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About the Presbyterian Church (USA) & homosexuality

Statements about homosexuality: 2000 to now.

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Statements on homosexuality 2000 to 2006:

  • 2000: On 2000-DEC-6, 113 presbytery executives and other officers signed "A Call to the Church." It acknowledges an attempt by the Presbyterian Coalition, the Covenant Network, and the More Light Presbyterians to sit down together and "seek the mind of Christ Jesus for our life in the PC(USA)." They continue:

    "We believe the Church we love has a future, but it will not be by determining winners and losers. It will be determined by seeking a third way. We envision a third way which can come only from an openness to the Spirit. We will rely on God's grace and refuse to leave the table until a way is discovered. We believe seeking a third way is critical and is already present among us."

    Their document cites Isaiah 43:18-19, James 4:1-2a and Philippians 2:1-5 from the New Revised Standard Version.

    "We urge all leaders and members to continue what has begun and to help us find a third way. That way cannot be dictated by deadlines. The direction we seek will not come by judicial or legislative actions. It will come only by seeking the mind of Christ in prayer and discussion together. Such efforts will help us prepare for the General Assembly meeting in Louisville and take us far beyond.

    We, ourselves, covenant to look for a third way. In each of our presbyteries and with each other, we will gather at a common table to pray and talk together We promise not to leave the table before a direction emerges. We believe that the peace, unity and purity of the church becomes a reality as we all gather around God's Table in communion as sisters and brothers in Christ Jesus." 1

    2001: The initiative "A Call to the Church." which was created by presbytery executives and other officers was welcomed by the gay-positive Covenant Network 2 and More Light Presbyterians.

    It was rejected by the five Presbyterian Coalition leaders involved in the Coalition-Network Bible study meetings. Their leaders issued a statement saying: 

"Involvement in the issues of our day and church, including meeting with those with whom we disagree, has never been, nor is it now, about our way, or their way, or some other third way which might be mutually satisfying. Rather it is about Christ's way. Alone. Therefore, we have not, and we will not, engage in any search for an alternative to Scripture's clear and plain teaching." 3

  • 2004: The General Assembly called for "theological reflection groups" to study issues troubling the denomination. These have been established within congregations, among ministers, affinity groups, and presbyteries.

  • 2006: The 2001 General Assembly had authorized the creation of a "Theological Task force on Peace, Unity and Purity of the Church." Their final report, titled "A Season of Discernment" was approved by the 2006 General Assembly. In section III (C) of their report, they devoted over 100 lines (7.5% of the total report) to the topic of "Sexuality and Ordination." The Task Force concluded that the matter of homosexuality is not a simple topic where people are either for or against equal rights for sexual minorities. They cited one resource that defined six different approaches to homosexuality. They found that theologians who interpreted scripture similarly had different views of homosexuality.

    They noted that they:

    "... still hold most of the views and perspectives we brought to the task force. From the beginning, some of us had ties to affinity groups (groups in the church that have specific stands on some task force issues) and have maintained those ties during the life of the task force. ...

    "We did invest considerable time and energy in conversation, seeking to understand one another’s points of view. We did not try to convince fellow task force members of our own perspectives or to decide whether the church’s current position should be changed.

    They did reach agreement on some matters:

    • The church cannot deny baptism, church membership, or pastoral care to homosexuals.

    • Ordination should be denied to anyone who demonstrates licentious behavior.

    • Sexual behavior is not a purely personal matter. It is integral to Christian discipleship, leadership and community life.

    • Celibate homosexuals and bisexuals are not barred from consideration for ordination.

    • An up-down vote leading to a winner-take-all resolution to controversial can escalate conflicts rather than resolve them.

    • Ordaining bodies in the denomination cannot "dispense with the church's [ordination] standards or promulgate their own."

    • "Every ordaining/installing body, in every case, must decide what departures can be tolerated and which are so serious that essential matters of faith and practice are compromised."

The last agreement, in essence, is a form of a local option, allowing bodies in different areas of the country to ordain candidates who are involved in same-sex committed relationships.

