Final tally on PCUSA Amendment 14F vote: 121-48, while two presbyteries took no action


Final vote tally for Amendment 14-F: 121 (yes) – 48 (no), one no action, as of 7/7/15

Click here to download a pdf file of the Amendment 14-F Vote ( FINAL updated 7/7/15)

According to the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s Office of the General Assembly (OGA), the final vote tally for Amendment 14-F is 121 in favor and 48 against, with two presbyteries taking no action on the issue.

The amendment was actually approved on March 17, when a majority of Presbyterian Church (USA) presbyteries voted in favor of changing the denomination’s definition of marriage so that same-sex weddings may be conducted by PCUSA pastors and in PCUSA churches.

The vote officially changed the definition of marriage found in the PCUSA’s constitution from between “a man and a woman” to “a unique relationship between two people, traditionally a man and a woman.”

The PCUSA’s new definition of marriage went into effect on June 21, 2015, and soon after — on June 26 to be exact — the U.S. Supreme Court released its ruling in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states. The PCUSA “celebrated” that decision, according to an article from The Presbyterian News Service.

The PCUSA’s Stated Clerk Grayde Parsons told the PNS that the denomination has “advocated for almost four decades for civil rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons. [The] decision by the U.S. Supreme Court is in keeping with that work.”

The OGA released a document — “Same Gender Marriage after Supreme Court: Obergefell v. Hodges,” — which clearly states that “Nothing in our Constitution shall compel a teaching elder to perform a marriage service that the teaching elder believes is contrary to the teaching elder’s discernment of the Holy Spirit and understanding of the Word of God.”

However, after reading the document, Carmen Fowler LaBerge, president of the Presbyterian Lay Committee, has warned that “proving a local congregation has a ‘sincerely held religious belief’ that is no longer shared by the denomination with which it is affiliated will mean that there’s no larger ecclesiastical backstop for PCUSA churches … If you are a PCUSA teaching elder, you may currently have protection under the denomination’s constitution but it does not sound as if the denomination is prepared to defend you in civil court should the state determine to compel you.”

LaBerge echos the counsel being offered by the Christian Legal Society, the Alliance Defending Freedom, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, the North American Lutheran Church and the Anglican Church North America: “If you have not done so already, now is the time for every church session to review its organizational documents. Identify where your local church differs theologically from your parent denomination and clearly articulate the Biblical and Confessional reasons for those differences. If pressed, you will have to substantiate why the denominational standards are not controlling and binding by pointing to your particular congregation’s demonstrated consistent commitment to traditional marriage.”

Final presbytery votes on 14F

The last presbyteries to vote included Kendall (17 yes – 6 no); Mackinac (38 yes – 23 no) and Western Colorado voting against changing the definition of marriage. Dakota and Western Kentucky presbyteries took no action on the issue.

Of the 171 presbyteries in the PCUSA, 35  switched their vote on sexuality-related issues in four years time — voting one way in 2010-2011 on the issue of ordaining lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) as deacons, elders and pastors in the PCUSA (called Amendment 10A), and reversing their vote on same-sex marriage (Amendment 14F).

Who has shifted?

Seven presbyteries which voted in favor of ordaining LGBTQ people in 2010-2011  have voted against same-sex marriage in this year’s vote. They are:

  • Eastern Oklahoma, No, 33-46 on same-sex marriage; Yes, 55-53 on ordaining LGBTQ
  • Eastminster, No, 34-36 on same-sex marriage; Yes, 46-45 on ordination
  • Grand Canyon, No, 59-59 on same-sex marriage; Yes, 84-53 on ordination
  • Riverside, No, 30-38 on same-sex marriage; Yes, 58-45 on ordination
  • Savannah, No, 27-41 on same-sex marriage; Yes, 40-33 on ordination
  • South Alabama, No, 22-32 on same-sex marriage; Yes, 34-33 on ordination
  • Yellowstone, No, 19-25 on same-sex marriage; Yes, 27-25 on ordination

Twenty-eight presbyteries have swung the other way — voting “yes” on same-sex marriage, but voting “no” three years ago on the ordination issue. They include:

