As a result of the PCUSA General Assembly action, could pastors be ‘kenyon-ized’?

samesexBy Sue Cyre

In 1973 Presbyterians faced a controversy when the question of women’s ordination surfaced in Pittsburgh Presbytery.   Walter Kenyon, a graduate of Pittsburgh Seminary, was asked by the Candidates and Credentials Committee of Pittsburgh Presbytery to explain his stand on the ordination of women. Kenyon said he did not believe the Bible supported the ordination of women. He did not wish to see women barred from ministry, but he could not personally perform such ordinations. He was willing to invite another minister to ordain women elders in his church. And he affirmed that he would be willing to work with women elders.

Based on Kenyon’s answer, the Candidates and Credentials Committee of Pittsburgh Presbytery declined to recommend him for ordination. The Presbytery of Pittsburgh, however, reversed the committee’s recommendation and voted to ordain Kenyon. The presbytery’s action led one of its members, Rev. Jack Maxwell, to file a complaint with the synod’s judicial commission.   That court agreed with Maxwell and ruled that the presbytery had acted in error by agreeing to ordain Kenyon.  

The case was then appealed to the General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission (GAPJC) which also upheld the complaint. The GAPJC ruled:

The question of the importance of our belief in the equality of all people before God is thus essential to the disposition in this case. It is evident from our church’s confessional standards that the church believes the Spirit of God has led us into a new understanding of this equality before God.

The Kenyon case occurred in the northern church–the UPCUSA–that merged with the southern church to form the PC(USA) in 1983. The outcome of the case is reflected in the constitution of the PC(USA).

Debates today on whether to ordain or perform weddings for people engaging in same-sex behavior include the argument by supporters of the behavior that “just as the church changed its position on the women’s ordination issue, it must change its position on same-sex behavior.”

Of course the two issues are not at all the same. One involves gender and the other behavior. One has scriptural texts that clearly support women in leadership; the other is a behavior always and everywhere prohibited by Scripture from Genesis to Revelation. Nevertheless, supporters of same-sex behavior liken it to the women’s ordination issue.  

Therefore, what might we expect to happen as a logical outcome of the PC(USA) General Assembly’s recent action?   If supporters of same-sex behavior claim that the church’s change on women’s ordination set the precedent, could we expect the denomination’s courts to agree and mandate that every pastor adhere to a “new understanding of this equality before God,” as they did in the Kenyon case so many years ago?

A single individual could file a complaint with the court that a presbytery acted in error when it voted to allow a minister to transfer into it or be ordained who refused to perform ordinations or weddings for those engaged in same-sex behavior. That would begin the judicial process that ultimately would be decided by a simple majority of the General Assembly’s Permanent Judicial Commission (GAPJC). (Note that the GAPJC consists of one member from each synod. The recent GA approved decreasing the number of synods from 16 to 10-12 which would make the GAPJC majority as few as six people).


Interpreting the Constitution

There are two ways an authoritative interpretation (AI) of the constitution can be made in the PC(USA). The General Assembly can approve an authoritative interpretation of the constitution. That just happened at the June General Assembly where commissioners approved an authoritative interpretation allowing ministers to perform same-sex weddings, even though their interpretation is in direct contradiction to the words of the constitution which define marriage as between a man and a woman.

The other way an authoritative interpretation (AI) is made is by the highest church court–the General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission (GAPJC). When the court decides a case, it is considered an AI of the constitution.

There are words in the amendment being voted on by the presbyteries over the next year that seem to protect ministers from being required to perform same-sex weddings. Given the court’s action in the Kenyon case and the General Assembly’s most recent action, isn’t it likely that the court or another General Assembly will decide that ministers must be willing to ordain–and perform weddings for–those engaged in same-sex behavior?

What will your pastor and session do if this happens?


To read more about how congregations can respond to cultural pressures that often oppose Christian truth, visit


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Two cases established precedents for today’s battles in PCUSA


Comments 20

  • I grew up in a little church that knew that it was the only one who had the truth, the real truth, about proper worship of God. I found the PC(USA) church refreshing and liberating because everyone could speak their understanding without being eliminated from fellowship. I learned that each group of believers had a real part of God’s life, although none could claim the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

    And then I learned that Jesus redeemed creation, everything and everybody, not just those holding fast to a doctrine. Some of us get to enjoy his presence, his teaching, his unconditional love. We are truly blessed. And we know that we lack perfection. He loves us anyway. We cannot earn his love.

