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Religious Tolerance logo

The Presbyterian Church (USA) & homosexuality

1976 to 1999:
Statements on homosexuality.

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Statements on homosexuality 1976 to 1999:

There have been many declarations by the Presbyterian Church (and its predecessor denominations) relating to the nature of sexual orientation, and whether gays and lesbians should be allowed to marry. Most arose from General Assembly meetings:

  • 1976: The United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (UPCUSA) passed a resolution to:
    "reaffirm our adherence to the moral law of God...that...the practice of homosexuality is sin...Also we affirm that any self-righteous attitude of others who would condemn persons who have so sinned is also sin."

    They directed "...that a task force be study Christian approaches to homosexuality, with special reference to the ordination of avowed practicing homosexuals."

  • 1977: The UPCUSA emphasized "the need of the Church to stand for just treatment of homosexual persons in our society in regard to their civil liberties, equal rights, and protection under the law from social and economic discrimination."

  • 1978: The UPCUSA formally welcomed gays and lesbians as members only; they are not eligible to be elevated to the level of elder, deacon or minister. The church stated that homosexuality was:
  • "not God's wish for humanity...Even where the homosexual orientation has not been consciously sought or chosen, it is neither a gift from God nor a state nor a condition like race; it is a result of our living in a fallen world."

They called upon their members to "work for the passage of laws that prohibit discrimination in the areas of employment, housing, and public accommodations based on the sexual orientation of a person." However, the Assembly did not extend such prohibition of discrimination to their own policies: They concluded that "...unrepentant homosexual practice does not accord with the requirements for ordination set forth in" the UPCUSA constitution.

The task force created in 1976 submitted their report to the Assembly, who recommended that it be distributed as a study document. 1

  • 1980: The Presbyterian Church in the United States (PCUS) resolved that the church:

    "... should be open to more light on what goes into shaping one's sexual preferences and reexamine its life and teaching in relation to people who are seeking affirmation and needing acceptance and who are apparently not free to change their orientations."

    Their last point was an amazing statement for the time, because many Christians believed that a person with a homosexual orientation could become heterosexual through reparative therapy and prayer. It was only in mid-2013 that Exodus International -- the largest group trying to make gays into ex-gays -- went out of business and apologized for the harm that they had done to their clients over their previous 37 years. It appears that they were somewhat successful in convincing some bisexuals to restrict their intimate relationship(s) to opposite-sex partners. They helped some gays and lesbians adopt lifelong celibacy. But the number of clients that they helped become ex-gay was 0 or essentially 0.

  • 1983: Church merger occurred between the PCUS and the UPCUSA.

  • 1985: All homosexual acts were declared as inherently sinful, regardless of the nature of the relationship or degree of commitment.

  • 1988: The General Assembly commissioned a report to examine all aspects of the church's approach to human sexuality.

  • 1991: The report of the Special Committee on Human Sexuality was issued. It was titled "Presbyterians and Human Sexuality 1991." The majority concluded that the church should consider homosexuals and their relationships exactly as it considers heterosexuals and their relationships. General Assembly documents indicate that no decision was made on either report; neither the majority nor the minority position was accepted. 2

  • 1992: A resolution was proposed that would expel all sexually active gay and lesbian members from the church and send them to other denominations. It did not pass. A number of Presbyterians signed a Declaration of Conscience which reads in part:

    "We believe that to remain silent in the interest of preserving the 'peace, unity, and purity' of the church is wrong. By dissenting, we hope to return the Presbyterian Church (USA) to 'peace, unity, and purity,' for while this injustice is permitted to stand, there is no peace, unity, or purity in our midst. We confidently affirm, as our Constitution suggests, that 'synods and councils may err' -- and in this case, our denomination has erred greatly. When there is conflict between the requirements of peace, unity, and purity in the Church (with its all-too-human tendency to err) and the ways and words of Jesus, we should respectfully attend to the ways and words of Jesus."

  • 1993: The General Assembly called for a 3 year study and dialogue on human sexual behavior and ordination. 

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References used:

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

  1. "The Church and Homosexuality," (1978). Publication #OGA-88-042. It can be ordered for $1.50 + S&H by phoning 1-800-524-2612. It is important to realize that this document is partly based on scientific knowledge of human sexuality as it existed in 1978. Much has been learned since.
  2. "Presbyterians and Human Sexuality 1991," Publication #OGA-91-001. It can be ordered for $5.00 + S&H by phoning 1-800-524-2612.
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Copyright © 1996 to 2014 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance. 
Latest update 2014-JUN-25
Author: B.A. Robinson

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