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The Presbyterian Church (USA) & gay/lesbian ordination

Reactions to the decision of
the 2008 General Assembly

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General Assembly decisions:

The church's 218th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) -- a.k.a. PC(USA) -- was held in late 2008-JUN in San Jose, CA. This year is the 30th anniversary of the very first debates on homosexuality. For three decades, the denomination has been attempting to resolve whether non-celibate homosexuals -- typically those who are in loving, committed relationships -- should be considered for ordination. These discussions were started by a predecessor denomination, the United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America  (UPCUSA).

At this General Assembly, three items were approved:

  • Paragraph G-6.0106b of the Book of Order, as written, would be deleted. It required ministers and other church officers to live in "fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman or chastity in singleness." It would be replaced with an amendment that would not contain specific references to sexual behaviors. It would require the candidates to make a sincere effort to obey Scripture as they interpret its meaning.

  • An existing authoritative interpretation that prohibits same-sex behavior by church officers was deleted.

  • A new authoritative interpretation was added that would allow ordination bodies some wiggle room in ordaining those homosexuals who are in committed relationships.

The amendment to G-6.0106b requires a majority vote by the church's 173 presbyteries. The other two changes came into effect immediately. More details.

Reaction from some subscribers to the OneNewsNow news source:

Subscribers to the OneNewsNow conservative news source appear to be mostly conservative Protestants. They were almost unanimous in their condemnation of the General Assembly decisions.

Some typical comments:

  • "How can those who profess to be teachers of The Word agree to something like this? ... God will have last word on this issue and they will not like it. May God have mercy on us."
  • "We are seeing the falling away from Jesus. All the arguments here are based on how much God loves people. That is very true but the Bible is clear on what is right and wrong in His eyes."
  • "The Presbyterian Church should not be allowed to preach Jesus Christ at all. They have blasphemed His Holy Name by accepting that even the idea of homosexuality is at all right in the sight of God. No one's heart that promotes that sort of lifestyle, or lives it, will enter the kingdom of Heaven."
  • "Allow me to be the first to say that I am saddened by this ruling in the Presbyterian Church. Why? Because it is further evidence that so-called Christians are buckling to the pressures of special interest groups rather than following long established guidelines that have been based on the scriptures."
  • "First, only a Christian can be a pastor, elder, deacon or member of Christ's church. Homosexuals cannot be any of those, simply because they are not Christians."
  • "God is the same yesterday, today and forever, unfortunately his church is not. Judgment is coming."
  • "Obviously The Presbyterian Church (USA) doesn't care what Jesus would say. But they will one day, probably very soon."
  • "The proposed new language would demand candidates 'pledge themselves to live lives obedient to Jesus Christ the Head of the Church.' ... How can a homosexual person do this when their very lifestyle is in opposition to the teachings in the Holy Scriptures?"
  • &"Unbelievable, what do they want to move forward to? Hell!"
  • "Ok Christian people, it is settled. The great falling away has come. Honestly, I feel there is nothing we can do to get this world to change course for the better. So therefore, we will have to go into Christian survival mode..."
  • "It's getting to be a sad day when PC USA does not understand the Book of Romans and call sin as sin and quit trying to do the politically correct or appeasing thing!"
  • "The church is making man made laws over Gods laws. WHAT A SHAME."
  • "This is indeed a very disturbing departure from biblical guidelines. Another instance of  'I choose my way over God's way.' Thankfully there still many churches who adhere to God's word; however very few in the mainline group."

One subscriber made a general observation:

  • "I am always surprised that articles such as this one never mention those who have already left denominations such as the PC(USA) because it hasn't ordained lesbian & gay people. I know of many gay/lesbian and even straight-supporting ex-Presbyterians. But I constantly hear about conservatives who flee. Seems like a double standard." 1

Reaction by Presbyterians for Renewal:

Presbyterians for Renewal (PFR) is a conservative group within the  denomination dedicated to: "Mobilizing the leaders of congregations within the PC(USA) to be biblically faithful and missionally minded in their service to Jesus Christ." 2 The group was founded by 73 ministers and elders of the PC(USA) in 1988. They believe is that the PC(USA) has abandoned its "clear, Christ-centered identity" and has embraced the non-Christian beliefs of the American culture -- particularly with respect to topics on which the culture is undergoing rapid change: e.g. abortion access, equal rights and protections for gays and lesbians, and same-sex marriage.

The PFR appears to follow a literal interpretation of the six biblical "clobber passages" that are often cited in anti-gay material. The three decision of the 218th General Assembly which generate a type of local option for the ordination of gays and lesbians in committed relationships appear to have driven the PFR to take radical action bordering on, but not quite including, a schism of the PC(USA) into two different denominations:

  • They propose to "reshape the life of the denomination" to accommodate "formally distinct bodies" to hold "different version of Christian faith and life" within "the same denomination." Presumably, there would be two divisions within the PC(USA), one holding conservative views, and one holding liberal views towards such topics as the inerrancy, infallibility, authority, and inspiration of the Bible.

  • They will no longer take part in debates over ordination standards and sexual ethics. They realize that these conflicts are only surface manifestations of fundamental disagreements on the nature of the Bible and Gospel.

  • They will work actively at the presbytery level to defeat the amendment of G-6.0106b that was approved by the General Assembly.

  • They will bring an overture to the next General Assembly that will define a new authoritative interpretation regarding homosexual behavior.

  • They will work for a change to the denomination's constitution to allow individual congregations to leave and take their church property with them. The constitution's current wording has property of departing congregations revert to the presbytery.

  • They will encourage conservatives within the denomination to direct some of their financial contributions outside the PC(USA).

  • They will "...pursue missional partnerships within and beyond the PC(USA)." 2

Author's personal comments:

The root cause of the conflict is an apparently unresolvable clash over the nature of morality and ethics.

Christians generally base their moral truths on five main criteria:

  • What does the Bible say?

  • What does the Bible mean?

  • What is the historical position taken by the denomination?

  • What does personal experience show us?

  • What do scientific studies conclude?

Unfortunately, religious conservatives and liberals tend to weigh these five criteria differently. Conservatives give greater weight to the first few criteria than the last few; liberals do the reverse. In addition, many conservatives search the Bible for verses and passages that deal directly with the topic, while many liberals look at general themes in the Bible, like love and justice.

Debate is generally fruitless and dialogue often impossible.

Reference used:

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

  1. Eric Gorski, "Presbyterian Assembly votes to drop homosexual clergy ban," Associated Press, 2008-JUN-28, at: http://www.onenewsnow.com/
  2. "Reshaping the PC(USA): PFR Looks Beyond the 218th General Assembly," FPR, 2008-JUN-27, at: http://www.ga2008.com/
  3. "Presbyteries will vote for 4th time on sex issues," The Layman Online, undated, at: http://www.layman.org/

Copyright © 2008 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Last update: 2008-JUN-29
Author: B.A. Robinson

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