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Posts for June, 2014

Presbyterian Church (USA) votes to allow marriages

Timothy Kincaid

June 19th, 2014

With 2.8 million members, the Presbyterian Church (USA) is the eighth largest Protestant denomination in the United States. And as we reported yesterday, the denomination is meeting this week in Detroit, where its Marriage Committee passed recommendations that the denomination clarify their support for marriage equality. They have now done so.

Detroit News

The U.S. Presbyterian Church’s highest council Thursday voted to sanction same-sex marriage.

The assembly approved an amendment to the church constitution that would redefine marriage as between “two people” instead of “a man and a woman.” It also approved allowing its ministers to perform marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples in states where same-sex marriages are legal.

The amendment to the Book of Order will require ratification by the presbyteries. But, for all practical effect, same-sex marriages may now be officiated and blessed within Presbyterian churches.

A liveblog of the proceedings is provided by More Light Presbyterians.

Presbyterian committee approves change to specifically allow marriage

Timothy Kincaid

June 18th, 2014

The Presbyterian Church (USA) is meeting this week in Detroit for its biennial assembly. One of the items up for consideration is whether the church will change language so at to clarify that Presbyterian ministers are free to conduct same-sex marriages.

One method by which pro-gay Presbyterians are requesting this clarification is by means of Authoritative Interpretation, a way not of changing the Book of Order, but of interpreting what its language means. At present, the Book of Order does not specifically prohibit same-sex marriages, though a 1991 Authoritative Interpretation finds within the existing language a disallowance. A new Authoritative Interpretation could find otherwise. Specifically, 10-03 would allow individual pastors to follow their conscience when deciding whether to officiate at same-sex weddings.

The supporters also are seeking to amend the Book of Order to change language that describes (though not necessarily defines) marriage as between “a man and a woman” to be “two people”. This is 10-02.

Yesterday the marriage committee met and supported both positions. (More Light Presbyterians)

AI 10-03 passed with 51 in favor and 18 opposed. If approved at plenary, this AI would give teaching elders (pastors) immediate relief and authority of conscience in states with civil marriage equality.

The other AIs were considered and voted as being answered by the committee’s response to the first AI, thus making 10-03 the piece of business the committee recommends to the larger assembly.

Next under consideration came 10-02, which would be an Amendment to the Book of Order changing the description of marriage. As the afternoon hours progressed at a good clip, movement was swift to get a motion on the floor and seconded to approve 10-02. Next came the amendments to protect conservative PCUSA pastors who may choose not to perform same-gender ceremonies.

The committee voted with 49 in favor and18 opposed to amend the Book of Order of PCUSA to change marriage language allowing inclusion and equality for same-gender covenants and a freedom of conscience amendment, allowing pastors who oppose same-gender marriage as a matter of faith, the discretion to not preside at said marriages.

Both positions will be brought up before the General Assembly later in the week. Should the Amendment to the Book of Order pass the General Assembly, it will need ratification by a majority of presbyteries (regional bodies).

Presbyterians may marry but not conduct same-sex marriages

Timothy Kincaid

November 2nd, 2012

The Presbyterian Church (USA) is likely the next to allow their ministers to conduct same-sex weddings. A proposal to make the change lost narrowly in April (338-308) and most observers anticipate that a similar proposal will pass in 2014. But for now, Presbyterian ministers may not officiate.

However, in a sign that the denomination is most definitely moving in that direction, the church’s highest court just ruled that while ministers cannot participate as an officiant at a wedding, they can participate as spouse. (Christian Post)

The highest judicial commission of the Louisville-based Presbyterian Church (USA) cleared last week a New Jersey pastor who married her same-sex partner in Massachusetts, stating that she was allowed to get married, but not to officiate a same-sex wedding.

The Rev. Laurie McNeill married her partner, Lisa Lynn Golligue in 2009 at an Episcopal Church on Cape Cod, which was presided over by ministers from the Episcopal Church and the United Church of Christ. Although from New Jersey, the couple had to travel to Massachusetts for the ceremony, where same-sex marriage is legal.