    So when I hear squabbles among believers, I assume they have not yet experienced his perfect love.

    We are not judges of each other. We are individual followers of Jesus, under the discipline and direction of the Holy Spirit.

  • Author Sue Cyre tosses off the phrase “always and everywhere prohibited by Scripture from Genesis to Revelation” as if we all agree with the truth of her scripture gloss. Of course, she is wrong, and if any fellow believer Christian can quote even one statement reliably attributed to Our Lord Jesus Christ, wherein He comments on gender identities, homosexual behaviors, male hegemony in evangelism, a priesthood of ONLY males, or any other presently contested sexual matters, we could shut out those fellow sinners Ms Cyre would condemn. But Christ did not rule out our gay brothers and sisters, and in fact our churches did not so discriminate until after the 4th Century CE. Try reading some factual history of our churches’ origins, such as John Boswell’s Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality (1981 American Book Award for History), or for that matter, his The Kindness of Strangers (1988), if you’d like Christ-based guidance on the current child immigrant controversies. Where has Christ’s hospitality gone from this magazine’s representations of the Prince of Peace? Sad.

    • The Biblical exposition of God’s commandments and expectations of obedience consists of more than the four books that contain Jesus’ words. If you base your understanding on such a truncated version of Scripture, than I must assume you have no objection to incest, torture, meth manufacturing, child pornography, or many other generally proscribed behaviors that Jesus himself did not explicitly address. And, of course, you must have some means of explaining away Jesus’ description of marriage as a relationship between one man and one woman. Perhaps Matthew 19:4-6 are not “reliably attributed” to Jesus?

      Oh, and, yes; Kenyonization is inevitable. There is no other way to complete the merger of the PCUSA with the secular Left.

  • I wholeheartedly support full inclusion of women and gays in ordained office and marriage equality in the Christian church. However I want no part of dishonestly sugar coating liberal nostrums as Mr. Sobers does. Decades ago PC(USA) liberals offered their church the same glib assurances on women’s ordination, promising that the issue would always remain a matter of individual church discretion. But liberalism has always had an ugly underbelly of coercion and inevitably women’s ordination in the PC(USA) has evolved from discretion to coercion. Mr. Sobers will contend that lawsuits by gay couples forcing bakers of wedding cakes and wedding photographers to serve gay couples or go out of business is different than black balling uncooperative ministers. But anyone without Mr. Sobers’ biases recognizes that it’s just a matter of time.

  • Really, are you saying anything, or are you just putting stuff together willy nilly ??

  • The argument that progressives will seek “Kenyonization” of the marriage issue is false. Why would any couple want to be married in a church, or have the ceremony presided over by a pastor who doesn’t support them? I, frankly, would never want the most important day of my life ruined by having anyone participate under duress.

    When my partner and I have our civil marriage blessed in our home church, everyone present will be there because they love and support us, not because they are required to be there.

    I have publicly stated that I would oppose any effort to force pastors to preform same-gender weddings, or force Sessions to allow same-gender weddings to be preformed in their sanctuaries. I stand by that statement.

    Nathan Sobers, Co-Moderator, More Light Presbyterians

    • Mr Sobers,

      Kenyonization has nothing to do with someone asking a pastor or Session to be married.

      Kenyonization has everything to do with being blackballed by a Presbytery (or PJC) for not being willing to perform a same sex marriage.

      Kenyonization has everything to do with forcing someone to make a decision to go against their conscience and their understanding of the Word of God, or be out of ministry in the PC(USA).

      Now, based on that definition, can you say this will not happen?

  • I don’t think Kenyon was bothered so much by the fact of women being ordained as rather the way in which the ritual/procedure transpired. The prohibition of women speaking in church (1 Corinthians 14:35) made the search after alternate venues necessary. Proverbs 7:10-17 describes one such clandestine meeting: “10 And, behold, there met him a woman with the attire of an harlot, and subtil of heart.
    11 (She is loud and stubborn; her feet abide not in her house:
    12 Now is she without, now in the streets, and lieth in wait at every corner.)
    13 So she caught him, and kissed him, and with an impudent face said unto him,
    14 I have peace offerings with me; this day have I payed my vows.
    15 Therefore came I forth to meet thee, diligently to seek thy face, and I have found thee.” Kenyon was afraid that a young clergywoman driving about town calling on single men in their homes would raise rumors.

