REACTIONS TO THE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH 2001
RESOLUTION ON GAY/LESBIAN ORDINATION
A massive chasm exists between religious liberals and conservatives in
the Presbyterian Church over the matter of the ordination of sexually active
homosexuals. At the General Assembly meeting in 2000, Bob Davis, director
of the conservative renewal group Presbyterian Forum commented: "One side says we understand Scripture to say
homosexual behavior is sinful, the other says it is a gift from God.
Those are pretty disparate positions."
Most religious liberals in the Presbyterian Church (USA) view ordination
of gays and lesbians to be largely a human rights issue. They see homosexual
behavior within a committed, monogamous relationship to be acceptable and
holy, for both homosexuals and heterosexuals.
Religious conservatives view homosexual behavior as
prohibited and condemned by the Bible. Allowing
sexually active unmarried persons to be ordained would be an unacceptable
lowering of ordination standards. The nature of their relationship, whether
committed or not, whether monogamous or not, is immaterial; their behavior
is intrinsically sinful.
On 2001-JUN-15, by a vote of 317-208 on JUN-15,
the 213th General Assembly decided to:
||Delete section G-6.0106b from the church's Book of Order.
It currently requires candidates for ordination to follow one of two
paths, either: "fidelity
in marriage between a man and a woman or chastity in singleness."
||Replacing the deleted text with a statement that church
officers' "suitability to hold office is determined by the
governing body where the examination for ordination or installation
takes place, guided by scriptural and constitutional standards,
under the authority and Lordship of Jesus Christ."
||Void what has been referred to as the authoritative interpretation
of the constitution as having "no further force or effect." It has been in effect since 1978, and has
barred the ordination of "self-affirming, practicing homosexuals."
If both actions by the General Assembly are approved by a simple majority
of the church's 173 presbyteries, then sexually active gays and
lesbians, and sexually active unmarried heterosexuals would not be
excluded from ordination.
Many of the General Assembly commissioners
(delegates) offered personal comments on the decision to modify ordination
criteria. They demonstrate how far apart the two sides remain. We have
collected some of their reactions below:
Responses of some commissioners immediately after the General
Assembly decision were:
||Opposed to equal treatment of lesbians and gays:|
||The Presbyterian Coalition is a group of organizations
which formed in 1993 in opposition to gay ordination. They issued a
statement which called the Assembly's action "deeply distressing...it
is unthinkable that a majority of Presbyterians favor the removal
of our ordination standards."
||The Rev. Robert Thornton of Abingdon Presbytery in Virginia
said "G-6.0106b represents standards of scripture, our
confessions and our tradition... Someone will be hurt either way
we vote...but I'd rather err on the side of the word of God."
||Favoring equal treatment of lesbians and gays:|
||Former General Assembly moderator John Buchanan, from Chicago
Presbytery and co-founder of the pro-gay Covenant Network of
Presbyterians, said that G-6.0106b has created an absence of
peace in the church since 1996...[producing] "wrenching
confrontations" at each yearly General Assembly. He said: "The
approval (of the proposal) creates space to live and work
||Elder Kathryn Morgan of West Jersey Presbytery said: "How
can we talk openly and honestly while preserving legislation that
prevents openness and honesty, and where some are kept away from
||Primarily concerned about stress in the
||Elder Ted Mikels of Salem Presbytery in North Carolina said: "Twice
in the last five years we've voted on this and each time it tears
the fabric of our presbytery. To send this out again will create
greater rancor and polarization. We need prayer and study and
dialogue, not more legislation."
||The Rev. M. Paul Nelson of San Diego Presbytery called the
proposal "an emotional bomb that will do great damage when it
is dropped on the presbyteries." 1
Responses of some commissioners at a subsequent press conference were:
||Opposed to equal treatment of lesbians and gays: These
responses came from representatives of Presbyterians for Renewal
Presbyterian Coalition who were first to address the reporters:
||Matt Robbins from California, co-moderator of the Youth
Advisory Delegates (YAD) at this Assembly, said, "I am
disappointed with the vote but I am pleased with the way YADs
discussed it. I think there was too much pressure to make everyone
happy. I think the decision was brought through our culture. It's hard
enough to be a young person trying to be faithful to Jesus. We need
the church to stand up and say there is truth in the Bible."