Minnesota church ladies get active about the marriage ban amendment

Timothy Kincaid

July 11th, 2012

The nice polite church ladies in well manicured and politically conservative suburban Minnesota neighborhood have become inspired by the proposed amendment to prohibit gay marriage. So fired up, in fact, that they’ve decided to see if they can make the difference in the election.

They want it to fail. (Atlantic)

It started with Gwin Pratt, a senior pastor at St. Luke Presbyterian Church, which has a long history of advocating for gay rights. After the Minnesota State Legislature voted to include the amendment on the ballot, the congregation began an outreach plan to to oppose it. Cindy Eyden, a member of St. Luke, suggested buying rainbow flags in bulk and distributing them to anyone in the community who was interested. What she didn’t know was that her idea would go viral.

Maureen Henderson, a fellow St. Luke congregant, was quick to follow Eyden’s lead. “They were selling these rainbow flags, only $2.50 for this full size, beautiful flag, and I looked at it, and bought a whole bunch of flags.” Henderson told herself “I’m going to go home to my neighborhood, and see, in our community, if one by one we can hand them out and then together start to address this issue.”

So off Henderson went to her home in Eden Prairie, a suburb of 60,000 filled with white-collar professionals, 94 percent of whom are Caucasian. That afternoon, she started going door to door with flags in hand. She was quickly joined by her neighbor Wendy Ivins. They took the picture-perfect neighborhood by storm, engaging their neighbors in respectful conversations. Soon, more and more rainbow flags began to appear in the sleepy cul de sacs, planted on large lots and hanging from wood porches.

Yep, I teared up.

You know that you’ve lost the “protect marriage” battle, when…

Timothy Kincaid

July 6th, 2012

… the Presbyterian Church (USA) comes just narrowly votes down allowing same-sex marriages (338 to 308) and everyone knows that it will pass in two years. (HuffPo)

After more than three hours of debate at the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s biennial General Assembly in Pittsburgh, voters struck down a proposal to legalize same-sex marriage, 338-308; no voters abstained.

The decision at the General Assembly, which is made up of pastors and lay people, means that pro-same sex marriage activists must wait two years until the church’s next national meeting to make marriage-related proposals.

But the climate for a same-sex marriage vote could be on the activists’ side in the future. During deliberations and several votes on different versions of marriage proposals on Thursday, younger members of the church expressed support for same-sex marriage much more strongly than the church’s older members. Church surveys also show an increasingly pro-same-sex marriage stance as the younger Presbyterians gain more leadership positions.

Californian Presbyterians defy the church

Timothy Kincaid

May 16th, 2012

The Northern California branch of the Presbyterian Church (USA) has basically told the church’s court that it can go pound sand. And in mostly united voice. (LA Times)

The Presbytery of the Redwoods, which governs churches from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Oregon border, voted 74 to 18 Tuesday to reject the church’s official denunciation and instead support the Rev. Jane Adams Spahr, who had been found guilty by an ecclesiastical court of violating the Presbyterian Constitution and her ordination vows for marrying 16 same-sex couples.

Church officials said they believe that never before in the history of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has a presbytery defied the wishes of its highest court in this fashion.

Get that? That’s 80% of delegates who said no.

They didn’t just “defy the wishes”, they defied the church and in language that is impossible to ignore. It wasn’t just that times have changed or that we must be inclusive or some mushy-gushy love everyone response. Rather, they said that to rebuke Spahr would be “inconsistent with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” In other words, equality isn’t despite the gospel message, it IS the gospel message.

It will be fascinating – truly fascinating – to see the consequence. This is the first time that I can recall that a region has said, in essence, “Scism? What schism? We’re proud Presbyterians standing for justice and just what are you going to do about it? Ya gunna kick us out?” Come July, they will get their answer.

I think it likely that the General Presbytery will vote for equality. But it certainly is going to be pins and needles. And Presbyterian theologian Robert Gagnon is going to be pissed!

