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The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) & LGBTs

The new "Auburn Declaration" of 2001

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The original "Auburn Declaration" of 1924:

The original Auburn Affirmation was written by personnel at the Auburn Seminary in northern New York state. The Affirmation tackled a conflict between fundamentalists and moderates within the denomination. At the time, candidates for ordination had to agree with five fundamentals of the faithinerrancy of scripture, the virgin birth, the sacrificial atonement of Christ, the bodily resurrection of Christ and the performance of miracles by Christ that superceded the laws of nature. (Some held the fifth belief to be the anticipation of the second coming of Christ). 1 Liberals in the denomination felt that ministers should be free to hold diverse belief about these matters.

The Declaration stated, in part:

"Some of us regard the particular theories contained in the deliverance of the General Assembly of 1923 as satisfactory explanations of these facts and doctrines. But we are united in believing that these are not the only theories allowed by the Scriptures and our standards as explanations of these facts and doctrines of our religion, and that all who hold to these facts and doctrines, whatever theories they may employ to explain them, are worthy of all confidence and fellowship." 1

The Affirmation asserted that Presbyterians at the time must:

bullet "Safeguard liberty of thought and teaching of its ministers;"

bullet Prohibit restricting the church to rigid interpretations of scripture and doctrine; and

bullet Refuse to rank ecclesiastical authority above the conscience swayed by the [Holy] Spirit. 1

That document influenced delegates to the 1927 General Assembly who declared that it is the individual presbyteries, not the General Assembly, which have authority over what their clergy must be required to affirm theologically. They instituted a type of local option within the denomination. The Assembly repudiated the expulsion of liberal ministers and limited the Assembly's power to reviewing individual cases, not in setting standards.

Over time, a wide diversity of belief over the five fundamentals of the faith has developed among the clergy and laity.

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Affirmation 2001: referred to as the "New Auburn Declaration:"

Three generations after the 1924 declaration was published, Presbyterians found themselves in another liberal/conservative conflict. Jamie Spahr of "That all may freely serve" -- a gay-positive Presbyterian group -- described the debate as being about:

bullet How to interpret the Bible, and
bullet The role of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people (GLBT) in the church.

The denomination celebrated the 75th anniversary of the Auburn Affirmation In 1999. A year later, during a sermon, Rev. A. David Bos compared the fundamentalist/moderate crisis in the church in the 1920s with the current crisis over homosexual equality. He said: "very soon, now, we will need another Auburn Affirmation."

A group of Presbyterians gathered in Baltimore MD on the weekend of 2001-FEB-10 intending to either update the original declaration, or draft a new "covenant of dissent." According to Rev. Bear Ride, director of the Peace Center at United University Church in Los Angeles, and a member of the board of More Light Presbyterians:

"We've determined that we need to begin by defining what we see as the crisis in the church, much as the writers of the original Auburn Affirmation did in their time. But it is hard to say exactly what we'll do. The group has never gotten together before. The consensus among us is that the church has really strayed from faithfulness to the gospel and the broad principles on which it was founded, (including) tolerance of different opinions. There really is a parallel to the controversies of the '20s. It does seem to have gotten to that point. Some issues are different; some are the same. But people are not free to express different theological (ideas) without causing great furor in the church." 2

The group, called "Auburn Spirit," called on Presbyterian Church (USA) members and governing bodies "...to safeguard the unity and liberty [of the denomination] in the spirit of the Auburn Affirmation (1924)." They released "Affirmation 2001" in 2001-AUG. It asks Presbyterians to:

bullet Be faithful to our church's constitutional call of openness to all church members who earnestly profess their faith in Jesus Christ;

bullet Reaffirm and protect freedom of conscience, liberty of expression and the freedom to disagree within our broad Reformed principles; and

bullet Resist any action taken by governing bodies that fails to welcome all persons who profess their faith in Jesus Christ as full and equal members of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

Rev. Hal Porter said.

"Affirmation 2001 is something anyone with an open mind, heart, and hands can endorse. This is pure reformed theology at its best. This is the kind of openness the Presbyterian Church needs to reaffirm. This is the kind of thing the first Auburn Affirmation affirmed."

"Affirmation 2001" in its original form was contained in a sermon given by Rev. David Bos at the Downtown United Presbyterian Church, in Rochester, NY, during the year 2000. It is available at the More Light Presbyterians web site. 5

Also in 2001, perhaps in response to the "Auburn Spirit" activity, the Presbyterian Lay Committee -- a conservative group -- called for a loyalty oath that all Assembly program staff members would be required to sign. It would list three 'essential confessions:'

bullet "The infallibility of Scripture,

bullet Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation, and
bullet Opposite-sex marriage by a woman and a man is the only permissible form of sexual expression."

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Internet and media references:

  1. Text of the 1924 "Auburn Affirmation" is online at: http://www.presbyweb.com/
  2. "Church leftists may draft new Auburn Affirmation," PCUSA News #6379, issued 2001-FEB-9.
  3. "Affirmation 2001" Proclaimed in the Spirit of Auburn Affirmation (1924). Janie Spahr Urges Support," That All May Freely Serve, at: http://www.tamfs.org/new/affirmation2001.asp
  4. "Presbyterian Church (USA)," Newsletter of the Interfaith Working Group. 2001-MAY, at: http://www.iwgonline.org/
  5. Rev. David Bos, "The Auburn Declaration. Reclaiming the Church Sermon for September 3, 2000," Downtown United Presbyterian Church, Rochester, NY, at: http://archive.mlp.org/ The Auburn Declaration is located about 40% down from the top of the page.

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Copyright © 2001 to 2014 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance. 
Latest update 2014-JUN-26
Author: B.A. Robinson
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