  • Carlisle, Yes, 80-62 on same-sex marriage; No, 89-102 on ordination
  • Charleston-Atlantic, Yes, 60-41 on same-sex marriage; No, 49-55 on ordination
  • Cherokee, Yes, 42-26 on same-sex marriage; No, 49-62 on ordination
  • deCristo, Yes, 34-30 on same-sex marriage; No, 62-62 on ordination (a tie vote counts as a “No” vote)
  • Foothills, Yes, 84-61 on same-sex marriage; No, 64-95 on ordination
  • Glacier, Yes, on same-sex marriage; No on ordination
  • Huntingdon, Yes, 31-29 on same-sex marriage; No, 32-33 on ordination
  • James, Yes, 122-72 on same-sex marriage; No. 152-152 on ordination
  • John Calvin, Yes, 42-39 on same-sex marriage; No, 30-41 on ordination
  • Kendall, Yes, 17-6 on same-sex marriage; No, 5-17 on ordination
  • Lackawanna, Yes, 20-16 on same-sex marriage; No, 33-58 on ordination
  • Lake Erie, Yes, 35-26 on same-sex marriage; No, 36-44 on ordination
  • Lake Huron, Yes, 37-24 on same-sex marriage; No, 33-39 on ordination
  • Mid South, Yes, 35-22 on same-sex marriage; No, 48-49 on ordination
  • Muskingum Valley, Yes, on same-sex marriage; No, 44-58 on ordination
  • New Covenant, Yes, 128-114 on same-sex marriage; No, 144-156 on ordination
  • North Central Iowa, Yes, 37-29 on same-sex marriage; No, 43-50 on ordination
  • Olympia, Yes, 39-23 on same-sex marriage; No, 39-78 on ordination
  • Pines, Yes, 33-23 on same-sex marriage; No, 36-44 on ordination
  • Pittsburgh, Yes, 122-110 on same-sex marriage; No, 80-163 on marriage
  • Prospect Hill, Yes, 33-24 on same-sex marriage; No, 22-44 on ordination
  • Pueblo, Yes, 30-24 on same-sex marriage; No, 22-49 on ordination
  • San Gabriel, Yes, on same-sex marriage; No, 92-92 on ordination (a tie vote counts as a “No” vote)
  • Seattle, Yes, 111-93 on same-sex marriage; No, 103-126 on ordination
  • Shenandoah, Yes, 99-79 on same-sex marriage; No, 93-106 on ordination
  • Stockton, Yes, 23-18 on same-sex marriage; No, 6-44 on ordination
  • Tampa Bay, Yes, 108-94 on same-sex marriage; No, 91-120 on ordination
  • Yukon, Yes, 27-19 on same-sex marriage; No, 21-28 on ordination

The 221st General Assembly approved the amendment at its June 2014 meeting, and it must be ratified by a majority of the PCUSA’s presbyteries for it to be included in the denomination’s constitution. The magic number — or majority of presbyteries — is 86. The PCUSA now has 171 presbyteries. The 2014 General Assembly dissolved Hamni Presbytery and Alaska Presbytery and North Puget Sound Presbytery have combined to form Northwest Coast Presbytery.



Related articles:

A Christian response to the SCOTUS ruling on same sex marriage from Scott Lamb on Vimeo.

Standing firm while the sand shifts on same-sex marriage

PCUSA’s defintion of marriage changed: Same-sex marriage is permitted

Presbyterians respond to PCUSA approval of same-sex marriage

Despite assurances, should PCUSA pastors worry about their future and same-sex marriage?

FAQ: What do we do now that same-sex marriage is permissible in the PCUSA? How do we exercise the freedom of conscience at our church? 

Sample letters for church members and sessions:

Key for the past votes recorded in the voting chart:

‘Amendment 10-A’

In 2010-2011, presbyteries voted 97-76 for Amendment 10-A, which revised G-6.0106b, the constitutional fidelity/chastity ordination requirement, allowing lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people to be ordained as pastors, elders and deacons. It amended text reads “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.” 

‘Amendment 08-B’

In 2008-2009, presbyteries voted 78-95 against Amendment 08-B, which would have removed the “fidelity/chastity” standard from the Book of Order. The standard requires that ordained officers be faithful in marriage between a man and a woman, or chaste in singleness.