The Daily Agenda for Saturday, October 8

Jim Burroway

October 8th, 2011

TODAY’S AGENDA (OURS):
First Openly Gay Ordination for the Presbyterian Church, USA: Madison, WI. Last May, the Presbyterian Church USA became the fourth mainline Protestant Church to allow the ordination of openly gay clergy. Today, that promise becomes a reality as Scott Anderson is ordained at Covenant Presbyterian Church in Madison, Wisconsin. The Princeton Theological Seminary graduate had served as Co-Moderator of More Light Presbyterians before moving to Madison to become the Executive Director of the Wisconsin Council of Churches.

Anderson’s ordination will mark his return to a ministry he was forced to abandon twenty-one years ago. In 1990, while working as a parish minister in Sacramento, he was threatened with exposure by a couple who wanted him to help raise money for a cause they were advancing that he disagreed with. Rather than submit to the couple’s threats, he outed himself instead, and in keeping with the church’s rules he stepped down as minister and embarked on the long process of working to change the church’s stance toward ordination of openly gay people. Anderson will be supported by his partner of twenty-one years at today’s ordination. Anderson is being ordained by the John Knox Presbytery, which consists of 60 congregations in Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin.

AIDS Walks This Weekend: Columbus, OH; Indianapolis, IN and Kent/Sussex, DE.

Pride Celebrations This Weekend: Atlanta, GA; Orlando, FL; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and Tucson, AZ.

Also This Weekend: Iris Prize Film Festival, Cardiff, UK.

TODAY’S AGENDA (THEIRS):
Values Voter Summit: Washington, D.C. Whenever the Family “Research” Council and the American Family Association team up to put on their annual Values Voter Summit, you can pretty much guarantee that they will more than live up to their reputation for being on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s list of anti-gay hate groups. Yesterday, we saw GOP presidential candidate Sen. Rick Santorum give his most bizarre qualification yet for the presidency, when he told the conference that voters should “look at who they lay down with at night and what they believe.” That will be hard to top, although Liberty Counsel’s Mat Staver gave it his best shot by saying that gay equality will lead to the destruction of Western Civilization.

Today’s lineup will be about as crazy as yesterday’s. The AFA’s Bryan Fischer, whose sheer lunacy knows no bounds, will be a featured speaker, along with FRC’s Tom McClusky and Tony Perkins, National Organization for Marriage’s Brian Brown, American Values’ Gary Bauer, AFA’s Ed Vitagliano, Alliance Defense Fund’s Alan Sears, Eagle Forum’s Phyllis Schlafly, Glenn Beck and Bishop Harry Jackson, among many others. GOP Presidential candidates speaking today will be Texas Rep. Ron Paul and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

If you know of something that belongs on the agenda, please send it here. Don’t forget to include the basics: who, what, when, where, and URL (if available).

And feel free to consider this your open thread for the day. What’s happening in your world?

Church of Scotland lifts moratorium

Timothy Kincaid

May 23rd, 2011

Four hundred fifty years ago, the Scottish Parliament adopted the Protestant Confession of Faith and established the Church of Scotland influenced by the theology of John Calvin and based on the teachings and administrative structure of John Knox. Immigrants to the Americas from Scotland brought this faith with them and it became known as Presbyterianism.

So it is fitting that this month has a parallel movement between the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the Church of Scotland. (Guardian)

Scotland’s largest protestant church has voted to allow gay men and lesbians to become ministers.

The Church of Scotland imposed a temporary ban after the appointment of Scott Rennie, a gay minister, to a church in Aberdeen in 2009.

The general assembly, the church’s law-making body, voted on Monday morning to lift that moratorium, officially allowing gay ministers to take on parishes for the first time since it was founded in 1560-1 by John Knox, a leading figure in the Scottish reformation.

The Church of Scotland hold religious prominence in the country with about 40% of Scots identifying with the denomination (a plurality) though only about 9% of Scottish residents are active members of the Kirk.

