Homosexuality and Christian denominations
The Presbyterian Church (USA) & same-sex
unions, from the 2000 GA until 2003
||"...religion is a great source of pain among families dealing with
sexual orientation and gender identity issues." Kirsten Kingdon,
spokesperson for Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) at a
dinner meeting of the PC USA 2000 General Assembly.
The path towards recognition of same-sex unions and SSM:
2000 General Assembly: The 212th General
Assembly was be held from JUN-24 to JUL-1 in Long Beach, CA. Delegates considered three overtures (resolutions) to revise the Book of Order to
specifically prohibit ministers from conducting same-sex unions. In
its then current wording, the Book does not mention civil unions.
Soulfource, a gay advocacy group that is external to the Presbyterian
church issued a statement to the Assembly
"Your current official policy of exclusion has the
effect of condemning all sexual minorities as unloved by God and
unwelcome in the Presbyterian Church. It leads to discrimination,
suffering, and even death for Presbyterians and non-Presbyterians
Mitzi Henderson, co-coordinator of More Light
"Soulforce doesn't speak for the
Presbyterian Church. Our group has members who feel this kind of
impatience, and it's well founded. On the other hand, we are in and of
the church, and part of that means we need to work with the family --
because we believe our cause is just, and because we ultimately
believe the church will recognize that."
Bill Giles, executive coordinator of the Presbyterian
Coalition which opposes gay/lesbian ordination commented:
"Everyone is fatigued by this 20
years of debate. The ultra-liberal and ultra-conservative members of the
church appear to be talking more about the division than the vast middle
of the church, which is trying to find its way through this maze and
come up with a response."
The Assembly Committee on Physical and Spiritual Well Being accepted Overture 00-26 from San Joaquin Presbytery. It passed by a narrow vote (25 to 22).
"Scripture and our Confessions
teach that God's intention for all people is to live either in fidelity
within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman or in chastity
in singleness. Church property shall not be used for, and church
officers shall not take part in conducting, any ceremony or event that
pronounces blessing or gives approval of the church or invokes the
blessing of God upon any relationship that is inconsistent with God's
intention as expressed in the preceding sentence."
Rue, the vice-moderator of the committee from Western Reserve Presbytery said, "I see God as in favor of diversity." Rue
said he believed there is a continuum of human sexuality along which
everyone falls and "to deny same-sex sexuality is to deny our
own heterosexuality." Rebecca Smith, a Youth Advisory Delegate from the Presbytery of the James said: "Our sins are forgiven
but not blessed. We should not condone or bless a sinful
Overture 00-26 was accepted without modification by the General Assembly and was sent to the Presbyteries for a vote as Amendment
00-O. The overture would add section W-4.9007 to the "Directory for
Worship" The overture
passed by a vote of 268 to 251 - a gap of only 3%. This demonstrates
that the church, as before, is split into two approximately equal parts.
"A minority report, brought to the Assembly by Madeline Jervis of National Capital Presbytery, representing 16 members of the Assembly Committee on
Physical and Spiritual Well Being, asked the Assembly to 'support the spirit of dialogue' around unity and diversity issues and to honor what
it says is 'our denomination's longstanding tradition of valuing the discretion of pastors and sessions in ordering worship and pastoral
The minority report failed 247-273." 7
Elizabeth O'Brien, a Youth Advisory Delegate from the Presbytery of
the Peaks, said that the church:
"has a responsibility to provide
a clear standard to upcoming generations. If we bless what
the Bible calls sin, what kind of standard are we setting? We
cannot deny the word of the Lord."
The Rev. Dick Carlson of Mid-Kentucky Presbytery, who said he is the father of gay child, said:
"The people coming before us asking [that their same sex unions
be blessed] are not strangers or aliens, they are our children who we
have baptized and confirmed. They have not changed. What has
changed is our perception of them, they are seen as outsiders and as
odious...Instead of giving stones when they ask for bread, we should be
a community of support for them. Closets are for praying in, not
Rev. Kirk Bottomly of San Diego Presbytery
"There is a lot of confusion in our
denomination. We need to get the message straight and tell
it. When ordained, we take vows to be bound by Biblical teaching
and Confessional standards. We've talked for 30 years about this,
now's time to decide." 7
Rev. Rick Carlson
of Kentucky, the father of a gay man, commented:
before us asking us to bless their relationships are not strangers from
outer space. They are our friends, our kids, our children...Suddenly as
they find the courage to come out of the closet, they are no longer seen
by us as 'Johnny' and 'Judy' but as outsiders, not-OK people. We see
them as 'unrepentant, self-avowed homosexuals.' This [characterization]
is deeply offensive to me."
||2001-JAN-25: Late in the year 2000, 19 former General
Assembly moderators released a public statement urging the defeat
of Amendment O, which it said "would lead us away from the
traditional rights and responsibilities exercised by sessions and
ministers." 8 This group constitutes the
majority of living moderators.
Meanwhile, a group of 113 presbytery executives and other officers issued
a statement calling for a "third way" out of the
impasse over sexuality issues in the PC(USA) through dialog. Several
gay-positive Presbyterian groups agreed to dialog, but five leaders of
the main conservative group, Presbyterian Coalition, refused
to cooperate. The latter group's statement said, in part:
"Involvement in the issues of our day and church,
including meeting with those with whom we disagree, has never
been, nor is it now, about our way, or their way, or some other
third way which might be mutually satisfying. Rather it is about
Christ's way. Alone. Therefore, we have not, and we will not,
engage in any search for an alternative to Scripture's
clear and plain teaching."
