Many authors divide Protestantism into three wings : conservative,liberal, and mainline denominations.
One of the hottest debates within Protestantism in recent years is whether sexually active gays and lesbians in loving, committed relationships should be considered 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 (U.S.A.) have followed these social trends; others have retained their conservative beliefs.
The debate reached a crisis point in the late 1990's when the opposing sides became roughly equal in influence. Support for sexually active gay and lesbian candidates for ordination who are in "a covenanted relationship" -- and presumably are sexually active 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 was an open question at the time whether the church could stand the strain of this transition without triggering a schism. Some members did leave and join the Presbyterian Church in America. More than three years later, the denomination is still together. However, their membership loss has increased. Most have moved on to debating whether to have marriages for same-sex couples in church.
Lesbian, gay and bisexual ordination essays in this section:
This denomination's membership is seriously divided, as are other mainline Christian faith groups:
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, LGBs in the military, same-sex marriage, etc. It is currently happening with respect to les/gay ordination one denomination at a times. Acceptance of minorities has tended to start with the most liberal faith groups and progress towards the more conservative denominations.
My view during the 1990's 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 in the 1990's and later of older teens and young adults indicated a far more liberal stance on homosexuality would emerge in the future. This has been confirmed two decades later as national surveys show that most adults favor the legalization of same-sex marriage, and that the percentage continues to increase.
By 2001, Presbyterians seemed to be growing weary of the endless conflict, which has extended over 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 denomination's 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 also 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 entire 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 occurrs in the PCUSA's immediate future, this amendment and any accomodation of the denomination with same-sex marriage will probably trigger it. However, as this menu is being updated, over a half decade has passed and the denomination remains intact,
End of Author's thoughts:
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