It is yet to be determined whether gay ministers will be required to live in celibacy or whether those in committed relationship may serve. And only time will tell whether threats of schism will materialize.

Presbyterian Church Approves Gay Ordination

Jim Burroway

May 11th, 2011

Earlier this month, Timothy Kincaid wrote that the Presbyterian Church was on the cusp of allowing gay non-celibate ministers in committed relationships to be ordained. At the time, 80 regional presbyteries had ratified the change of 87 needed, with 33 left to vote. Last week, the Presbyterian Church (USA) reached that milestone:

With the vote of its regional organization in Minnesota, the Presbyterian Church USA became the fourth mainline Protestant church to allow gay ordination, following the Episcopal and Evangelical Lutheran churches and the United Church of Christ. The Minnesota vote was closely followed by one in Los Angeles.

This is the fourth time the Presbyterian Church has voted on gay ordination, with each vote becoming more progressively pro-gay. One elder and deacon explained why she was among those who had changed her mind with this vote.

“I finally decided at the age of 63 that it is inevitable,” she said. “I think it’s like letting black people come to white churches, or letting women become ministers. It’s inevitable.”

Still, she couldn’t help but express surprise. “For the Presbyterian Church, which is a mainline church, a graying church, it’s something.”

The Presbyterian Church currently does not sanction same-sex marriage. In 2010, the church narrowly defeated a proposal to change the qualifications for marriage from “man and woman” to “two persons.” This vote may well be a harbinger for a change to the church’s stand on marriage in the near future.

Presbyterian Church (USA) Amendment 10-A

Timothy Kincaid

May 6th, 2011

People of faith tend to take their faith seriously. They are not casual or whimsical, they do not respond to readily trends or opinion polls. In their efforts to know truth, they are careful and cautious. And those who join together in denomination genuinely strive to coalesce around a shared agreement over God’s divine will and how Man should respond.

Those of us who see institutionalized rejection and mistreatment of gay people coming from denominations can be impatient. We marvel how people who see themselves as the hands of Christ can be so very unlike the Christ they serve. While a good many Mainline Christian denominations are in the process of debate over gay Christians and gay citizens, we wonder what is taking so long, what could possibly be the holdup?

But we should be mindful that among Protestant faiths, the development of church policy is very different from civil politics.

Change comes slowly in a community that is unwilling to demonize brothers and sisters who disagree. Those who have come into a more contextualized understanding of where gay people fit in the fabric of life, of community, of the church approach things differently than do activists.

While we seek to win, to get votes, to defeat those who would hurt us, communities of faith are as concerned about those who will be hurt by the change as they are about those who are hurt now. It grieves gay Christians when anti-gay Christians feel that denominational change contradicts their convictions. So much more emphasis is give to persuasion, to prayer, to contemplation.

But when change occurs, it is real and permanent.

Because they are aware that change leads to hurt feelings and division, many church leaders will only adopt change when they are convinced that it is absolutely necessary. Often those who are personally committed to equality will vote against change because they believe that dissent and division is more disruptive to the Body of Christ than are indignities experienced by those whom they support. So when they vote for change, it is not just out of political expediency, but because they believe that they are called to do so by God.

Perhaps the most important thing that we must recognize about supportive churches and religious organizations is this:

Those communities of faith which support us do not do so despite their beliefs; they do so because of their beliefs.

And change is occurring. Significant, major change – the sort that defines “the Christian perspective” and which informs culture. The kind of change that moves the paradigm from “Christians v. gays” to “Conservative Christians v. Mainline Christianity.” The change that says that voting for gay rights is not “against God” but just against tradition.

One such change is within the Presbyterian Church (USA).

Currently gay ministers are allowed to be ordained by the church and to serve as pastors to those congregations that select them. However, as Christian theology has traditionally considered sexual expression outside of marriage to be sinful and has only recognized marriage to be a union of a man and a woman, this resulted in policy that excluded gay men and women who were in relationships.