  • Many Presbyterians such as Ms. Cyre have raised the question recently on how PC(USA) progressives justify their claim that no pastor will ever be forced to compromise his/her conscience on gay marriage in light of the evolution of women’s ordination from discretion to coercion. The silence from progressives has been deafening. I’ve posed the question several times on Covenant Network’s website. No response. As a practical matter, however, it’s really a moot point. The PC(USA) is going to end up so far out on the left wing fringe of Presbyterianism that there won’t be any PC(USA) churches or pastors who won’t accommodate gay marriage.

    • Jim,

      Yes there will be.

      There are a number (albeit small and shrinking) of orthodox Reformed pastors who have decided to remain in the PC (USA) for the purpose of standing visibly and firmly as witnesses against the apostate behavior of the councils of the church. We pastor faithful, Christ honoring, Scripture believing congregations who refuse to be silenced by the incessant heresy of the Covenant Network, More Light Presbyterians, TAMFS and their fellow travelers. We’ll be here until the inquisitors come after us — and we’ll remain even then. Our commitment is to Christ, not church councils and apostate bureaucrats.

      “… to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I can do no other, so help me God. Amen.”

      • Rev. Yearsley:

        I’m sure I don’t know the Bible as well as you do but it doesn’t seem like there’s much in Scripture suggesting that we should invest much time or energy in ministering to other Christians whose take on the gospel is different than ours. It seems like you’re consigning yourself to serving out your days in the PC(USA) as it shrinks to the far left wing fringe of Presbyterianism as you sit in presbytery meetings observing how isolated and anachronistic you are in your own denomination. Aren’t there more important, more fruitful ways you can serve the Lord? Maybe the best approach is for everyone across the theological spectrum to pursue the great commission as we understand it and let the Holy Spirit sort things out from there.

        • Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn.
          —Matthew 13:24-30

  • This scenario will not affect my pastors and session, inasmuch as four years ago my congregation voted itself out of Babylon and into the Evangelical Presbyterian Church.

    • Yes, but God knows who his children are, and he didn’t abandon his people–even in Babylon.

      • Certainly, God knows who His children are, and He certainly did not abandon His people in Babylon; after all, He brought them back to the Promised Land after seventy years of captivity there.

        So, are you saying that you’re still held captive in Babylon?

        Or are you saying that God is calling you to stay in Babylon to witness to the Babylonians?

        If the former, what is keeping you there? Is your church going through a Season of Discernment, seeking the Lord’s guidance as to whether to stay or to leave? Is your church in the midst of a lawsuit with your presbytery regarding Babylon’s claim on your church’s property by virtue of its immoral property trust clause? Or do Babylon’s actions sit well with your church?

        If the latter, how’s that working out for you? Are you gathering much fruit among the Babylonians? Are the Babylonians in your presbytery repenting of their worldly ways (e.g., repenting of their denial of the trustworthiness of Scripture [II Tim. 3.16-17, II Pet. 1.19-21], of their denial of salvation exclusively through explicit faith in Jesus Christ alone [Jn. 14.6, Acts 4.12], of their rejection of the Penal Substitutionary Atonement [Is. 53, Rom. 5.8-10, I Thess. 1.10], & of the sinfulness of homosexuality [Lev. 18.22, Rom. 1.24-27, I Cor. 6.9-11, I Tim. 1.9-10]) and turning to Jesus Christ, as He is revealed through Scripture, for their salvation? Or are your struggles against the hardened hearts of the Babylonians distracting you from your mission to reach out to the lost of this world with the good news of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, as He is revealed through Scripture alone, to the glory of God alone (Mt. 28.18-20)?

  • I could not agree more with the comments above from guest. I feel like I am in a college philosophy class. It is very distracting from the real mission of the church. I can’t listen to the poppycock anymore.The Presbyterian Church has become a Political Action Committee.

  • very difficult to take these discussions seriously any more, under the present circumstances, after all that has transpired and been revealed.

    the blind leading the blind.

    • Actually, “how it’s working out for me” is not an accurate indicator of my place in God’s eternal plan. And even though most of the leaders and voices of the PC(USA) seem to be turning out to be false guides, there are still many faithful followers left, so the comparison to Babylon is a bit premature.

      I certainly don’t hold anything against you for leaving the PC(USA), but I do think that it still belongs to the body of Christ, and as long as it does, the hand shouldn’t say to the foot, “I have no need of you.”

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