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social sciences

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In response to the presbytery's action, the Rev. Scott Clark, a member of the team of lawyers representing Spahr, said, "More and more people actually know lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender folks, and they have to acknowledge our full dignity and our full value." Spahr said, "today, today, this presbytery said we're equal. . . . Love and justice became friends today."

At the 2012 General Assembly, the Presbyterian Church (USA) faced the question of same-sex marriage head on. After rejecting an attempt to restore the "fidelity and chastity" ordination standard, the Assembly considered an amendment that would have changed the definition of marriage from a civil contract between a man and a woman to a contract between two people. After three hours of debate, the amendment narrowly failed on a vote of 338 to 308.

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The vote was closer than expected. Moreover, proponents of marriage equality in the Church took comfort in the fact that younger members of the Assembly expressed support for same-sex marriage more strongly than older members. The prospects are good that the Presbyterian Church (USA) will soon endorse marriage equality.

In addition, the General Assembly implored members of the Church to engage in prayerful deliberation upon the understanding of marriage between same-gender couples and directed the Office of Worship, Theology and Education to prepare a study guide to review established Church policy and practice on marriage.

Another important development was the approval of a new translation of the Heidelberg Catechism by more than two-thirds of the presbyteries. If approved again by the 2014 General Assembly, the new, more accurate translation will remove the phrase "homosexual perversion" from the Book of Confessions.

There is no doubt that the PCUSA is deeply divided on the question of homosexuality and profoundly weary of the continual discussion of the issue. At the same time, it is also clear that the battle for full and equal participation by glbtq members is nearly won. That victory may turn out to be at the cost of losing membership and congregations, but that may itself lead to a less contentious and more unified denomination.

But not all the congregations who are leaving the Presbyterian Church (USA) are doing so because the Church has become too gay-friendly. Progressive congregations are also exhausted by the continuous wrangling over the issue of homosexuality in the Church.

For example, the historic West Hollywood Presbyterian Church, which was the first PCUSA congregation to hire an openly gay minister, 27 years before the denomination permitted the ordination of sexually active gay and lesbian clergy, announced in 2012 that it was leaving the denomination because of what its pastor, the Rev. Daniel Smith, described as "the core-level homophobia in the Presbyterian Church." The congregation voted to affiliate with the United Church of Christ, where homosexuality has been less contentious on the denominational level.

Smith said, Presbyterians led the charge for civil rights in the 1960s, but have lagged far behind on gay rights. "We so deserve to be part of a denomination where we do not have to spend all our time and energy fighting for our rightful place at Christ's table," he said. "We're the first, but we won't be the last progressive church to leave."

Other Presbyterian Denominations in North America

If the Presbyterian Church (USA) may be described as deeply divided but on a trajectory toward the full acceptance of glbtq people within the denomination, most other North American Presbyterian denominations are much less welcoming.

The Presbyterian Church in America (about 375,000 members), the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church (about 40,000 members), the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (about 30,000 members), and the Presbyterian Church in Canada (about 120,000 members) condemn homosexual acts as incompatible with Biblical values. The Orthodox Presbyterian Church also views homosexual orientation as sinful. The Evangelical Presbyterian Church (about 140,000 members) allows congregations a great deal of freedom with regard to social issues, but its position paper on the issue declares homosexuality a sin.

By far the most glbtq-supportive of any North American Presbyterian denomination is the United Church of Canada (about 3,000,000 members). Although the United Church of Canada is not purely Presbyterian, it may nevertheless be considered mostly Presbyterian since Presbyterians were the largest constituency in the merger of several denominations in 1925 that formed the Church. Moreover, the resultant Church adopted a Presbyterian church structure. It is organized into Presbyteries and Conferences and governed by a General Council, each having membership of both clergy and lay people. Conference presidents and moderators of the national church may be clergy or lay people.

Over the past four decades, the United Church of Canada's stance on homosexuality has evolved from condemnation to acceptance. From denouncing homosexuality sinful, it has moved to celebrating it as a gift of God. As the most influential Protestant denomination in the country, it has been instrumental in the increased acceptance of glbtq rights, including same-sex marriage, in Canada.

