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

Part 2: Rationale for the amendment. Passed
by committee, Assembly, and the presbyteries

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This is a continuation from Part 1

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Rationale of the Western Reserve Presbytery:

The sponsors of the resolution gave the following as their rationale for modifying the Book of Order:

"The integrity of the church demands that those who serve in ordained office meet high standards—always seeking to live according to the life and teaching of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. As we affirm in the words of the Theological Declaration of Barmen: “Jesus Christ, as he is attested for us in Holy Scripture, is the one Word of God which we have to … trust and obey in life and in death” (The Book of Confessions, 8.11)."

"And yet no person follows perfectly; each of us is entirely dependent for our salvation, and for our growth in faith and obedience, on the grace of Christ:

For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed; it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus. (Rom. 3:22b–26)"

"The current text of G-6.0106b was added to the Book of Order in an attempt to bring closure to the issue of the ordination of persons in same-sex relationships; instead, it has brought continual contention to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). It purports to apply even-handedly to all candidates, but is overwhelmingly used only to exclude gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender persons—many of whom exhibit abundant gifts and strong calls to ministry. With its reference to any self-acknowledged practice which the confessions call sin, it has rarely or never been honestly applied to any candidate ordained or installed since its adoption."

"The PC(USA) has no consensus in the interpretation of Scripture on issues of same-sex practice. When convictions about important issues are so different, and so firmly-held, our long-standing Presbyterian commitment to freedom of conscience and mutual forbearance is vital to maintaining our fellowship:

That, while under the conviction of the above principle we think it necessary to make effectual provision that all who are admitted as teachers be sound in the faith, we also believe that there are truths and forms with respect to which men of good characters and principles may differ. And in all these we think it the duty both of private Christians and societies to exercise mutual forbearance toward each other. (Book of Order, G-1.0305)"

"The proposed amendment would maintain high standards for ordination and installation by renewed focus on the questions candidates must answer, but without imposing a single, highly contested interpretation of Scripture on the whole church."

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Overture to amend § G-6.0106 passes Assembly Committee:

The Assembly Committee on Church Orders and Ministries voted to approve the amendment. The vote was 36 in favor, 16 against, and 1 abstention. 1

A minority report was submitted by some committee members who apparently held conservative religious views on the nature of bisexual and homosexual orientation. It recommended that the section of the Book of Order remain unchanged, and that a pastoral letter that they prepared be sent to all sessions of the church. Their pastoral report noted that:

"As we heard story after story, our awareness of the marginalization of members of the LGBT community by our churches has been heightened. We repent for this neglect in the demonstration of the love of Christ to these individuals."

"While maintaining current constitutional ordination standards for officers, we urge sessions throughout the PC (U.S.A.) to seriously examine attitudes and practices towards LGBT persons within the churches they oversee, as well as the communities they serve."

The pastoral letter also promoted a belief that is widely held among religious conservatives: that lesbians, gays, and bisexuals can readily "change." It stated:

"Our hope in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ was renewed as we heard many stories from brothers and sisters in Christ, from within our church. We were amazed and encouraged as we heard from so many who have experienced God’s abundant grace as their lives were dramatically changed, in obedience to Scripture and the transforming work of Jesus, from sexual practice within same-sex relationships to living in fidelity within the covenant of marriage to a person of opposite gender, or experiencing God’s strength as they lived in celibacy in singleness. 1

Stressing the ability of lesbians, gays and bisexuals to "change" is probably confusing to many church members who have heard from human sexuality researchers, mental health professional associations, therapists, lesbians, gays, bisexuals, etc. that sexual orientation is fixed in adulthood and cannot be changed. Religious conservatives have often been accused of outright lying or distorting the truth about "change" by lesbians, gays and bisexuals. But the pastoral letter is correct in its assertions. Sexual minorities can change, but only in their sexual behavior. With very few, if any, exceptions, they cannot change their sexual orientation:

  • Adults with a bisexual orientation are sexually attracted to both men and women -- although not necessarily to the same degree. They total perhaps about 2% of the adult population. They sometimes engage in reparative therapy or join a transformational ministry and attempt to change their behavior so that they only seek sexual relationships persons of the opposite gender. Their orientation remains bisexual before, during, and after therapy or counseling, but they can sometimes change their behavior and enter into an opposite-sex marriage.

