The Presbyterian Church (USA) and gay/lesbian ordination
Events during 2006
Analysis of the Theological Task Force's report (TTF):
The TTF had been created by the 213rd General Assembly in 2001. They
completed a four year study and issued their report on 2005-AUG-25. This
gave Presbyterians ten months to analyze and discuss the report before the 2006
Presbyterians of diverse backgrounds and beliefs formed the task force. Their goal was
"discern the church's 'Christian identity in and for the 21st
century' and to devise 'a process and instrument' to help the
church deal with issues that are causing conflict, including sexuality
and ordination, interpretation of the Bible, questions about Jesus
Christ and salvation, and the use of power in the church."
Their main recommendations were:
- The denomination stay together, while
discerning "God's will on matters about which there is no consensus"
at the present time.
- Local discernment groups made up of
Presbyterians with diverse views meet for "worship, community building,
study, and theological reflection."
- Governing bodies first use methods of
discernment before moving on to debate and vote.
- That Presbyterians study the theological
reflection part of the TTF report.
- The 217th General Assembly
in 2006-JUN approve an "authoritative interpretation" of the PC(USA)
Constitution that supports an approach to ordination that is both more
flexible and more rigorous than current practice." It would allow an
ordaining body to examine a particular candidate for ordination to see
whether her or his departure(s) from standards is acceptable. "They may decide in a particular case that a person's
departure from a standard is not a departure from essentials, but a body
that makes that decision may not determine that the standard is invalid or
inapplicable." 3 Higher
governing bodies would be able to review the decisions of ordaining bodies.
- If the previous recommendation is accepted at
the Assembly, that no constitutional changes be made concerning ordination
and other areas covered by the task force.
- Presbyterians seek conciliation and mediation
before resorting to formal action. 4
Under this proposal, the constitution of the denomination would remain
intact. The standards for ordination will continue to require the candidate
either be celibate or married to a person of the opposite sex. However, a
candidate who does not meet these standards, whether heterosexual, homosexual or
bisexual, may still be be ordained due to a form of local option, if the ordaining
body feels that they can make an exception.
This proposal does not satisfy many gays, lesbians, bisexuals and their
supporters, because they feel that the exclusion of non-celibate sexual
minorities is profoundly immoral. It does not satisfy traditionally minded
Presbyterians who feel that homosexual behavior is profoundly immoral; they want a denomination free of homosexual
leaders. But faced with the
gut-wrenching horror of a schism in the denomination, the
"authoritative interpretation" appeared to many
to be the lesser of two evils.
Year 2006 General Assembly:
The 217th General Assembly was held in Birmingham, AL on 2006-JUN-15-22. It
was unusual in two ways: This was the
denomination's first-ever biennial assembly. It was held together with the general assemblies of two of the PCUSA's sister denominations: the
Cumberland Presbyterian Church and the
Cumberland Presbyterian Church in America.
By a relatively close vote of 298 to 221, the Assembly approved the "authoritative
interpretation" of the denomination's constitution as recommended in the
Theological Task Force's (TTF) main report. A minority report had called that the
authoritative interpretation be deleted from the TTF recommendations. It failed
234 to 287. A motion to refer the tandem proposals to the presbyteries for
further discussion and comment also failed 234 to 281.
"Today we saw the Presbyterian process of doing
things at its best. We saw people working fairly and treating each other
"With the vote today we have not altered the
fundamentals; we have the same standards as before. The report
encourages a more pastoral approach to ordination and encourages our
governing bodies to do a thorough work of examining people for office."
"We were not instructed to solve any of the issues
included in our mandate. It was our mandate then and it is now that the
issues run deep and will not end soon. But we know that winner-take-all
solutions will only perpetuate the conflict."
"We have concluded that though we may be on
different pages, we are all in one book -- biblical, Presbyterian and
Reformed. We need each other, we are a faithful but diverse body of
Christ and we must learn how to remain one body."
"...clarifies what is already in the Constitution."
[When applied to ordination it] "....includes four important
Presbyterian ordination principles: maintaining standards, rigorously
examining candidates, protecting individual conscience and protecting
the church through judicial review."
"I'm against the ordination of homosexuals, though I
love 'em. But we've been fighting in this ditch for 28 years and ditch
is getting deeper. It's starting to affect our mission work, our youth
ministry and our evangelism and I'm ready to try something else. Please,
let's get on with being the church, taking the gospel into the world and
offering them something else other than arguments."
"...a wrong turn....a license....to overlook clear
standards that have been set, a license to ignore the larger discernment
of the body of Christ and a license to legislate by interpretation."
"...open the floodgates of controversy...[people
are] looking for churches where people are gracious but have clear
The Assembly passed four additional TTF recommendations with
a 87% majority:
To "strongly encourage" all Presbyterians to
witness to the church's oneness and "to avoid division into separate
To urge congregations, governing bodies and other groups
of Presbyterians to engage in "intensive discernment" in the face of
To study the theological reflection section of the TTF
To encourage church bodies to "explore the use of
alternative forms of discernment and decision-making as a complement to
The Assembly also accepted the TTF's recommendation to make
no changes to the constitution in 2006. By overwhelming margins, they voted to
disapprove more than 20 proposals that would have deleted section G-6.0108 of
the Book of Order. Thus the requirement that clergy and other church officers
exhibit "fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman
or chastity in singleness" remains the universal standard. However, local
ordination and installation bodies now have some wiggle room when reviewing
candidates who don't meet the standards.
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
- "Final report resources," Theological Task Force on Peace, Unity,
and Purity of the Church, at:
http://www.pcusa.org/ You can order a copy of the report online.
- William Johnson, "Same-gender relationships in the church: Seven
theological viewpoints," A study paper for the Theological Task Force,
- Jerry L. Van Marter, "A TTF Primer: Quick Reference Guide to the
Theological Task Force on Peace, Unity and Purity of the Church," at:
- Bulletin insert about the Theological Task Force at:
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Copyright © 2006 to 2008 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Last update: 2008-JUN-28
Author: B.A. Robinson