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The Presbyterian Church (USA) & lesbian/gay/bisexual ordination:
Activities during 2010 & 2011

Part 1: Changing the Fidelity & Chastity section.
Civil unions and same-sex marriage issues.

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Background of the "fidelity and chastity" that which excluded sexual minorities from ordination:

In 1996, the presbyteries ratified Amendment B which inserted § G-6.0106b into the denomination's Constitution: the Book of Order. The vote was 97 to 74 (57% favored exclusion of non-celibate lesbians, gays and bisexuals). § G-6.0106b required that all ministers, elders, and deacons live in "fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman or chastity in singleness." Alternative covenant relationships like same-sex marriage, civil unions, or domestic partnerships involving two persons of the same gender were not mentioned. Thus, lesbians, gays, and bisexuals in loving, committed relationships were generally excluded from ordination unless they remained celibate. Single, celibate lesbians, gays, and bisexuals could still be considered for ordination.

Three times, the General Assembly voted to replace § G-6.0106b with a more inclusive text. All three amendments were rejected by significant majorities of the presbyteries (For example, 67% in 1998 and 73% in 2002).

The fourth attempt at chaging the constitution was passed by the 219th General Assembly in 2010-JUL as Amendment 10-A. It was considered to have a better chance of being ratified by a majority of the presbyteries. There were two reasons:

  • The denomination was becoming exhausted at the endless debate, which had lasted over three decades without resolution.

  • As in the American population generally, there has been a major split between young and old church members, with the former being much more accepting of minority sexual orientations than the latter. This is shown in the national polls showing increasing support -- and decreasing opposition to same-sex marriage. It is also shown within the church's membership by a gradually increasing support for ordination of qualified persons of all sexual orientations.

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Changes proposed at the 219th General Assembly:

The church's Assembly was held in Minneapolis from 2010-JUL-03 to 10. 1 Its motto was taken from John 7:38: "Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water."

Changes to § G-6.0106 of the Book of Order -- the denomination's Constitution -- were a major controversy at the Assembly. The current version in 2010 read:

"Those who are called to office in the chuch are to lead a life in obedience to Scripture and in conformity to the historic confessional standards of the church. Among those standards is the requirement to live either in fidelity withn the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman (W-4.9001) or chastity in singleness. Persons refusing to repent of any self-acknowledged practice which the confessions call sin shall not be ordained and/or installed as deacons, elders, or ministers of the Word and Sacrament."

Western Reserve Presbytery sponsored a resolution to modify § G-6.0106b to read:

"Standards for ordained service reflect the church’s desire to submit joyfully to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in all aspects of life (G-1.0000). The governing body responsible for ordination and/or installation (G.14.0240; G-14.0450) shall examine each candidate’s calling, gifts, preparation, and suitability for the responsibilities of office. The examination shall include, but not be limited to, a determination of the candidate’s ability and commitment to fulfill all requirements as expressed in the constitutional questions for ordination and installation (W-4.4003). Governing bodies shall be guided by Scripture and the confessions in applying standards to individual candidates." 2

This has the effect of allowing a local option in the selection of candidates for ordination. The requirement that "Governing bodies shall be guided by Scripture" actually means that candidate approval is to be guided by the governing bodies' interpretation of Scripture. Conservative bodies will naturally interpret the same biblical passages very differently from liberal bodies. Of the approximately 20 biblical passages that have been cited as being related to same-gender sexual behavior, the seven listed below are by far the most commonly discussed.

These very brief descriptions are necessarily over-simplified. 3 They do not cover the full range of conservative/progressive beliefs. However, you may well find the beliefs that you have been taught in one of these columns:

Location Typical interpretation by religious conservatives Typical interpretation by religious progressives & secularists
Genesis 19 Condemns all same-sex sexual behavior, whether by two men, two women, within a loving committed relationship or a "one-night stand.". Condemns raping of strangers for the purpose of humiliation.
Leviticus 18:22 Condemns all same-sex sexual behavior. Condemns gay ritual sex in a Pagan temple and/or males having sex in a woman's bed.
Leviticus 20:13 Condemns all same-sex sexual behavior. Condemns gay ritual sex in a temple and/or males having sex in a woman's bed.
Romans 1:26-27 Condemns all homosexual behavior as unnatural. Describes a group of heterosexuals who, against their basic nature, engage in same-sex behavior during ritual orgies.
1 Corinthians 6:9-10 Sexually active homosexuals will go to Hell, not Heaven, at death. Once truly saved, homosexuals will become heterosexuals. Male child molesters and the children they molest will go to Hell, not Heaven, at death.
1 Timothy 1:9-10 Condemns all same-sex sexual behavior. Refers to child molesters and the children they molest.
Jude 1:7 Sexually active homosexuals will go to Hell, not Heaven, at death. Humans who have sex with other species will go to Hell, not Heaven, at death.
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Civil unions and Same-sex marriage issues:

A Special Committee to Study Issues of Civil Union and Christian Marriage reported to the General Assembly. As expected, the committee was unable to reach a consensus. This is normal for matters related to human sexuality and human relationships within a mainline Christian denomination where both conservative and liberal beliefs exist. The most that can be hoped for is a pair of reports describing more liberal and more conservative viewpoints.

The Committee had been created by the 218th General Assembly of 2008, and was given a directive that the Book of Order's definition of marriage was not to be altered.

The more liberal members of the committee drafted a Final Report -- representing the conclusions of the majority on:

  • The historical and theological aspects of marriage as described in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) the Christian Scriptures (New Testament) and during the history of the Christian church,
  • The effects of current laws on same-gender relationships and their children, and
  • How same-gender covenanted relationship are considered in the Christian community.

They also prepared a covenant titled: "Those Whom God Has Joined, Let No One Separate" to aid the laity in discussions of these types of difficult issues.

The more conservative members of the committee prepared a Minority Report. They concluded that that Scripture defines marriage as only between one man and one woman. Further, it forbids all forms of sexual activity outside of such marriages. They also prepared a separate covenant for the church to use.

The General Assembly voted in favor of the distribution of the Final and Minority Reports and the two covenants for use within the church. The vote was 439 in favor, 208 against, and 6 abstentions.

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This is continued in Part 2

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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. "219th General Assembly (2010), Presbyterian Church (USA), at: http://ga219.pcusa.org/
  2. "Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) approves change in ordination standard: 'Submissio to the Lordship ofJesus Christ' replaces 'fidelity and chastity'," Presbyterian Church (USA), 2011-MAY-10, at: http://www.pcusa.org/
  3. The chart is taken from an essay on this website titled: "A very brief glance at 7 major passages that appear to discuss homosexuality" The essay compares conservative and liberal interpretations of each of the seven "clobber" passages, and gives an overview of each.
  4. "Civil Union and Marriage Issues: Questions and Answers," Special Committee to Study Issues of Civil Union and Christian Marriage, at: http://oga.pcusa.org/
  5. "The Final Report of the Special Committee to Study Issues of Civil Union and Christian Marriage to the 219th General Assembly (2010) Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)," at: https://www.pc-biz.org/
  6. "The Board of Pensions and Same-Gender Benefits: Questions & Answers," 219th General Assembly, at: http://oga.pcusa.org/

Copyright © 2011 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Last update: 2011-MAY-11
Author: B.A. Robinson
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