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Religious Tolerance logo

About the Presbyterian Church (USA),
marriage equality and other LGBT topics.

Part 4: 2013 & 2015:
Presbyterian Church (USA)'s membership loss.
Members' beliefs about sexual orientation.
Each presbytery will vote on the amendment.

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The acronym "LGBT" refers to lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender
persons & transsexuals. "LGB" refers to lesbians, gays and bisexuals.

The acronym "SSM" refers to same-sex marriage.

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This topic is continued from the previous essay.

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Membership loss within the Presbyterian Church (USA):

The Presbyterian Church (USA) has been suffering a gradual reduction in membership over the past decades, even as the population of the United States has been increasing:

  • The denomination's membership has dropped from 2.78 million in 1992 to 1.76 million in 2013. Membership loss totals 37% over 21 years.

  • Meanwhile, the population of the United States has risen from 257 million to 317 million over the same time interval. This is an increase of 24%. 1

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Loss of young members within the denomination:

Older teens and young adults are leaving the Presbyterian Church (USA) in much larger numbers than in the past. Further, many of those who leave appear to be not returning to the church later in life as they once did. Such teens and adults form the first generation of Americans in which most individuals have a friend or family member who is part of the LGBT community. This generation is learning about the reality of life for people with a homosexual or bisexual orientation. Many are concluding that historical church teachings about sexual orientation conflict with scientific findings and with the reality of sexual orientation.

When interviewed by polling agencies, many younger ex-members reveal that the main reasons why they are leaving the church is because of the denomination's attitude towards human sexuality and towards other scientific topics, like origin of the species, the age of the earth, etc. Some consider homophobia and transphobia -- active discrimination against individuals in the LGBT community -- in the same category as sexism, racism, and xenophobia. They feel uncomfortable being affiliated with a denomination with these values.

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Beliefs by conservative and liberal Presbyterians concerning sexual orientation and marriage equality:

  • Many religious conservatives within the denomination believe that the Bible is the word of God and is therefore without error. Further, their interpretation of six "clobber passages" -- which they believe refer to same-gender sexual behavior -- are all highly negative. They believe that one passage in Leviticus even called for -- in ancient times -- for the execution of any men who engage in such behavior. For almost two millennia, the Christian church had taught a consistent message that God hates homosexual behavior and that marriage must be restricted to male-female unions. Many believers consider same-gender sexual behavior to be abnormal, unnatural, and chosen. They believed that it is changeable by adults through the use of reparative therapy and prayer.

    Many respect the historical teachings of the Christian Church which have consistently condemned same-gender sexual behavior as sinful, abnormal and unnatural for many centuries.

    They conclude that to accept same-sex marriage within the church is totally unacceptable because it is against the will of God. Further, it would drive membership numbers down as many members and congregations will leave the Presbyterian Church (USA) for more conservative denominations. One option would be the Presbyterian Church in America [PCA]. It was formed decades ago by former PCUSA members who left because they could not accept women as ministers.

  • Many religious liberals believe that the Bible text shows an evolving theology that was very much limited by the pre-scientific culture of its authors. They view the Bible as containing many passages in which believers are urged to commit acts that are considered profoundly immoral by today's ethical standards. Examples are raping female prisoners of war, executing non-virgin brides by stoning, burning alive daughters of priests who were engaged in prostitution, executing non-respectful children, etc.

    When examining the same "clobber passages" many interpret the Bible very differently:

    • Genesis 1: same-sex rape between humans and non-humans in four Canaanite cities: Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, and Zeboim.

    • Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13: refers to same-gender sexual activity in Pagan temples with prostitutes. An alternate interpretation of the Leviticus passages relates to men having sex on a bed belonging to a woman. The Hebrew is ambiguous in these passages.

    • 1 Corinthians 6:9: refers to child molesters and the children they molest.

