arizona elder chosen as moderator. Ufford-Chase urges Presbyterians to 'get in the boat with Jesus'," Presbyterian Church (USA), 2004-JUN-26, at: http://www.pcusa.org/
  4. "PresbyTel's database of actions for the 216th General Assembly (2004)," at: http://index.pcusa.org/
  5. Hannan Adely, "Gay minister ordained in Dobbs Ferry," The Journal News, 2005-NOV-14, at: http://www.thejournalnews.com/
  6. "Presbyterian Church Ordains Gay Minister," CitizenLink, Focus on the Family, 2005-NOV-17, at: http://www.family.org/

horizontal rule

Copyright © 2004 to 2006 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Last update: 2006-JUN-24

Author: B.A. Robinson

line.gif (538 bytes)

horizontal rule

Go to the previous page, or return to the Presbyterians and Homosexual Ordination menu, or choose:

  • Custom Search

    Go to home page  We would really appreciate your help

    E-mail us about errors, etc.  Purchase a CD of this web site

    FreeFind search, lists of new essays...  Having problems printing our essays?

    Twitter link

    Facebook icon

    Google Page Translator:

    This page translator works on Firefox,
    Opera, Chrome, and Safari browsers only

    After translating, click on the "show
    original" button at the top of this
    page to restore page to English.

  • ¬†