Claude J. Summers

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social sciences >> Overview:  Anglicanism / Episcopal Church

The Anglican Communion, of which the Episcopal Church in the U. S. A. is a part, has dealt with issues of sexuality in complex ways, not all of them favorable to its glbtq membership.

social sciences >> Overview:  Commitment Ceremonies

Similar to heterosexual weddings, commitment ceremonies of same-sex partnerships are legally recognized in some countries, but generally not in the United States.

social sciences >> Overview:  Lutheranism

Lutheranism is riven into numerous denominations, which vary widely in their attitudes toward homosexuality and in their acceptance of gay men and lesbians as full participants in church life.

social sciences >> Overview:  Metropolitan Community Church

The Metropolitan Community Church, a Christian denomination founded to minister to the glbtq community, has grown into a worldwide ministry with over 40,000 members in 18 countries.

social sciences >> Overview:  Roman Catholicism

Historically, the Roman Catholic Church may be the institution most responsible for the suffering of individuals involved in same-sex sexual relationships.

social sciences >> Overview:  Same-Sex Marriage

Lesbian and gay couples have been fighting for the freedom to marry since the dawn of the modern glbtq struggle for equality; despite some success abroad, progress toward same-sex marriage in the United States has been slow.

social sciences >> Overview:  Southern Baptists

The Southern Baptists have become the most intolerant of the major American religious denominations, especially (but not exclusively) for their opposition to equal rights for gay men and lesbians.

social sciences >> Overview:  Spirituality

Today's glbtq spirituality movements must be seen as part of a long history in which gender-special people were considered sacred to their tribe or family because of their obvious spiritual gifts.

social sciences >> Overview:  Unitarians / Universalists

The Unitarian Universalist church in the United States has been outspoken in support of human rights--including, since 1970, those of the glbtq community.

social sciences >> Overview:  United Church of Canada

The United Church of Canada has been instrumental in the increased acceptance of glbtq rights, including same-sex marriage, in Canada.

social sciences >> Overview:  United Church of Christ / Congregationalism

The United Church of Christ has attempted to make its churches a "place of extravagant welcome" for glbtq people.

social sciences >> Overview:  United Kingdom II: 1900 to the Present

Twentieth-century efforts to reform British law and public opinions about homosexuality met with mixed results, but at the beginning of the twenty-first century the United Kingdom has emerged as a leader in recognizing the rights of its glbtq citizens.


Ball, Molly. "The Quiet Gay-Rights Revolution in America's Churches." The Atlantic (August 14, 2013):

Carrell, Severin. "Church of Scotland Votes to Allow Gay Ministers." The Guardian (May 20, 2013):

Church of Scotland website:

"Church Rules against Spahr." The Advocate (August 27, 2010):

Covenant Network website:

Goodstein, Laurie. "Presbyterians Approve Ordination of Gay People." New York Times (May 10, 2011):

Honan, Edith. "U.S. Presbyterian Church at Crossroads over Gay Marriage." Reuters (July 14, 2012):

Kaleem, Jaweed. "Gay Marriage at Presbyterian Church (USA) General Assembly Voted Down." Huffington Post (July 6, 2012):

La Ganga, Mary L. "California Presbytery Defies Church, Backs Minister in Gay Weddings." Los Angeles Times (May 16, 2012):

_____. "Hers is the Ministry of 'Yes.'" Los Angeles Times (January 4, 2011):

_____. "West Hollywood Parish Leaves Presbyterian Church over Gay Rights." Los Angeles Times (June 5, 2012):

More Light Presbyterians website:

Munro, Alistair, and Craig Brown. "Church of Scotland Faces Breakaway over Gay Clergy." The Scotsman (August 19, 2013):

Presbyterian Church (USA) website:

Scanlon, Leslie. "Court Clears Way for Larges' Ordination." Outlook (May 2, 2012):

That All May Freely Serve website:

Young, Eric. "Court Blocks Presbyterian Lesbian's Third Attempt at Ordination." Christian Post (March 25, 2009):


    Citation Information
    Author: Summers, Claude J.  
    Entry Title: Presbyterianism  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2013  
    Date Last Updated August 26, 2013  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2013 glbtq, Inc.  


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