Those who are called to office in the church are to lead a life in obedience to Scripture and in conformity to the historic confessional standards of the church. Among these standards is the requirement to live either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman (W-4.9001), or chastity in singleness. Persons refusing to repent of any self-acknowledged practice which the confessions call sin shall not be ordained and/or installed as deacons, elders, or ministers of the Word and Sacrament.

But within the Presbyterian Church there became a growing awareness that such rules – while supportable by traditional interpretation of specific scriptures – were inconsistent with the way in which the church understood Scripture and how it instructed believers to interact with each other. It placed dogmatic interpretations of prohibitions above viewing God’s servants as people, making the following of rules more important than justice and mercy.

And so, in July of 2010, the General Convention of the PC(USA) voted to change the language to

Standards for ordained service reflect the church’s desire to submit joyfully to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in all aspects of life (G-1.0000). The governing body responsible for ordination and/or installation (G.14.0240; G-14.0450) shall examine each candidate’s calling, gifts, preparation, and suitability for the responsibilities of office. The examination shall include, but not be limited to, a determination of the candidate’s ability and commitment to fulfill all requirements as expressed in the constitutional questions for ordination and installation (W-4.4003). Governing bodies shall be guided by Scripture and the confessions in applying standards to individual candidates.

This change would allow local bodies to be “guided by Scripture and the confessions” in applying standards. But it is universally understood that the purpose for this change was to allow for the ordination and service of gay Presbyterians in positions of leadership within the church.

However, as the Presbyterian Church is designed to be democratic, a majority of the regional affiliations are required to approve such a change. And it finally appears that such approval is now likely. Before it can become effective, the change must be ratified by 87 regional presbyteries. So far, 80 have already done so and 33 are yet to vote.

The Presbyterian Church narrowly opted not to change its definition of marriage in 2010 from “man and woman” to “two persons”. But the significant support for gay ministers in committed relationships bodes well for such a future change.

Yes, you violated our stupid anti-gospel rulebook

Timothy Kincaid

August 27th, 2010

Jane Spahr is in trouble again. A lesbian Presbyterian Church (USA) minister in Northern California, she has for years been dancing on the very edge of the church’s policy towards gay couples.

In 2006 she was convicted in church court for celebrating gay unions, but in April of 2008 the church’s highest court decided that as she had not actually quite broken church rules because the ceremonies she celebrated were not marriages.

But then along came the California Supreme Court decision that legalized same-sex marriage. And what do you suppose Jane went and did?

Yep, you guessed it. She conducted legal same-sex marriages.

So now again the regional court has found Spahr guilty of breaking the rules. (AP)

A regional commission of the Presbyterian Church (USA) ruled 4-2 that the Rev. Jane Spahr of San Francisco “persisted in a pattern or practice of disobedience” by performing the weddings in 2008 before Proposition 8 banned the unions in the state.

But while they found her “guilty”, they made it perfectly clear that they supported her guilt.

At the same time, however, the tribunal devoted most of its 2 1/2-page ruling to praising the 68-year-old pastor, a lesbian who founded a church group in the early 1990s for gay Presbyterians.

Spahr was acknowledged “for her prophetic ministry” and “faithful compassion. The commissioners called on the broader church to use her example “to re-examine our own fear and ignorance.”

“In the reality in which we live today, marriage can be between same gender as well as opposite gender persons, and we, as a church, need to be able to respond to this reality as Dr. Jane Spahr has done with faithfulness and compassion,” the ruling stated.

The tribunal gave her a “reprimand”, the church equivalent of “Naughty girl, Jane, shame on you. Would you like a lollipop?” Because while they condemned her breaking of the policy, their real criticism was toward the policy itself. (LA Times)

“In addition, we call upon the church to reexamine our own fear and ignorance that continues to reject the inclusiveness of the gospel of Jesus Christ,” the decision said. “We say this believing that we have in our own Book of Order conflicting and even contradictory rules and regulations that are against the gospel.”

