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221st General Assembly (2014)

A message from the Stated Clerk, Grady Parsons



Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

We, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), have been in a long period of discernment around the issues of inclusion of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) people in the life of the church. Beginning in 1978 in the former UPCUSA and 1979 in the former PCUS, the position of the church as determined by the highest council, the General Assembly (GA), was that homosexuality was not God’s gift for humankind. The GA also stressed that homosexuality was not a bar to membership in our congregations. In the following years our discernment centered around three broad areas: civil rights, ordination as a teaching or ruling elder, and civil union and marriage.

The PC(USA) has consistently advocated for civil rights for LGBT people in housing and employment. Many in the church often noted that there was a tension between the church’s advocacy for human rights for LGBT people and its limitations on LGBT persons’ participation in church leadership. The council of ruling and teaching elders through the General Assembly discerned that it could live faithfully with that tension.

The PC(USA) has had multiple General Assemblies where the issue of ordination of LGBT people was discussed. Ultimately a Book of Order amendment was approved in 1996 that expressly allowed only the ordination of persons who lived either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman or chastity in singleness. In the years following, many people wrestled with the tension between a governing body’s responsibility to discern the gifts of persons for ministry and a national standard limiting that responsibility through various studies, task forces, and proposed amendments. Brothers and sisters in Christ with very different views put in many hours, days, and weeks trying to find ways to stay together and allow some discretion for individuals.

The 219th General Assembly (2010) put forward a Book of Order change and approved a proposal to remove all of the previous authoritative interpretations on ordination and LGBT persons. The Book of Order change was adopted and the expressed prohibition was removed and replaced with giving the discernment of individual’s gifts for ministry to presbyteries and sessions.

The PC(USA) has had many times of discernment at the General Assembly and in the General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission (GAPJC) around issues of same-sex civil unions and marriage. The GA in 1991 did not prohibit ministers and sessions from approving and participating in civil union ceremonies. It did, however, prohibit teaching elders from conducting same-sex marriage ceremonies. The use of marriage liturgy in civil unions also was prohibited by rulings of the GAPJC. The General Assembly discussed and debated the responsibility of teaching elders and sessions to plan worship ceremonies and discern who should be married, and putting limits on that responsibility by the GA.

Many states within the U.S. have approved same-sex marriage. The 221st General Assembly (2014) listened to previous guidance of the church, scripture, the Book of Confessions, and stories of teaching elders and sessions who wanted to be able to conduct marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples in their congregations. The discernment of those discussions resulted in the approval of an authoritative interpretation and a Book of Order amendment permitting ministers and sessions to use their own discernment to conduct same-sex marriage ceremonies where allowed by law. That GA also included in those changes clear language that no teaching elder or session can be forced to conduct a same-sex marriage ceremony if they do not believe it is appropriate.

General Assembly commissioners are charged with deciding controversies brought before it and advising and instructing in cases submitted to it, in conformity with the PC(USA) constitution and authoritatively interpreting the most recent edition of the Book of Order (G-3.0501c).

The decisions above were reached after the discernment of teaching elders and ruling elders gathered in thirty-one General Assemblies and Book of Order amendments approved by the presbyteries. These decisions have been welcomed by some and a disappointment to others. Let us pray that we can allow the Spirit to continue to create in us a common call to follow Christ while respecting each other’s convictions.

The Reverend Gradye Parsons
Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)


(7) Comments

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  1. Let's us remember. The world rejected Christ. If we truly follow Him, they will reject us also. It's all about Him. It's not about seeking happiness but seeking holiness.

