The Presbyterian Church and Homosexuality in the U.S.: Timeline

1968 November A Brooklyn Heights Presbyterian church holds a “two-hour worship service and symposium on the subject of homosexuality,” which includes a performance of part of the gay themed off-Broadway play “The Boys in the Band.” The pastor of the church, Rev. William Glenesk, claims that the sermon is necessary because “we must look at one another with love and compassion….variations of sex are not sin.” [1]

1970 Undated The General Assembly of the United Presbyterian Church releases a statement entitled “Sexuality and the Human Community” which contains a brief section on homosexuality. While the status of homosexuality as a “sin” is maintained, the Assembly also approves a recommendation that calls for the “elimination of laws governing the private sexual behavior of consenting adults.” [2]

1974 Undated Rev. David Bailey Sindt begins the Presbyterian Gay Caucus, which later becomes Presbyterians for Lesbian and Gay Concerns (PLGC), by holding a sign at the General Assembly that asks “Is anyone else out there gay?” [3]

1975 May The Presbyterian Gay Caucus is denied “unofficial organization” status by the General Assembly who “appreciates the representatives as Christian persons,” but “does not condone their sexual orientation and life-style.” [4]

1976 Undated Bill Silver become the first openly gay candidate for ministry in the Presbyterian Church, which opens a lengthy debate within the church over the ordination of homosexuals. Silver ultimately becomes a prominent member of several Presbyterian LGBT groups. [5]

1977 May The results of a questionnaire sent by the 1976 task force to UPCUSA members and pastors indicates that the overwhelming majority would not accept a homosexual pastor and believe that “homosexual activities are not ‘normal and consistent with God’s order.’” [6]

June The UPCUSA General Assembly rejects a proposals to prevent the future ordination of gay ministers, to end the task force established to study homosexuality, and to refer to homosexuality as a “not ‘condoned as a life-style,’” and also states “the need of the Church to stand for the just treatment of homosexual persons…in regard to their civil liberties, equal rights, and protection under the law from social and economic discrimination.” [7]

1978 January The UPCUSA task force studying homosexuality releases a report in which the majority of the group recommends that open homosexuals should not be prevented from ordination or other leadership roles in the church. The study, which also states that homosexual relationships are capable of being “ethically sound,” must go before the General Assembly for approval, and instantly opens the church’s ‘most serious controversy since the Civil War.’ [8]

May The UPCUSA General Assembly “overwhelmingly adopts a report” prohibiting the ordination of open homosexuals, but “strongly endorsing” gay civil rights. The report leaves up to individual clergy the decision to ordain a gays or lesbians who take a vow of celibacy and also officially welcomes gays and lesbians as church members. [9]

Undated The More Light Church Movement, an LGBT organization of PCUSA members that keeps rosters of LGBT-welcoming churches, begins shortly after the General Assembly. [10]

1983 June The UPCUSA and the PCUS merge to produce the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA), thus healing the major schism in the denomination that had occurred during the Civil War over slavery. [11]

1985 June The General Assembly votes down an amendment to the church constitution that would have protected homosexuals from employment discrimination. Additionally, all homosexual acts are declared to be inherently sinful regardless of nature of relationship or degree of commitment. [12]

1987 Undated The General Assembly eliminates church laws governing the private sexual behavior of consenting adults. [13]

1989 June The General Assembly votes to uphold the ban on ordaining homosexuals, while also turning the issue over to the Special Task Force on Human Sexuality for further study. [14]

1990 June At the General Assembly, several of the denomination’s “more several liberal and conservative” groups, including Presbyterians for Lesbian-Gay Concerns and Presbyterians Pro-Life are declared to no longer have official representation. [15]

2011 May 10: After 33 years of debate, The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), with about two million members, voted to change its constitution and approve the ordination of openly gay men and lesbians in same-sex relationships as ministers, elders, and deacons. [16]

 

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Notes

1. New York Times 11/11/1968 p14

2. www.mlp.org/resources/history.html

3. www.mlp.org/resources/history.html; www.lgbtran.org

4. New York Times 05/19/1975 p30

5. www.lgbtran.org

6. Washington Post 05/06/1977 pD20

7. New York Times 06/26/1977 p22; Washington Post 07/01/1977 pC8

8. New York Times 01/23/1978 pA12, Chicago Tribune 01/23/1978 pD3; Washington Post 01/23/1978 pA3; Chicago Tribune 01/24/1978 p14; New York Times 01/29/1978 p51; Washington Post 03/17/1978 pA37; New York Times 05/15/1978 pA16; Washington Post 05/17/1978 p A16

9. New York Times 05/23/1978 pA17; New York Times 05/28/1978 pE16

10. see www.mlp.org/resources/history.html

11. Relgious Tolerance Online

12. Washington Post 06/11/1985 pA7

13. www.mlp.org/resources.oga.html

14. Washington Post 06/17/1989 pC18; www.mlp.org/resources/oga.html

15. New York Times 06/06/1990 pA23

16. New York Times 05/10/2011 pA14, A18