Spahr will appeal the verdict. The PC(USA) may well be next in the line of mainline churches who are finding ways for their congregations to honor the same-sex couples in their midst. And until they are fully inclusive, Jane will be there prodding them on.

Presbyterian Church does not amend their definition of marriage

Timothy Kincaid

July 9th, 2010

By narrow margins and by use of some strategic procedural methods, the committee recommendation to change the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s definition of marriage from “one man and one woman” to “two people” were not adopted by the general convention.

The committee report, which recommended the change, was instead sent to the larger church for continued study (along with a minority report calling for keeping the exclusive language). Then a procedural move allowed conservatives to block the convention from considering whether individual churches or ministers could have discretion in their own blessing of marriages.

Just prior to the Assembly’s action, the body accepted the recommendation of the General Assembly Civil Union and Marriage Issues Committee to approve the report of the Special Committee to Study Issues of Civil Union and Christian Marriage by a vote of 439-208. The Assembly decided to send both the special committee report and the minority report generated by three members of the special committee to the larger church for study after a motion to replace the final report with the minority report was defeated, 358-311.

Following that action was a parliamentary maneuver that resulted in the Assembly voting to let the approval of the special committee report “answer all pending items” on the remaining Assembly committee’s list of overtures that included changing the definition of marriage to “two people,” giving pastors and sessions discretion in deciding who may marry and whether they may use church property for the ceremony.

The vote was 348-324, with six commissioners abstaining.

So marriage will stay status quo for another two years in the PC(USA).

However, this convention did advance equality for gay Presbyterians. Provided that the presbyteries sanction the decision, the church will now let gay men and women who are in relationships serve in the church.

Presbyterian update

Timothy Kincaid

July 8th, 2010

The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) voted 373 to 323 on the following wording change:

“b. Those who are called to office in the church are to lead a life in obedience to Scripture and in conformity to the historic confessional standards of the church. Among these standards is the requirement to live either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman (W-4.9001), or chastity in singleness. Persons refusing to repent of any self-acknowledged practice which the confessions call sin shall not be ordained and/or installed as deacons, elders, or ministers of the Word and Sacrament. Standards for ordained service reflect the church’s desire to submit joyfully to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in all aspects of life (G-1.0000). The governing body responsible for ordination and/or installation (G.14.0240; G-14.0450) shall examine each candidate’s calling, gifts, preparation, and suitability for the responsibilities of office. The examination shall include, but not be limited to, a determination of the candidate’s ability and commitment to fulfill all requirements as expressed in the constitutional questions for ordination and installation (W-4.4003). Governing bodies shall be guided by Scripture and the confessions in applying standards to individual candidates.

This means that, if this change is approved by the various presbyteries, the Presbyterian Church (USA) will allow the ordination of gay and lesbian ministers who are in relationships (celibate singles are already allowed).

Tomorrow the convention will probably vote tomorrow on whether to change their definition of marriage to include same-sex couples.

Presbyterians move closer to full inclusion

Timothy Kincaid

July 6th, 2010

The Presbyterian Church (USA) is meeting in Minneapolis this week and high on the agenda is how to deal with gay and lesbian Presbyterians in committed relationships. And two decisions made so far give promise that this year may result in steps towards greater inclusion.

The first action was the election of gay ally Cindy Bolbach as Moderator of the 219th General Assembly (2010).

Only one question from the floor touched upon any of the several controversial issues that this Assembly will tackle in the coming week: whether to change the constitutional definition of marriage from “between a man and a woman” to “between two people.”

Four candidates – Leeth, Nielsen, Kim and Belle – endorsed support for the traditional definition. Though same-sex marriage is not legal in her native North Carolina, Lauterer said “in states where it’s legal, the church should have a part in that union … Covenant makes the community stronger.”

Only Bolbach expressed unqualified support for same-sex marriage. “Who poses the greatest threat – Larry King, who’s been married seven times, or a gay couple [friends of hers] in Washington, D.C., who have been together for 62 years and who got married two weeks ago?” Same-sex marriage is legal in the District of Columbia and five states.