‘Amendment 01-A’

In 2001, presbyteries voted 46-127 against Amendment A which called for extracting the “fidelity/chastity” constitutional standard required for the ordination of church officers and ending the denomination’s historic Biblical theology that says homosexual activity is sinful.

‘Amendment O’

  In 2000-2001, 173 presbyteries voted on a proposal called “Amendment O,” which would have prohibited Presbyterian ministers from conducting so-called “same-sex” unions. The presbyteries voted 73-99, with one tie vote, not to prohibit local sessions from determining whether to allow their pastors to conduct same-sex unions within the local congregation’s buildings. Many believed that the issue was more about the rights and duties of sessions and ministers than it was about whether same-sex unions are morally acceptable.

‘Amendment A’ 

In 1997-98, the presbyteries voted nearly two-to-one against a proposed amendment that would have replaced G-6.0106b. That proposed change, known as “Amendment A,” would have eliminated the constitutional prohibition against the ordination of adulterers and homosexuals.

‘Amendment B’

In 1996-97, 171 presbyteries in the Presbyterian Church (USA) voted 97-74 to place a constitutional provision in theBook of Order. Before its adoption, that proposal was known as “Amendment B.” It is now G-6.0106b, which requires candidates for minister, elder and deacon to practice fidelity in their marriages or chastity in their singleness. In other words, it prohibits the ordination of self-affirming, practicing adulterers and homosexuals.

Read more

Confession of Belhar approved by presbyteries

From the Office of the General Assembly.

belhar (300x168)The Presbyterian Church (USA) has voted through its presbyteries to add the Confession of Belhar to The Book of Confessions. The final step will be a vote at the 222nd General Assembly (2016) meeting June 18–25 in Portland, Oregon.

View a video message from Gradye Parsons, stated clerk of the General Assembly here.

The transcript

Affirming our commitment to unity, reconciliation, and justice, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has voted through our presbyteries to add the Confession of Belhar to our Book of Confessions. The final step will be a vote at the next General Assembly. Done in a spirit of shalom and with a desire for wholeness, the church has said we acknowledge this confession to be relevant for such a time as this in the life of this denomination, and that we diligently desire to live into it as part of the body of Christ.

We recognize our need to confess the ways this denomination has contributed to racism historically and even still today, and mourn all the ways we have fallen short. We believe this Confession, appropriated for this time and place, can bring about reconciliation and justice, and allow us to more fully follow Jesus in ministry and mission.

I commend each presbytery and congregation that took time to carefully study Belhar, and invite the whole church now to find unique and contextual ways to incorporate it into your journey. Various resources are available at

Grace and Peace!

Read more

Presbyterians respond to PCUSA approval of same-sex marriage

Responding-on-Social-MediaResponses to the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s decision to change the definition of marriage so that same-sex marriages may be conducted by PCUSA pastors and in PCUSA churches have been varied – from pain and tears that the denomination has departed from Scripture to jubilation that all can be married in the church.

The 221st General Assembly Moderator Heath Rada and Vice-Moderator Larissa Kwong Abazia released a statement encouraging PCUSA congregations, presbyteries and synods to continue discussions on marriage and family.

“We hope that such ‘up/down’ voting does not mark the end, but the continuation of our desire to live in community; a partnership that requires prayer, the study of Scripture, listening to and with one another, and a dedication to partnership in the midst of our diversity of opinion,” they wrote. “We trust that God whose Word brought Creation into being is also the same Word that speaks to us today. With confidence, we believe that God calls the Church into living as a transformative community that embraces the call to be God’s beloved community in the world.”

In a video posted on the denomination’s web site, PCUSA Stated Clerk Gradye Parsons made it clear that there was “nothing in the amendment to compel any teaching elder to conduct a wedding against his or her judgment nor a session to host one against its judgment.”

He then referred to the denomination’s Book of Order (F-3-0105) which “encourages us to exercise mutual forbearance toward each other when we differ that forbearance should show itself in respect and genuine care for each other. As a church, the Presbyterian Church (USA) has received much grace from God in Jesus Christ. We should extend that grace to each other in all gentleness as we live into this common chapter of our life.”