  • Lesbians and gays -- adults with a homosexual orientation -- are sexually attracted only to members of the same gender. They far outnumber the bisexual population. They can engage in reparative therapy or join a transformational ministry and attempt to change their behavior so that they remain celibate, lonely, and without the intimacy of a loving committed sexually active relationship for the rest of their life. This is not an option tha many would normally choose. However, if they are absolutely convinced that God hates same-sex sexual behavior, then they sometimes try to reamain celibate for the rest of their life. Their orientation remains homosexual before, during, and after therapy or counseling. Some have even tried to enter into an opposite-sex marriage. However, the failure rate is close to 100%. The cards are stacked against them, because they cannot be sexually attracted to their spouse even as they are continually sexually attracted to persons of the gender opposite to their spouse.

Unfortunately, the minority report, like essentially all discussions by religious conservatives, do not differentiate about the options open to persons with a homosexual orientation in comparision to the options open to those with a bisexual orientation. The result is widespread confusion.

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Overture to amend § G-6.0106 passed by the General Assembly:

General Assembly voted to approve the revised wording of § G-6.0106b. The voting was close: 373 in favor, 323 against, and 4 abstensions.

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Overture to amend § G-6.0106 passed by the Presbyteries:

The Amendment was then sent to the 173 presbyteries for a vote. Each presbytery is reqired to report the results of their vote on or before 2011-JUL-10. However, on 2011-MAY-10 the The Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area in St. Louis Park, MN, voted 205 to 56 to accept Amendment 10-A. Their's was the 87th affirmative vote among the denomination's presbyteries. The resolution has now been ratified by a majority of the presbyteries. 2 The changes brought about by the new wording will take effect on 2011-JUL-10, one year after the adjournment of the 2010 assembly.

Denominational leaders issued a letter announcing that the "Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) approves change in ordination standard. It said in part:

"This decision begins with an unequivocal affirmation that ordained office will continue to be rooted in each deacon, elder, and minister’s 'joyful submission to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in all aspects of life.'

This action also has important effects on our life together as a church, namely:

  • In keeping with our historic principles of church order, each session and presbytery will continue to determine the suitability of individuals seeking ordination within its bounds.

  • Persons in a same-gender relationship may be considered for ordination and/or installation as deacons, elders, and ministers of the Word and Sacrament within the PC(USA); and

  • All other churchwide standards for ordination remain unchanged.

Reactions to this change will span a wide spectrum. Some will rejoice, while others will weep. Those who rejoice will see the change as an action, long in coming, that makes the PC(USA) an inclusive church that recognizes and receives the gifts for ministry of all those who feel called to ordained office. Those who weep will consider this change one that compromises biblical authority and acquiesces to present culture. The feelings on both sides run deep [sic].

However, as Presbyterians, we believe that the only way we will find God’s will for the church is by seeking it together -– worshiping, praying, thinking, and serving alongside one another. We are neighbors and colleagues, friends and family. Most importantly, we are all children of God, saved and taught by Jesus Christ, and filled with the Holy Spirit." 3

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This is continued in Part 3

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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. "On Amending G-6.0106b: Report of the Church Orders and Ministry committee," at: https://www.pc-biz.org/
  2. Rose French, "Presbyterians to allow gays to be ordained ministers," Associated Press, 2011-MAY-11, at: http://www.startribune.com/
  3. Gradye Parsons, et al., "Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) approves change in ordination standard. 'Submission to the Lordship of Jesus Christ' replaces 'fidelity and chastity'," Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), 2011-MAY-10, at: http://www.pcusa.org/

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

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