Bolbach, who is a lawyer and legal publishing company executive in Washington, acknowledged, “I don’t think our denomination is ready for [changing the definition of marriage], but what do pastors do in jurisdictions where same-sex marriage is legal?”

Bolbach lives in just such a jurisdiction.

Yesterday, the church addressed correcting a 1960’s mistranslation of the Heidelberg Catechism which included language not in the original German. This additional language (in part of the response to Quetion 87) made anti-gay theological interpretations a matter of catechism. In 2008 the church directed a panel review the issue and respond this year.

Additionally, the Belhar Confession came out of South Africa as a consequence of apartheid and calls for racial equality. It declares that God is on the side of those who been oppressed or who have had injustice engaged against them. It is a strong call against segregating groups or treating people unequally and has been used as support for full inclusion of gay men and women, a connection made stronger by opposition to the Confession from those who oppose gay equality in the church.

The Committee on Theological Issues and Institutions furthered the effort to revise the Heidelberg Catechism and to adopt the Belhar Confession.

The committee concurred, 51-4, with the report to appoint the presently constituted Special Committee to recommend to the 220th General Assembly (2012) a new translation of the present Heidelberg Catechism in The Book of Confessions in cooperation with the Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRCNA) and the Reformed Church of America (RCA), and to consider inclusion of appropriate scriptural citations and/or textual references that correspond to each article.

Following a lengthy and thoughtful process, the committee concurred, 43-11-1, with the Special Committee’s recommendation that the 219th General Assembly (2010) approve the inclusion of the Belhar Confession in The Book of Confessions, and that the amendment be sent to the presbyteries for their affirmative or negative votes by June 2011.

And today a committee soundly rejected a restrictive definition of marriage.

The 219th General Assembly Committee on Civil Union and Marriage Issues voted 47-8-2 Monday to approve a report that urges Presbyterians to further study the issues and stay in covenant with each other while they do so.

The report of the Special Committee to Study Issues of Civil Union and Christian Marriage, signed by 10 of its 13 members, passed the Assembly committee with minor amendments.

The committee rejected a minority report submitted by three members of the special committee. The minority report, which stated that “only marriage between a man and a woman is ordained by God,” was defeated 40-15, with one abstention.

Additionally, the Committee on Civil Union and Marriage Issues seems to be making some astonishing adjustments to church language. For example,

1. Shall W-4.9001 be amended as follows: [Text to be deleted is shown with a strike-through; text to be added or inserted is shown as italic.]

“Marriage is a gift God has given to all humankind for the well-being of the entire human family. Marriage is a civil contract between a woman and a man two people. For Christians marriage is a covenant through which a man and a woman two people are called to live out together before God their lives of discipleship. In a service of Christian marriage a lifelong commitment is made by a woman and a man to each other between two people, publicly witnessed and acknowledged by the community of faith.”

The vote was affirmative 34 to 18 with two abstentions.

The decisions are not all going in the favor of gay Presbyterians, but there is plenty to be happy about. More Light Presbyterians are providing live-blogging and other coverage from their facebook site.

We must keep in mind that these committee decisions do not, in themselves, place gay people on an equal standing in the Presbyterian Church; there are still a number of hurdles to clear. But they are steps towards that standing and are encouraging signs of what the future holds for gay Presbyterians and gay Christians on the whole.

What Does Ex-Gay Consolidation Mean?

Timothy Kincaid

August 12th, 2009

Exodus International is growing. Or, to be exact, they are going to be taking over functions previously administered by other organizations.

The largest and best know of these is the Love Won Out conferences previously run by Focus on the Family. Blaming a lack of finances, Focus is reassigning the conferences to Exodus. This is a move that is logical and will probably help both organization focus on their own mission.

But there was another consolidation that occured last month that is even more interesting. on July 17, Focus’ news site CitizenLink announced:

One by One, an outreach equipping the Presbyterian and Reformed faith communities to compassionately and effectively address biblical sexuality and Transforming Congregations, a likeminded ministry to The United Methodist Church, announced plans to merge with Exodus International. Exodus is the world’s largest Christian outreach to those dealing with same-sex attraction.