The Office of the General Assembly (OGA) issued an advisory opinion on the approved amendment of W-4.900 – the section of the constitution where definition of marriage can be found.

According to the advisory opinion, the new wording, which goes into effect June 21, 2015, allows teaching elders to perform marriage services for same-gender couples, “as long as the couple ‘meet the requirements of the civil jurisdiction in which they intend to marry.’”

It also makes clear that:

  1. “A teaching elder cannot be compelled to perform a marriage service for a same-gender couple.”
  2. “Sessions may permit the use of church property for the marriage service of a same-gender couple.”
  3. “Sessions may deny the use of church property for the marriage service of a same-gender couple.”
  4. While a session can prohibit same-sex marriage from being held on church property, it cannot prohibit the pastor from performing such a service elsewhere. “The pastor cannot compel the session to approve a marriage service nor can the pastor conduct any such service within the church facilities without session approval.”

Other responses

“God will not be mocked,” said the Presbyterian Lay Committee board of directors. “Those who substitute their own felt desires for God’s unchangeable Truth will not be found guiltless before a holy God.”

“The PLC continues to call for repentance and reform: repentance of those who have clearly erred and reform of the PCUSA according to the Word of God.”

PLC President Carmen Fowler LaBerge said that “In terms of the PCUSA’s witness to the world, this vote demonstrates a complete accommodation to the prevailing winds of our culture. Any prophetic voice that the denomination may have once had to speak truth and call people to repentance is now lost. All she can do now is echo the voices of the world for she has abandoned the clarion call to bear faithful witness to the God who has clearly spoken on this matter.”

In a statement posted on its web site, the Fellowship Community said that by “approving this change we are disregarding the clear teaching of Scripture, the wisdom of those who have lived and died for the faith before us, and the continuing consensus of the contemporary church around the world. To do this is both disobedient and unwise. We know this particular change was intended by its proponents to extend the grace and the good news of Jesus Christ, and to further the witness of his Kingdom. We believe it accomplishes neither. Our objection to the passage of this redefinition is no way anti-gay. Our concern is that the church is capitulating to the culture and, in so doing, is misrepresenting Scripture.”

The Presbyterian Church in America felt led to make a statement after it received “numerous emails and calls regarding the recent action of the mainline Presbyterian Church (USA) in redefining marriage.”

PCA Stated Clerk L. Roy Taylor wrote that the PCA “like other evangelical, conservative, orthodox, and traditional Christians from many branches of the Christian faith, believe that, from creation, God ordained the marriage covenant to be a unique bond between one man and one woman. This biblical understanding is what the Church has always believed, taught, and confessed. Therefore, we believe that the divinely sanctioned standard for sexual activity is fidelity within a marriage between one man and one woman or chastity outside of such a marriage.”

Blogger Viola Larson, wrote that the PCUSA is “now, with clarity, stepping beyond biblical Christianity by changing the Book of Order to allow for same-gender marriage. In many other ways the denomination has turned her back on her own documents without changing them. She has allowed apostate ministers to teach her people heretical and damming doctrines. She has allowed her most precious gifts, her unborn children, to be killed. But none of this has entered into her constitution, theBook of Confessions and theBook of Order. … And this will not be the end of new revelation, new twisting of Scripture. When the door is open to darkness in the name of religion a deeper darkness occurs. … The candle of the denomination is going out—it only burns in those who still hold tight to the biblical witness.”

On the other side of the issue, the Covenant Network of Presbyterians board of directors posted a statement in which it says the “change aligns the church’s constitution with a reality that has long been true: Both same-gender and opposite-gender couples have been living in relationships that demonstrate covenant faithfulness, shared discipleship, and mutual love. We rejoice that all couples can now see those relationships solemnized before God and the Christian community in marriage, at the discretion of ministers and sessions.”

The statement continued: “We are also aware that the discussion has been a difficult one for many, and that some will feel a deep sense of pain over this decision. The Covenant Network is committed to fostering healthy dialogue and working with those who hold a view different from ours, seeking opportunities for us to model an authentic and productive unity. We continue to affirm that ministers or sessions whose conscience precludes them from officiating (or hosting) same-gender marriages should not be compelled to do so or in any way disciplined or excluded for those views.”