||Joe Rightmyer, executive director of Presbyterians for Renewal,
said, "I am saddened by statements of unbelief in yesterday's
debate on salvation through Jesus Christ. It was not just a
difference of opinion. The question is not how we get to God but to
reaffirm how God comes to us."
||Jerry Andrews, representing the Presbyterian Coalition, said the
vote was not unexpected. "There will be a better reflection of
reality in the presbytery votes."
||Favoring equal treatment of lesbians and gays: These comments
came from representatives of More Light Presbyterians, That All May
Freely Serve and The Shower of Stoles Project:|
||Bill Moss, co-moderator of More Light Presbyterians and an
openly gay elder at Old First Presbyterian Church in San Francisco
read a statement: "We join together in giving thanks to God for
this action of the General Assembly that paves the way for the
ordination of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender
Presbyterians. Today the church has returned to its historic
principles of allowing local churches and presbyteries to make
decisions about ordination. The statement expressed gratitude to
"everyone who worked in their local churches, presbyteries and
synods...to everyone who prayed for us, wrote letters, spoke in
public, signed covenants of dissent or otherwise offered a witness to
the working of the Spirit."
||In a media release, Martha Juillerat, Director of the Shower of
Stoles project, said the decision impacts more lives than the
Assembly commissioners imagine. The Shower of Stoles Project
is a collection of over 800 stoles donated by lesbian, gay, bisexual
and transgender individuals called to serve in ordained positions.
About half of the stoles are from Presbyterians. She said "The
stoles bear powerful silent witness to the host of impassioned,
qualified, and faithful people knocking at the church's door, or
waiting silenced within the church for the day they can serve openly."
||Primarily concerned about stress in the
||Nancy Maffett, elder commissioner from Colorado Springs, said, "There
is a great weariness in the church. I feel this will be damaging to
the Body and its unity."
||Russ Ritchel, Jr., a minister from Salem Presbytery in North
Carolina, said in response to a question about a possible split in the
denomination as a result of the vote, "There already is a split in
the church. It's like we're in a British comedy where we are all
handcuffed together. We are handcuffed together by our property. How
can we expect others to take us seriously when we have not figured out
a way to live together and affirm one another?" Rightmyer said he
had talked to pastors with tears in their eyes who say they don't know
if they can keep their congregations together. "How many will
still be around to vote in the presbyteries?" he asked.
||The group who supported lesbian - gay ordination commented that
they expect to go back to churches that are "overjoyed" at the
decision rather than dismayed.
Remarks by others:
A reporter at the press conference asked which group has the word of
God. Don Stroud, commissioner from Baltimore Presbytery, said, "No one
can box up and contain the Word of God. A legislative process can never
put God in a box."
Jack Rogers, moderator of the 213th General Assembly spoke:
"The scriptures say 'Rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with
those who weep.' I am rejoicing that this group now has hope and weep
with those who sincerely believe the church has done a wrong thing."
"I have friends in both groups. What you've seen with these two
panels is what I've been experiencing as moderator. As I have looked out
at the commissioners I have come to believe they represent the broad
center of the Presbyterian Church. I have seen other Assemblies when most
commissioners came pre-set for one position or another. These are regular
folks who didn't seem to come here pre-committed. Some said they'd
changed their minds since they came here."
"I don't doubt the sincerity of any of them. Some believe they are
reading the Bible right and think the others aren't."
"This Assembly has affirmed Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior every
day. The thing that hurts deep in my soul is that almost everybody feels
like a victim in this situation. I hope in the year to come we can
address that. There are good people on all sides looking at this
differently. I am hopeful that the Task Force, listening widely, can
begin to address this."
Other about the Presbyterian Church (USA) on this web site:
Jerry Van Marter, "Assembly sends out an amendment to delete
G-6.0106b: Proposal to open the way for gay ordination passes with 60 %
approval," PCUSA News, 2001-JUN-15
Jane Hines, "Press conference offers reactions from two sides to
ordination action," PCUSA News, 2001-JUN-15
Copyright © 2001 by Ontario Consultants on Religious
Originally written: 2001-JUN-16
Latest update: 2001-JUN-16
Author: B.A. Robinson