Together, the ministries will form a new division under the leadership of Exodus that will equip church leaders worldwide to break the polarizing debate over homosexuality through an approach that is both biblically orthodox and truly compassionate.

One by One came out of a Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) conference in 1994. They are a ministry within the Presbyterian and Reformed faith communities and, as such, have traditions and religious perspectives that are a bit outside the fundamentalist/charasmatic/megachurch affiliations that seem to dominate Exodus’ spiritual sphere. One by One’s website expresses an intention to establish a church network, but there does not seem to be one in place. They seem, to my eyes at least, to be less harsh and less political than either Exodus or Transforming Congregations.

Transforming Congregations was founded in 1988 to address the issue of homosexuality within the United Methodist Church. At one time it had at least 75 congregations that affiliated with the organization. However, now Transforming Congregations is a national education and lobby group within the church and they have for some while left individual ministry to Exodus.

Over the years, we have found that to be impractical. A change in pastors or lay leadership often resulted in an “about face” on the issues of human sexuality. Because most of these churches did not request removal, it became virtually impossible to keep our list accurately updated. So now we refer folk to the Exodus International Church Network.

Neither organization appears to be focused primarily on individual one-on-one ministry or even on addressing the specific needs of same-sex attracted congregants. Rather, they seem to be organizations within their denominations that seek to support and encourage those who have an anti-gay theology and to encourage others who may not yet have addressed the issue of the roll of gay men and women within the body of faith.

One by One’s mission statement is:

OneByOne’s mission is to educate and equip the church to minister the transforming grace and power of Jesus Christ to those in conflict with their sexuality. OneByOne’s goal is therefore two-fold: (1) to serve as a resource for educational material; and (2) to help create and/or support local ministries to those struggling with sexual brokenness, including but not limited to homosexuality. OneByOne representatives are available to provide seminars and workshops for church leaders and/or members who want to learn how to minister Christ’s compassion without compromising Christ’s standards.

And that of Transforming Ministries is:

Our Purpose: Equipping the Church to model and minister sanctified sexuality through Biblical instruction … Personal and Public Witness … Compassionate Outreach

So it seems clear that Exodus is not merging with external collections of congregations to increase their base size. Nor are they establishing new relationships; these two organizations – along with Focus’ Love Won Out – already work closely with Exodus.

What they are getting, is two mainline denomination affiliated groups that are, as best I can tell, dropping the denomination affiliation and becoming a “project” of Exodus, an outreach to mainline churches under the Exodus label. They are picking up two voices for anti-gay theology from a mainline perspective.

Why?

I can, of course, only speculate. But here’s what I think is happening:

Mainline churches are adopting a welcoming and affirming approach to gay Christians at an astonishing rate. While neither the PC(USA) or the UMC are as fully inclusive as, say, the United Church of Christ or the Episcopal Church, they are steadily marching in that direction. “Compassionate” condemnation, such as that coming from such Presbyterians as Dr. Robert Gagnon or Methodists like Karen Booth is increasingly seen by their fellow worshipers as bigotry and outside of the message of Christ.

If I had to guess, I’d suppose that Exodus is recognizing that anti-gay activism is losing the home front. Perhaps they are wanting to let up on some of the anti-gay political activism and bolster their forces in the pews. And that may be reflected also in Exodus pulling a bit away from the highly political Focus on the Family.

So it may well be that these groups are experiencing fatigue and losing heart. Perhaps they think it best to retreat and consolidate resources so as to present one face of anti-gay protestant Christian response to same-sex attracted persons.

But that comes at a cost. Those who fight from without are never as strong as those who fight from within. I very much doubt that Exodus can be as effective a lobbyist on church policy in either the PC(USA) or the UMC as were One by One or Transforming Ministries. And neither organization was, frankly, doing that great of a job to begin with.

We’ll have to wait and see what eventually happens as a result of this transition.

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