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The Presbyterian Church (USA):

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Quotations. Overview.

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On this web site the term "LGBT" refers to the Lesbian,
Gay, Bisexual
, Transgender and Transsexual community.

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Quotations:

bullet"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." Bob Davis, director of Presbyterian Forum, at the 212th General Assembly (2000)

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 2000 General Assembly.

bullet

"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." Joint statement by five Presbyterian Coalition leaders, rejecting an overture to dialog.

[Webmaster's note: What they are saying is that many sincere, intelligent, and devout Presbyterians have studied the Bible and have reached different conclusions concerning sexual minorities. However, these five individuals know that they hold the only correct belief system. Since they know the truth, they are not interested in dialogue with others. One might ask exactly how they have determined with certainty that they alone hold the truth and that all the other Presbyterians are in error.]


bullet "Having lost sight of her clear, Christ-centered identity, the PCUSA has continued to embrace our culture's beliefs and morals." A statement by Presbyterians for Renewal, a conservative group within the denomination reacting to the 2008 General Assembly's liberalizing decisions.

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Overview:

Of the thousands of Christian denominations in the United States, it is the mainline faith groups that have been the most active in discussing and debating the roles for lesbians, gays and bisexuals in ministry, civil unions, and marriage:

bullet Liberal and progressive Christian groups have already accepted homosexual orientation as normal, natural, unchosen and fixed as experienced by a minority of adults. These groups have eliminated bars to membership, the recognition of marriage, ordination, and marriage solemnization in church, based on sexual orientation.

bullet Fundamentalist and other evangelical churches and denominations have generally not engaged the question; they have retained, unchanged, the historical Christian beliefs which condemn all same-gender sexual behavior irrespective of the nature of the relationship.

bullet The Episcopal Church (USA), the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), and the United Methodist Church are in transition. Among major Christian denominations, these groups are probably experiencing the greatest amount of conflict over equal rights for their gay, lesbian, and bisexual couples and ordination candidates.

At one time prior to 2011, there were over 25 cases pending in Presbyterian Church (USA) church courts in which clergy had been charged with violating the Church's constitution by knowingly ordaining gay clergy. 1 Some believed that the denomination was in danger of splitting over the issue. A few members endorsed the concept of a "gracious separation" into a conservative and a liberal denomination.

The denomination's General Assemblies are held every second year. In recent Assemblies:

bullet Liberals in the denomination wanted the bars against lesbians, gays, and bisexuals as clergy and lay officers lifted for those who are either celibate or who are in loving, committed same-sex relationships. They also wanted the denomination to change its definition of marriage and allow clergy to conduct same-sex marriages in those states where such marriages are legal.

bullet Conservatives seek to clamp down on infractions of existing church laws that have allowed a few gays, lesbians, and bisexuals in loving committed same-sex relationships to hold church office. They want to preserve the church's long-standing definition of marriage which restricts it to one woman and one man. They also wanted to prohibit their clergy solemnizing the marriages of same-sex couples.

bullet Section G-6.0108 of the Book of Order -- the 1997 church law which requires office holders to "live either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman, or chastity in singleness" has been challenged. Proposals have been made to replace the marriage phrase with "a covenanted relationship between two persons." Others have suggested changing the entire section. The former was passed by the General Assembly and is subject to review by the presbyteries in early 2015.

This was one massive deadlock. There is a general agreement that a "winner take all" solution whereby the majority completely imposes its will on the denomination would seriously threaten denominational unity. Even a local option compromise in which individual presbyteries are given freedom to treat LGBT members as equal to the rest of the membership would be too much for many conservatives to handle. Also, it would merely transfer the problem from one big battle in the General Assemblies to over 150 smaller battles in individual presbyteries. Meanwhile, liberals in the PCUSA would only be satisfied the whole church eliminated all signs of discrimination against the LGBT community.

A small breakthrough occurred in their General Assembly of 2006. A type of very limited local option was created so that ordaining bodies in the denomination have a small degree of wiggle room to ordain gay and lesbian candidates in loving, committed same-sex relationships. However, it did not settle the conflict.

During 2010-summer, the General Assembly passed a resolution for the fourth time to reword Section G-6.0108 of the Book of Order. Again, the 173 U.S. presbyteries were asked to ratify the decision. A major breakthrough happened in 2011-MAY-10, when The Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area voted 205 to 56 in favor of the resolution. Their's was the 87th affirmative vote among the denomination's presbyteries and resulted in ratification of the resolution. Lesbians, gays, and bisexuals in covenanted relationships can now be considered for ordination to deacon, elder or minister. 2

It may prove ironic that the deciding vote was held at the Peace Presbyterian Church in St. Louis Park, MN, because the decision may temporarily result in increased conflict. A number of conservative congregations had to decide whether to stay with or to leave the denomination.

In 2011, the General Assembly agreed to ordain lesbian and gay clergy who were either celibate or in a covenanted relationship. In 2014, they agreed to allow their clergy to marry same-sex couples where laws allowed and the local congregation agreed. They also changed their church's definition of marriage to include loving, committed same-sex couples, pending ratification by a majority of presbyteries. It remains to be seen whether these two changes will result in a mass exodus of members and congregations from the PCUSA.

Each change in the direction of acceptance of sexual minorities produces both a gain and loss in the church membership:

  • It results in the loss of some traditional members who "vote with their feet" and move to more conservative denominations.

  • It also results in the increased retention of older youths and young adults. They have formed the first generation in which a majority have one or more gay, lesbian, and/or bisexual friends or family members. Many have rejected the church's traditional teachings about the LGBT community, about evolution, other scientific topics etc. and have been leaving the church.

References:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Presbyterians May Debate Gay Clergy Ban," The Associated Press, 2003-MAY-23. Online at: Beliefnet.com at: http://www.beliefnet.com/
  2. Rose French, "Presbyterians to allow gays to be ordained ministers," Associated Press, 2011-MAY-11, at: http://www.startribune.com/

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Copyright © 1996 to 2014 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update 2014-JUN-21
Author: B.A. Robinson
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