Many authors divide Protestantism into three wings : conservative,liberal, and mainline denominations.
The hottest debate within Protestantism in recent years is whether sexually active gays and lesbians should be eligible for ordination. Back in 1993, the Presbyterian Church (USA)'s General Assembly voted 72% in favor of continuing a ban on lesbian/gay ordination. Since that time, there has been an increasing acceptance within society of homosexual orientation and behavior as a valid, normal, and acceptable form of sexuality for a small minority of adults. Some members of the Presbyterian Church have followed these social trends; others retained their conservative beliefs.
The debate reached a crisis point in the late 1990's when the opposing sides became roughly equal in influence. Acceptance of sexually active gay and lesbian candidates for ordination who are in "a covenanted relationship" with a same-sex partner increased through the first decade of the 21st century.
By 2011-MAY-10, a majority of presbyteries had ratified the 2010 General Assembly's decision to remove the bar to ordination. It is an open question whether the church can stand the strain of this transition without triggering a schism. Five months later, they are still together,
Lesbian, gay and bisexual ordination essays in this section:
This denomination is seriously divided, as are other mainline Christian faith groups:
The question simply will not go away. The historical record in the U.S. shows that when a minority organizes and demands equal rights, they generally attain equality eventually. This has happened with human slavery, racial segregation, women's right to vote, inter-racial marriage, women's equality in employment, etc. It is happening with respect to les/gay ordination on a denomination by denomination basis. This has tended to start with the most liberal faith groups and progress towards the more conservative denominations.
My view in 1991 was that there was a strong possibility that the Presbyterian Church (USA) would undergo a schism, as it did over slavery in the 19th century, and over female ordination in the early 1970s. This would split the denomination into two approximately evenly sized faith groups: one accepting and one rejecting gay ordination and civil unions. This would be a largely geographical and a urban/rural division. Unfortunately, separations in religious denominations tend to resemble marital separations -- they may start out with people behaving rationally, but they tend to quickly degenerate.
At the time, I felt that the only other obvious path was to continue the debate for years in to the future. If Presbyterians could wait long enough, support would probably swing to the liberal side. Opinion polls of high school seniors indicate a far more liberal stance on homosexuality in the future. This has been confirmed two decades later as national surveys show that most adults favor the legalization of same-sex marriage.
By 2001, Presbyterians seemed to be growing weary of the endless conflict, which has extended over three decades. Another option began to look attractive: that of a local option: leave the existing standards in place which discriminate against gays and lesbian candidates for ordination, and give the ordaining bodies some wiggle room to approve at least some candidates who do not meet the standards. This satisfied nobody. But many Presbyterians saw it as the only alternative to church schism. It was approved at the 2006 General Assembly. This may provide a model which other mainline denominations can choose to follow to avoid schism.
It is interesting to note that at the same time that the 2006 General Assembly was discussing the local option, the Episcopal Church, USA was meeting to discuss two matters related to human sexuality:
The Episcopal Church chose to proceed along a different path which may threaten the stability of the worldwide Anglican Communion.
In 2010, for the fourth time, the denomination's General Assembly approved an amendment to change section G-6.0106b of the denomination's Book of Order to allow lesbians, gays and bisexuals in covenanted relationships to be considered for ordination. This was ratified by a majority vote of most of the denomination's 173 presbyteries.
If a schism is in the PCUSA's immediate future, this amendment will probably trigger it.
End of Author's thoughts:
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