The Presbyterian Church (USA) and homosexuality
Lesbian/gay/bisexual ordination from
1978 to 2011.
After over three decades,
it was finally settled in the affirmative.
The term "LGBT" refers to Lesbians, Gays,
Bisexuals, Transgender persons and transsexuals.
The term "LGB" refers to Lesbians, Gays, and Bisexuals,.
Quotations from delegates to the 2001 General Assembly:
Three quotations showing three irreconcilable positions concerning LGB ordination:
Doctrinal purity forever: "Biblical obedience is mandatory, not optional. If we can't call sin 'sin,' how can we have any credibility?
" Mary Brondyke, an elder in Boston Presbytery.
Justice now: "We've had enough talk. Equal opportunity has been paralyzed by G-6.0106b. Justice comes first."
Mary Kuhns, a minister member of Mid-Kentucky Presbytery.
Ignore the problem; it may go away: "I'm against the ordination of homosexuals, though I love
'em. But we've been fighting in this ditch for 28 years and ditch is getting
deeper. It's starting to affect our mission work, our youth ministry and our
evangelism and I'm ready to try something else. Please, let's get on with being
the church, taking the gospel into the world and offering them something else
other than arguments." Elder Marj Carpenter of Big Spring, TX, a former
General Assembly moderator, at the 2006 General Assembly.
Many authors divide Protestantism into three wings
: conservative,liberal, and mainline denominations.
Conservative wing: A near consensuses can be
attained among conservative denominations on sexual matters, such as
same-sex behavior. They base their beliefs on a group of
passages from the Bible. They interpret these passages as describing all same-sex sexual behavior as inherently sinful and
disordered, chosen, made more likely by poor parenting and/or sexual abuse during childhood, and changeable through
prayer and/or counseling. Most are also certain that their interpretation of these passages is the only correct one.
Liberal wing: Meanwhile, liberal denominations have adopted the findings of most
lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender persons and transsexuals (LGBTs), human sexuality researchers, and mental health professionals:
that homosexuality is morally neutral, as are the other two sexual orientations: heterosexuality and bisexuality.
Sexual orientation is not chosen, it is discovered. It is unchangeable, and is caused largely by
genetic factors. They interpret the same "clobber passages" quite differently as condemning same-sex rape, same-gender sex in pagan temples, men molesting children, people having sex with persons of the same gender in conflict with their nature, and men engaging in bestiality with another species. They view the Bible as being silent on the topic of loving, committed same-gender relationships. Most are also certain that their interpretation of these passages is the only correct one.
Mainline wing: A consensus within the mainline denominations seems impossible to attain; they are divided within families,
congregations, presbyteries, and geographical regions between religious conservatives and liberals. Gulfs have opened between young and old members, between urban
and rural areas, and between northern and southern sections of the
country. Intelligent, devout, prayerful Presbyterians all read the same Bible, they largely agree with what the words say, but they have come to opposite
conclusions about what the Bible actually means about homosexuality.
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,
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
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:
1978 to 1997 - including the approved
Amendment B sexual purity code.
1998 to 2000 - including the failed
2001 and 2002 - including
a resolution to delete the Fidelity and Chastity clause
2003 - no significant change
2004 to 2005 - no significant
2006: Possible resolution of the ordination problem
at the 2006 General
2008-2009: Fidelity and Chastity paragraph
amended by the Assembly but rejected by the Presbyteries
2008: Religious and demographic survey of Presbyterians
Statements that favor ordination of lesbians, gays and bisexuals:
This denomination's membership is seriously divided, as are other mainline Christian faith
Liberal Presbyterians generally approach
lesbian/gay ordination as a civil rights issue. They stress "liberty
and justice for all." They tend to base their beliefs partly on
biblical themes that run through Scriptures -- mainly justice, equality, and love. They generally deny that any of the six "clobber
passages" in the Bible that have been traditionally used to condemn same-gender sexual behavior can be legitimately interpreted in this way, at least for modern-day Christians.
Conservative Presbyterians generally regard same-gender sexual activity -- no matter what the nature of the relationship is -- to be a
very serious sin. It is sufficient important to automatically preclude a person from being considered for ordination
-- regardless of their talents and other factors which might make them suitable to be
a minister. They
generally base their beliefs mainly on their interpretation of the six "clobber
passages" in the Bible which they interpret as condemning all same-sex sexual behavior.
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:
||Consecration of Gene Robinson, a homosexual priest involved in a loving
committed relationship, as Bishop of New Hampshire, and
||Performance of church rituals to recognize same-sex couples in loving,
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
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:
Copyright © 1996 to 2016 by Ontario Consultants on
Last update: 2016-JAN-19
Author: B.A. Robinson