    by Michelle Caine

    May 7, 2016


  2. This issue is tearing our small congregation apart. I love and care about people on both sides.

    by Gloria Box

    July 7, 2015


  3. I am deeply troubled by recent changes in the Presbyterian Church USA pursuant to same sex marriage and ordination of clergy who are active in gay, lesbian or bisexual relationships. I recently finished a book authored by a learned seminary professor/minister advocating in favor of accepting/performing/sanctifying same sex marriage in attempt to understand the nuances of homosexuality. The author repeatedly suggests that biblical interpretations of the past, interpretations that suggest the ACTs of homosexuality are transgressions against God’s teachings, are simply fragments of passages taken out of context. The author pulls on the heart strings of the reader citing the understandably and no doubt VERY difficult tribulations of those afflicted as homosexuals. I believe the author uses the same “fragments of passage taken out of context” approach to justify his advocating that the Church accept this contemporary cultural norm as God’s intention/teaching. The Bible is subject to interpretation. Time honored interpretations do not support condoning let alone sanctifying homosexual ACTs. The gifts God has given us in this world including the biological gift of procreation between one man and one woman indelibly conflict with the ACT of homosexuality. I believe that we, as Christians, are obliged to accept, befriend and love those who are afflicted with homosexuality and bisexuality as we are those who are afflicted with mental challenges, physical challenges, post traumatic stress disorders, prostitution, drinking addiction, chemical addiction, etc. That said, we are not allowed to sanctify the nefarious ACTs of prostitution, drunkenness, pathological lying, thievery or homosexuality (sodomy). Borrowing from another commenter, “… we need to support and live by Christ's great teaching that we must do unto others what we want others to do for us.” If I were so afflicted, I would hope to be welcomed into the Church and befriended and supported by the Church and all of its Christian members. I would want to be supported and strengthened in order to overcome the desires that lead to ACTs of homosexuality/bisexuality (sodomy). Again borrowing from another commenter, we Presbyterians “… do NOT have the right to change God's word.” As Christians, we “… give up our choice of what is morally right and what is wrong and have submitted to God's choice of what is right or wrong.” I fear that the leaders of PCUSA would rather have the approval of man than to follow the Lord. The changing norms of contemporary culture cannot change the direction God has given us in scripture and which is proven over the millennium through the biological gift of procreation by means of traditional marriage between one man and one woman. Let us begin now to find our way back to the time honored interpretations of God’s word. Yours in Christ.

    by George Hellert

    May 25, 2015


  4. I have never been more proud to be a Presbyterian than I am with the passing of this amendment. We need to love and support our brothers and sisters in Christ, regardless of sexual orientation. I am so pleased that the majority of Presbyteries also feel this way!

    by Janet Fuhrmeister

    March 19, 2015


  5. I am proud of the PCUSA. In spite of the relentless attempt of the vagaries of living within the world to use our differences as rationale to devalue and segregate collectively we have opted to trust God's unconditional grace and love. We have stripped away another conditional mores that clung to our invitation to know God and join the efforts to bring God's mission to fruition. This is another beginning.

    by C.L. Holmes

    March 18, 2015


  6. I am so proud to be a member of a church and denomination that wrestles so openly and honestly with difficult questions, always wanting to put Christ's teachings and example from the Gospels first. The way this issue has been addressed and has evolved over time is in keeping with the confessional tradition within our reformed heritage. No where in the scriptures does it define "Biblical marriage" as "one man and one woman." The scriptures do, however, describe marriages between one man and MANY women (Noah and Abraham, our father in faith, come to mind).... So we press on seeking the Holy Spirit's guidance as we look to Christ's example and Christ's teaching. Despite some of the congregations that have left being some of the largest (and wealthiest), how many more folks have we now opened our doors to? What an amazing opportunity for growth and to be a witness to the world that Christ's arms on the cross are open for ALL. There will be many issues that we will face in which we will continue to have differing viewpoints and opinions, but the PC(USA) has always pitched a "big tent." The respectful dialogue between folks like the Fellowship of Presbyterians and the Covenant Network of Presbyterians, who have some very different points of view, while pledging to remain within the PC(USA) and focus first on those things which unite us......well, that is a prime example of why I am proud to be a member of the PC(USA) and why I believe God has many great things in store for our church! Thank you for this message, Mr. Parsons!

    by Zac Talbott

    January 5, 2015


  7. I believe our church has succumbed to our ever-increasingly amoral society in interpreting the scripture we say we honor as our authority by substituting "two persons" for "man and woman." I fear the most strident voices have been heard. I am curious as to how many presbyteries besides the one of which my church belongs failed to respond as requested by GA to hold discussions of discernment on this subject following the 2012 GA and to submit their response 3 months prior to the 2014 GA. I believe if others like myself believe that holy matrimony scripturally applies to heterosexuals only would rally their Presbytery Commissioners to defeat the amendment subject to ratification, our church would show the world the we still know how to lead. The LGBT community has many problems and I would not deny to them any civil rights held by heterosexual couples. I have dear friends and relatives with sons and daughter of this community, and I sympathize with their pain and difficulties. I also recognize that too many heterosexual marriages are fraught with infidelity and divorce. Again, our declining culture is blindly following sports and entertainment figures in lauding "new families", scientifically producing children by lesbians utilizing sperm banks and gay men couples contracting with a woman to become impregnated with their sperm and carry a child ...both commercial, monetary endeavors. To me this smacks of the buying and selling of persons as slaves. I hope to at least try to influence the "do not ratify" folks to stand up and be counted. I have asked for a list of those presbyteries who failed to respond to the 2013 to see the likely ones to contact.

    by Ann Larkey

    October 16, 2014


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