The National Korean Presbyterian Council, which represents
350 Korean-American-Presbyterian congregations, issued a statement
urging Presbyterians to support the proposed amendment. They argued
that it is "clearly and
unambiguously written in the Scripture" that "homosexual
partnerships are incompatible with God's created order." 8
William Stacy Johnson, theology professor at Princeton Seminary, and
Robert Bullock, editor of Presbyterian Outlook co-authored an
editorial in opposition to Amendment 00-O. Bullock wrote that the
amendment could be used to deny baptism to the children of same-sex
parents, to deny the sacrament of the Lord's Supper to some church
members. The Amendment is very broadly written. It could also be cited
to refuse baptism to a child of an unmarried heterosexual couple, or
to a single mother.
Initial responses from the presbyteries were tabulated.
"With votes in from 20 percent of the 174 presbyteries, it
appears that Amendment O - the so-called 'same-sex unions amendment'
-- will be decided by a narrow margin." 8
||2001-JAN-22 onward: If Amendment 00-O passes, then same-sex
unions would be specifically banned in The Book of Order. 87 affirmative votes
were required to
pass the measure; 87 negative votes were required to kill it.
Conventional wisdom states that that more liberal
presbyteries tend to vote first; conservative ones vote later.
However, the voting pattern on this measure did not strictly
follow this pattern. Up-to-date totals were available
|As of date:
Total Negative Votes
Total Affirmative Votes
Affirmative votes among
Affirmative votes among
Not voted yet
* According to the church web site. ** According to PCUSA News.
It turns out that, this time, conservative presbyteries cast their votes in the
middle of the process. The 87th "no" vote was registered on
MAR-13. The amendment did not pass. The legal status of ministers
performing civil unions to committed gay and lesbian couples remains
murky, but not specifically outlawed. The General Assembly Permanent
Judicial Commission ruled in early 2000 that same-sex union
ceremonies are not specifically prohibited by the constitution as long
as they "are not considered the same as a marriage ceremony."
Strong, polarized reactions were expressed at the news that the
amendment was defeated:
||Rev. Joe Rightmyer, executive director of the conservative
group Presbyterians for Renewal, said: "We are
left now with a very confused situation, an ambiguous witness."
He felt that the concerns over the vagueness of the measure
contributed to its defeat.
||Rev. Deborah Block, co-moderator of the liberal Covenant
Presbyterians said: "I think (the vote) is an
affirmation of trust in our process of electing elders and
ministers and giving to them these decisions for the life of a
||Mitzi Henderson, co-moderator of the liberal More Light
Presbyterians, called the defeat of the amendment a
victory for family life. "If the church is serious
about the importance of faith to family life, to wholeness of
relationships, it cannot continue to ignore the commitments of
same gender couples. The public blessing of love and fidelity,
before family and friends, has a profoundly spiritual
||Twelve members of the Presbyterian Renewal Leaders
Network condemned the defeat of the amendment and said
"church leaders who openly defy Biblical faith and
ethics are pushing our denomination perilously towards schism."
||A statement from The Presbyterian Layman, said:
"Until and unless God's people take a definitive stand
against them, these efforts will not cease until that union
instituted by God and blessed by our Lord Jesus Christ has
been stripped of all special honor and recognition."
||2001-MAR-3: The church's Research Services office
conducted a poll of church members, elders, pastors and specialized
clergy. They found:
blessing civil unions
% opposed to civil unions
being performed in the church
||2002-MAY: General Assembly avoids homosexual union question: Essentially all matters related to human sexuality were off the table
at the 214th General Assembly in Columbus, OH.
||2003-MAY-30: Report on families returned for rework: A
controversial report, titled "Living faithfully with families in
transition" had been prepared over five years by the Advisory
Committee on Social Witness Policy. It was presented to the 215th
General Assembly. After about one hour's debate, by a close vote of
279 to 232, the report was returned for a rewrite. Conservatives
criticized the report because it treats families headed by one adult,
an unmarried man and woman, and a same-sex couple as morally equal to
those headed by a married couple. It discussed how various kinds
of families can raise children faithfully and responsibly. They
regarded this as a violation of scripture and of Christian morality. 10
Related Presbyterian essays on this web site:
- News summary, Religion Today 1999-FEB-1
- J.L. Van Marter, "Hudson river Presbytery Affirms 'Freedom' to Conduct
Same-Sex Union Ceremonies," PCUSA News, 1999-FEB-3, #99054
- PCUSA News release, 2000-APR-25 #00166
- "PJC Says Gay Man May Be Ordination Candidate, Ministers May Bless
Same-Sex Unions," PCUSA NEWS, 2000-MAY-24 #00209
- "PC(USA)'s highest court hears appeals on three gay rights-related
cases," PCUSA NEWS, 2000-MAY-20 #00203
- "Assembly committee recommends prohibition of same-sex unions,"
OCUSA NEWS, 2000-JUN-27
- "Assembly sends same sex union ban amendment to
presbyteries," PCAUSA NEWS, 2000-JUN-30.
- "Vote on same-sex union amendment will be close, early returns
indicate," PCAUSA NEWS, 2001-JAN-24.
- "Proposed amendment vote tallies," at: http://www.horeb.pcusa.org/oga/
- John Sniffen, "Controversial report on families sent back for more work,"
The Presbyterian Outlook, at: http://www.pres-outlook.com/
Copyright © 1996 to 2011
by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Last update: 2011-OCT-13
Author: B.A. Robinson