The Presbyterian Church (USA) & gay/lesbian ordination
Events during 2008 & 2009
General Assembly held:
The church's 218th General Assembly was held during 2008-JUN-21 to 28 in San
Jose, CA. Its motto was a paraphrase taken from Micah 6:8: "Do justice, love
kindness, and walk humbly with your God."
This was the 30th anniversary of a 1978 decision by one of its predecessor
denominations, the United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America
(UPCUSA) on homosexuality. They formally welcomed gays and lesbians as members.
But they also prohibited the ordination of openly homosexual persons to the ministry.
Overture to amend G-6.0106 passes committee:
On 2008-JUN-24, the Assembly Committee on Church Orders and Ministries
voted 41 to 11 to accept an overture proposed by Boston Presbytery. It recommend
that the General Assembly amend the denomination's
Book of Order. The
vote would have been closer, except that some members who opposed the overture
left the committee before the vote was taken.
|Deletes the present wording of paragraph G-6.0106b.
This clause requires ministers and other church officers to live in
"fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman or
chastity in singleness." 1|
|Replaces it with a new wording: |
"Those who are called to ordained service in the church, by their assent to
the constitutional questions for ordination and installation (W-4.4003),
pledge themselves to live lives obedient to Jesus Christ the Head of the
Church, striving to follow where he leads through the witness of the
Scriptures, and to understand the Scriptures through the instruction of the
Confessions. In so doing, they declare their fidelity to the standards of
the Church. Each governing body charged with examination for ordination
and/or installation (G-14.0240 and G-14.0450) establishes the candidate’s
sincere efforts to adhere to these standards."
The Advisory Committee on the Constitution has repeatedly stated
that elimination of G-6.0106b is one of the preconditions before homosexuals and
bisexuals in committed relationships can be freely ordained.
Some comments by members of the
Assembly Committee on
Church Orders and Ministries:
Andrew Cook favored the overture, saying: "It seems to
me the revised language reaffirms the importance of all the ordination
standards, rather than singling out just one. It says we care about
standards and determining if candidates are prepared."
David Reimer predicted that: "... the ramifications will
be severe. Churches won’t wait for the ratification votes [by the
presbyteries] but will leave immediately, though I hope they won’t."
The Rev. Emily McColl opposed the overture. She said
that: "... many churches will no longer consider us Reformed in their
understanding of biblical interpretation and theology."
Robert Bruce, a youth advisory delegate, hoped that "...
we will look at God’s will for this church, not at the numbers."
|The Rev. Sue Fisher said: "I feel compelled to take a motion to the floor so the Assembly can decide
whether to send it to the presbyteries."
Overture to amend G-6.0106 passes General Assembly:
The recommendation was passed on 2008-JUN-27. Demonstrating once more the
serious divisions within the denomination, the vote was narrow: 380 to 325.
Since this is a major change to the Book of Order, the
new wording now must go to the 173 presbyteries for authorization.
Rev. Dan Holloway of Providence Presbytery, moderator of the
Committee on Church Orders and Ministries said, "It is important to say
that at this point our Constitution has not been changed. As we move forward it
is essential that we have conversations that are gracious and loving and
welcoming, since we are not all of one mind."
Some comments by attendees to the General Assembly:
|Minister commissioner the Rev. William Stepp of
Presbytery was opposed to the amendment. He said that the denomination:
"... needs a continuing strong witness to biblical standards for sexuality."
He warned that the amendment will "... destabilize the denomination,
obliterate trust and reduce funding for the church. Don’t send a shock wave
through the church."|
|The Rev. Walter Hamer of
John Calvin Presbytery, presented a
minority report that urged more study. He said: "Though we may be hearing
the voice of the Holy Spirit here,
many of our
churches have not heard that same Spirit and are not ready, Let us
continue the conversation with the whole church at the table to build trust,
learn about various positions and give us a chance to understand each other.
We need more time for study and conversation.. His proposal was defeated
|The Rev. Susan Fisher of
Pacific Presbytery said that the
matter had been under discussion for three decades, and that a proposal for
"... dialogue but not action doesn’t move us forward. She said that she felt
"compelled" to support the proposal "... to give the church voice and vote
to change language, to let the wider church decide if now is the time" to
change ordination standards.|
|Outgoing General Assembly Stated Clerk Clifton Kirkpatrick pleaded for
church unity. He anticipates a heated debate at the presbytery level. He
said: "There are people who are gay and lesbian who long passionately to be
included. There are others who believe strongly, not that they don’t love
them, but that standards must be upheld. What is essential is the spirit of
unity as we go forward to a new stage in the process."
