Homosexuality and Christian denominations
The Presbyterian Church (USA), same-
couples, civil unions, committment
rituals & marriages, 2000 to mid-2003.
Late in the year 2000: Reaction to the proposed amendment:
Amendment 0, as passed by the General Assembly in mid-2000 would ban committment ceremonies within the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) 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."
Before amendments become official, they must be ratified by a vote among the presbyteries.
Late in the year 2000, 19 former General
Assembly moderators released a public statement urging the defeat
of Amendment O, which had been passed to all of the presbyteries by the General Assembly for a ratification vote in early 2001.
The moderators' statement said that Amendment O would infringe on the tradtional freedoms experienced by clergy. It :
"... would lead us away from the
traditional rights and responsibilities exercised by sessions and
ministers." 8 This group constitutes a
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, also issued a statement
urging Presbyterians to support the proposed amendment and thus ban committment ceremonies and blessings of same-sex relationships. 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 O. Bullock wrote that, as written, 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. OCANews said:
"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 to 2003-:
The passage of Amendment 00-O would specifically ban same-sex
unions 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 for this year's ratification vote, conservative presbyteries cast their votes in the
middle of the process. The 87th "no" vote was registered on
MAR-13. This killed the amendment. 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 had 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." So, clergy had a bit of "wiggle room."
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:
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
"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, a liberal group, 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 conservative 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, described the editors' belief that recognizing committment ceremonies would devalue marriage by opposite-sex couples:
"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-JUN: Report on families returned for rework: A
controversial report, titled "Living faithfully with families in
transition" had been prepared over a five year interval 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.
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. The report discussed how various kinds
of families can raise children faithfully and responsibly. Conservatives
regarded this as a violation of scripture and of Christian morality. 10
The PCUSA left these topics lay relatively dormant until
when a new initiative surfaced to have the church
to recognize civil unions & marriages by same-sex couples
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
- 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 © 2001 to 2014
by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Last update: 2014-JUN-27
Author: B.A. Robinson