    • Romans 1:26: discusses heterosexuals acting against their basic nature by engaging in same-gender sexual behavior during Pagan orgies. This chapter could also be interpreted as condemning persons with a homosexual orientation who engaged in opposite-gender sexual behavior against their basic nature.

    • Jude 1:7: Men engaging in sex with another species. This refers back to Genesis 19 when the men of Sodom attempted to rape male angels, who were of a different species than human.

They conclude that the Bible is silent on same-sex marriage. They regard the Bible as being silent on consensual sex within a loving, committed same-sex relationship. Further, many liberals accept the findings of human sexuality researchers who have concluded that homosexual orientation is normal, natural, discovered, unchosen, and is fixed in adulthood.

Although conservatives and liberals in the Presbyterian Church are generally sincere, intelligent, thoughtful and thorough when interpreting biblical passages, they reach entirely different interpretations of what the Bible means.

Unfortunately, there is a great deal of arguing but little or no active dialog between liberals and conservatives within Christianity, either about the nature of sexual orientation, the cause(s) of sexual orientation, whether a person can change their sexual orientation in adulthood, and whether all couples -- same-sex and opposite-sex -- should be allowed to marry in civil ceremonies or in church.

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2015-JAN: The Presbyteries of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) are to vote on the denomination's constitutional amendment:

The 172 PC(USA) presbyteries are to vote on whether to amend the denomination's Constitution to recognize same-sex marriages. A positive vote in favor of the amendment by 87 presbyteries is required for the amendment to pass.

The current Constitution states that marriage is:

"... a civil contract between a woman and a man."

The proposed new wording would reflect the current status of civil marriages almost all of North America and most other large English-speaking countries. It would state that:

"Marriage involves a unique commitment between two people, traditionally a man and a woman, to love and support each other for the rest of their lives."

The presbyteries, clergy, and membership reflect the mood of the U.S. as a whole: they hold opposing opinions on the amendment. For example:

  • The Rev. Dr. Emily Anderson is senior pastor at New Providence Presbyterian Church in Maryville, TN. She said:

    "I think, basically, it comes down to: how do you interpret scripture. Folks who are opposed to same-sex marriage will point to particular scriptures and say, 'Look, here, this says man and woman,'" Anderson said. "Folks who are supportive of same-sex marriage would look at the whole witness of scripture and, particularly, at the life of Jesus, who didn't put any boundaries or restrictions on anyone."

  • The Rev. Dr. Holton Siegling Jr. is pastor at Sequoyah Hills Presbyterian Church in West Knoxville, TN. He said:

    "In the case of marriage, God's Word is simply not ambiguous; Christ himself affirms marriage as that most blessed union which exists [only] between a man and a woman." 2

In reality, when Bible discusses marriage, it always refers to opposite-sex unions. However, it does not restrict a man to only one woman. Solomon held the record in terms of numbers of wives; he was married to 700 wives and had 300 concubines. Same-sex marriage is not discussed in the Bible, and Jesus did not comment on same-sex marriage, same-gender sexual behavior, or sexual orientation. The concept of sexual orientation was unknown until many centuries later.

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This topic continues in the next essay.

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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. "Presbyterians set vote on same-sex marriage at convention in Detroit," Detroit Free Press, 2014-NUM-19, at: http://archive.freep.com/
  2. Becca Habegger, "Presbyterian church denomination to vote on same-sex marriage," WBIR, 2015-JAN-14, at: http://www.wbir.com/
  3. Aleksander Chan, "U.S. Presbyterian Church Votes to Allow Same-Sex Marriage Ceremonies," Gawker, 2014-JAN-19, at: http://gawker.com/
  4. Office of the General Assembly, "PC(USA) leaders issue pastoral letter to the church on Assembly’s marriage actions," Presbyterian Church (USA), 2014-JUN-19, at: https://www.pcusa.org/

Copyright © 2014 & 2015 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally posted: 2014-JUN-25
Last update: 2015-MAR-25
Author: B.A. Robinson
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