History of presbytery votes on the "fidelity and chastity" clause:
|1996-7 - Amendment B: G-6.0106b was originally put in the
Book of Order in 1996, by a referendum vote of 97 to 74.|
|1997-8 - Amendment A: Presbyteries rejected a
referendum on replacing G-6.0106b. The vote was 57 to 114.
There are two trends that gave the new referendum a chance at passing:
||After three decades of arguing over the matter, some in the church are
getting tired of the endless debate.|
||As in the American population generally, there is a major split between
young and old members, with the former being much more liberal than the
latter. This is generating gradually increasing support for equality of
persons of all sexual orientations.|
Interpretation of the Book of Order:
The PCUSA website states:
"In another ordination standards-related action, the Assembly
adopted a supplementary authoritative interpretation of the PC(USA) constitution
that applies the historical practice of 'scrupling' -- the declaration of
conscientious objection by candidates for ordination, coupled with discernment
by the ordaining body whether the declared objection is disqualifying -- equally
to all ordination standards of the denomination."
This does not represent a change to the Church Constitution, merely a
reinterpretation of the existing clauses. It would allow gay and lesbian
candidates to conscientiously object to the existing standard for ordination.
"The authoritative interpretation reaffirms the scrupling
practice affirmed by the 217th General Assembly (2006) when it approved the
report of the Theological Task Force on Peace, Unity and Purity of the Church
and effectively overturns a recent General Assembly Permanent Judicial
Commission (GAPJC) ruling — Bush vs. Presbytery of Pittsburgh — that
G-6.0106b, the commonly called “fidelity and chastity” ordination standard,
cannot be scrupled."
"The GAPJC ruling also stated that scrupling on any provision
of the church’s Constitution does not give the conscientious objector license to
disobey it." 2
This action by the General
Assembly is difficult to understand. So we just reported it verbatim.
Definition of marriage:
The General Assembly voted 77% to 33% in against changing the current
church definition of marriage as a union between a man and a woman to a covenant
between "two people."
Overture to amend G-6.0106 rejected by the Presbyteries:
During the summer of 2008, the General Assembly
of the Presbyterian Church (USA) voted to remove a constitutional
requirement that ministers, deacons and elders must live in "fidelity within
the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman, or chastity in
singleness." This would allow gay, lesbian and bisexual candidates for these
positions to live in a loving committed same-sex relationship.
The decision had to be ratified by a majority vote of the denomination's 173
presbyteries. By 2009-APR-26, the voting results were 88 presbyteries opposed
and 68 in favor. This means that, whatever the final results, a majority has
voted to retain the status quo. The
discriminatory clause will be retained in the denomination's constitution; However, it appears that the
margin is significantly smaller than in previous years.
Both sides expect the issue to be addressed again in the near future. With
the gradual increase in the acceptance of homosexuality
and bisexuality nationwide, it appears inevitable that the constitutional
requirement will eventually be dropped. 7
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
- Note: Loving committed same-sex couples who have been married in
Massachusetts, California, Canada or elsewhere are considered by the church
to be single roommates. Gays and lesbians in committed (and presumably sexually
active) relationships) are lumped together with adulterers and denied ordination.
- Jerry L. Van Marter, "Assembly proposes amendment to delete G-6.0106b
and replace it with a new version Paragraph covers 'fidelity and chastity'
ordination standards," PC USA, 2008-JUN-27, at:
- "Statement of the Session of the First Presbyterian Church Stamford,
Connecticut in response to Amendment B," 1997-MAY-20, at:
- Jerry L. Van Marter, "Church Orders votes 41-11 to recommend deletion of
G-6.0106b," PC USA, 2008-JUN-24, at:
- Eric Gorski, "Presbyterian Assembly votes to drop homosexual clergy
ban," Associated Press, 2008-JUN-28, at:
- "Presbyteries will vote for 4th time on sex issues," The Layman Online,
undated, at: http://www.layman.org/
- "Presbyterian Church gay clergy bid gains, but is voted down again," Associated Press, 2009-APR-26, at:
Copyright © 2008 & 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Last update: 2009-MAY-03
Author: B.A. Robinson