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Homosexuality and Christian denominations

The Presbyterian Church (USA) & same-sex
, from the 2000 GA until 2003

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This is a continuation of an earlier essay

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bullet "...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.

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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 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 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). 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 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 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 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 care.'
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 living in."

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

Rev. Rick Carlson of Kentucky, the father of a gay man, 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."

bullet 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

bullet 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 online. 9
As of date:
Total Negative Votes
Total Affirmative Votes
Affirmative votes among those cast
 Affirmative votes among new votes
Not voted yet
2001-JAN-22 23 11 32.3% N/A 139
2001-FEB-8 48 20 29.4% 26.4% 105
2001-MAR-2 * 60 39 39.4% 61.2% 74
2001-MAR-2 ** 74 53 41.7% 50% 46
2001-MAR-13 87 63 42.0% 43.4 23
* 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:

bullet 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.

bullet Rev. Deborah Block, co-moderator of the liberal Covenant Network of 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 congregation."

bullet 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 significance."

bullet 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."

bullet 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."
bullet 2001-MAR-3: The church's Research Services office conducted a poll of church members, elders, pastors and specialized clergy. They found:
Opposed to ministers
blessing civil unions
% opposed to civil unions being performed in the church
Members 57% 67%
Elders 61% 66%
Pastors 50% 53%
Specialized clergy 30% 33%

bullet 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.

bullet 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

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Related Presbyterian essays on this web site:

bullet Menu: Homosexuality and the Presbyterian Church
bullet Lesbian/gay ordination in the Presbyterian Church
bullet Resolution by Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area (Minneapolis/St. Paul) titled "Resolution of Witness to the Gospel in Response to Amendment B."
bullet The Covenant Network of Presbyterians' "A Call to Covenant Community"
bullet Statement of aplology by Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area  

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Internet and Media References

  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 © 1996 to 2011 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Last update: 2011-OCT-13
Author: B.A. Robinson
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