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Religious Tolerance logo

Homosexuality and Christian denominations

Part 3:
The Presbyterian Church (USA), same-
sex couples, civil unions
, committment
rituals & marriages, 2000 to mid-2003.

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This is a continuation of the previous essay

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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

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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 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 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:

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, 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 significance."


bullet

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."


bullet

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."

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bullet 2001-MAR-3: The church's Research Services office conducted a poll of church members, elders, pastors and specialized clergy. They found:
Group
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-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.

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.  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

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The PCUSA left these topics lay relatively dormant until
2008, when a new initiative surfaced to have the church
to recognize civil unions & marriages by same-sex couples

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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 © 2001 to 2014 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Last update: 2014-JUN-27
Author: B.A. Robinson
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