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Homosexuality and Christian denominations

Part 2:
The Presbyterian Church (USA) and same-
sex couples: civil unions
, & committment
ceremonies. Activity during 2000-JUN.

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This is a continuation from the previous essay

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2000-JUN: Attempts to have the church recognize same-sex unions:

The 212th General Assembly started on 2000-JUN-24 in Long Beach, CA. Delegates considered three overtures (resolutions) to revise the denomination's Book of Order -- their Constitution -- to specifically prohibit ministers from conducting same-sex unions and committment ceremonies. In its wording as of the year 2000, the Constitution did not mention civil unions. Some clergy interpreted this situation as permission for them to conduct such ceremonies in church.

Soulfource, a national gay advocacy group that is not affiliated with the Presbyterian church issued a powerful statement to the Assembly saying that

"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 alike."

Mitzi Henderson, co-coordinator of More Light Presbyterians, said

"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 -- a group that opposed 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 problem is that amending the church's Constitution would likely either specifically allow or ban the performance of committment and civil union ceremonies. To take no action would end up with such ceremonies neither being banned nor specifically approved by the Constitution. The status quo would leave the decision up to the individual congregation and its clergy.

The Assembly Committee on Physical and Spiritual Well Being accepted Overture 00-26 from San Joaquin Presbytery. It was passed by the committee in a narrow vote (25 to 22). It stated:

"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."

Elder David 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. He concluded that:

"... 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 relationship." 6

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 was passed by the General Assembly with a vote of 268 to 251 - a margin 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 care'."

The minority report failed 247-273." 7

thumb down 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."

thumbs up imageThe 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 living in."

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thumb down Rev. Kirk Bottomly of San Diego Presbytery commented:

"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

thumbs up imageRev. Rick Carlson of Kentucky, who has a gay son, commented:

"People coming 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."

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This topic continues in the next essay

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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. News summary, Religion Today 1999-FEB-1
  2. J.L. Van Marter, "Hudson river Presbytery Affirms 'Freedom' to Conduct Same-Sex Union Ceremonies," PCUSA News, 1999-FEB-3, #99054
  3. PCUSA News release, 2000-APR-25 #00166
  4. "PJC Says Gay Man May Be Ordination Candidate, Ministers May Bless Same-Sex Unions," PCUSA NEWS, 2000-MAY-24 #00209
  5. "PC(USA)'s highest court hears appeals on three gay rights-related cases," PCUSA NEWS, 2000-MAY-20 #00203
  6. "Assembly committee recommends prohibition of same-sex unions," OCUSA NEWS, 2000-JUN-27 
  7. "Assembly sends same sex union ban amendment to presbyteries," PCAUSA NEWS, 2000-JUN-30.
  8. "Vote on same-sex union amendment will be close, early returns indicate," PCAUSA NEWS, 2001-JAN-24.
  9. "Proposed amendment vote tallies," at: http://www.horeb.pcusa.org/oga/
  10. John Sniffen, "Controversial report on families sent back for more work," The Presbyterian Outlook, at: http://www.pres-outlook.com/

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Copyright © 2000 to 2014 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Last update: 2014-JUN-27
Author: B.A. Robinson
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