They did note in Section IV that:

"Recent debates about sexuality, ordination, Christology, and other controversial topics have been especially contentious, but the dilemma these issues pose is not unique. Most of the debates that have threatened to break the church apart in the past have followed a similar pattern:

  • A range of possible positions exist on the issue at hand, but pressure to make decisions, especially about eligibility for church office, forces the choice into a binary format that divides governing bodies into two parties.

  • Each party, often substantial in size, struggles long and hard for control of the policy of the whole church. The result is a church both preoccupied with and weary of conflict." 4

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2012-OCT: Poll of PCUSA members and pastors shows increasing support for same-sex marriage (SSM):

This essay primarily deals with church statements, not polls. However, perhaps a poll of the beliefs of the PCUSA membership and clergy can be considered to be a type of church statement.

A poll conducted in 2012 by Presbyterian Research Services showed that changing the Church's definition of marriage from "a man and a woman" to "two people" was supported by:

  • 34% of the membership; an increase from 23% in 2005.
  • 49% of the clergy; an increase from 35% in 2005. 5

Support for SSM is increasing by 1.6 percentage points per year for the general membership, and 2.0 percentage points per year for the clergy. These rates of increase are similar to that shown by national surveys of American adults. However, support by the general membership lags national figures by more than 20 percentage points.

These data compare to the 48% support by delegates to the denomination's 220th General Assembly that was held during 2012-Summer. They narrowly voted to reject a motion to change the Church's definition of marriage. Support by the Assembly delegates appears to match that of their clergy. However, the delegates are much more progressive than the general membership.

Perhaps the most meaningful prediction of future support is a comment by Jack Marcum, who is coordinator of Research Services at Presbyterian Mission Agency. He said:

"This result indicates a broad-based shift in opinions across the church in only a few years. Longer term, the effect of generational change will be felt: 75 percent of young adult advisory delegates at the General Assembly supported the redefinition of marriage."

"Hence, the next effort to change the marriage definition might well succeed. Indeed, it's possible that this year's effort would have succeeded, save for arguments that such a radical redefinition was too much change in the denomination, too soon."

[Emphasis ours]

Dr. Paul E. Detterman is the executive director of Presbyterians for Renewal -- a conservative group within the denomination. He said:

"There is a substantial number of conservative individuals and congregations ... who have disengaged from these debates within the PC(USA) or who are now in the process of departure [from the denomination].

This survey is probably quite accurate in reflecting the views of people responding in the PC(USA) in 2005 and people responding in the PC(USA) in 2012. As different from the U.S. demographic analysis, however, these are not people who have changed their views. These are simply not the same people.

Sadly, I am confident that every effort will be made by the proponents of this change to see to it that 'marriage' is re-defined in the PC(USA)'s constitution at the next General Assembly [in 2014].

The great deception is that this change in the church's core theological identity is an act of love and acceptance toward the LGBT community. Ultimately, and at many levels, nothing could be further from the truth." 5

He did not elaborate in the Christian Post article on how making the definition of marriage more inclusive would be an act of hatred and rejection.

Some members of the PC(USA) appear to have switched membership to the Presbyterian Church in America, a conservative Christian denomination which broke away from the PC(USA) decades ago during the battle which led to female ordination.

Webmaster's note: I wonder if future decades will see the denomination tackle acceptance of transgender persons and transsexuals, and cause more members to transfer to the Presbyterian Church in America, or other conservative denomination.

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Internet and media references:

  1. "113 Presbytery executives call for a way out of sexuality debates," PCUSA News, 2000-DEC-21. It is available online at: http://www.covenantnetwork.org/
  2. "Covenant Network welcomes Executive Presbyters' call to the church," at: http://www.covenantnetwork.org/
  3. Jerry L. Van Marter, "Vote on same-sex union amendment will be close, early returns indicate. Presbytery executives' 'third way' proposal gets mixed reaction," 2001-JAN-23, at: http://www.concordtx.org/
  4. "A Season of Discernment: The Final Report of the Task Force on Peace, Unity, and Purity of the Church," http://apps.pcusa.org/
  5. Michael Gryboski, "Poll: PCUSA Members Increasingly Favoring Same-Sex Marriage," Christian Post, 2012-OCT-04, at: http://www.christianpost.com/

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Copyright © 1996 to 2012 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance.
Latest update 2012-OCT-14
Author: B.A. Robinson
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