“Today, we can bring our whole selves to church,” said Alex McNeill, executive director of More Light Presbyterians. “Ratification is not the end; it is the continuation of ongoing sacred conversations. This is the next step in our long journey to minister to all of our people.”

“This vote is the culmination of decades of selfless service by so many people. More Light empowered courageous Presbyterians to host honest conversations about marriage within their local Presbyteries,” said the Rev. Robin White, co-moderator of More Light Presbyterians. “Today we are rejoicing! So many families headed by LGBTQ couples have been waiting for decades to enter this space created for their families within their church communities.”

Related articles:

Presbyterians Approve Gay Marriage in Church Constitution

Presbyterian Church (USA) Changes Denomination’s Definition of Marriage to Include Gay Couples

Presbyterian group votes to allow gay marriage

Presbyterians give approval to gay marriage in church constitution

The Future of Progressive Evangelicalism Is…?

PCUSA Makes Marriage a ‘Unique Commitment’

With Presbyterians in the yes column, mainline Protestants solidify gay marriage support


Read more

PCUSA’s definition of marriage changed: Same-sex marriage is permitted (updated 3/20/15)


As of 3/18/19, the vote on Amendment 14F is 87 in favor and 42 against.

A majority of Presbyterian Church (USA) presbyteries have voted in favor of changing the denomination’s definition of marriage so that same-sex weddings may be conducted by PCUSA pastors and in PCUSA churches. By the end of the day Tuesday, the vote was 87-42 in favor of Amendment 14F. (Click here for Amendment 14F vote chart.)

“In terms of the PCUSA’s witness to the world, this vote demonstrates a complete accommodation to the prevailing winds of our culture,” said Carmen Fowler LaBerge, president of the Presbyterian Lay Committee. “Any prophetic voice that the denomination may have once had to speak truth and call people to repentance is now lost. All she can do now is echo the voices of the world for she has abandoned the clarion call to bear faithful witness to the God who has clearly spoken on this matter.”

Three of the denomination’s 171 presbyteries voted today (3/17/15), the first being Donegal Presbytery which voted in favor of changing the definition of marriage 89-73, but it was the Presbytery of Palisades that cast the deciding vote. By voice vote, the presbytery approved the amendment. Later in the evening, West Jersey Presbytery voted 71-51 in favor of it. Nevada Presbytery does not make the docket of their meeting public on the presbytery website and it is unclear when they will vote during their two day meeting.

By approving the amendment by a majority vote, PCUSA presbyteries ratified the decision of the 2014 General Assembly to change the definition of marriage from between “a man and a woman” to “between two persons, traditionally a man and a woman,” thereby expanding same-sex marriages in the PCUSA beyond what is currently allowed through the Authoritative Interpretation (AI) issued by the same assembly. That AI already allows ministers in states where same sex marriage, to officiate at weddings for same sex couples.

The amended language establishes a clear conflict between the definition of marriage in the denomination’s Book of Confessions and its Book of Order. It will go into effect on June 21, 2015.

Presbyterian Lay Committee response

Commenting on the vote, LaBerge reaffirmed the statement of protest issued by the Lay Committee following the action of the General Assembly in June 2014 to redefine marriage. She said, “The passage of the amendment is further indication of the erosion of Biblical fidelity within the PCUSA. There is nothing new to say in response. Just as we repudiated the action of the General Assembly in issuing the Authoritative Interpretation we now stand in firm opposition to the passage of this amendment to the denomination’s constitution.”

“We see this attempt to redefine what God has clearly defined as an express repudiation of the Bible, the mutually agreed upon Confessions of the PCUSA, thousands of years of faithfulness to God’s clear commands and the ordination vows of each presbyter who voted to approve what God does not bless,” she continued.

“As we said in June, ‘The Presbyterian Lay Committee mourns these actions and calls on all Presbyterians to resist and protest them.’ Presbyterians can take specific and concrete action in response. They can ask their session to issue a resolution in protest that includes the re-direction of per capita and mission support until and unless the denomination repents and restores the ‘one man and one woman’ language through amendment at the 2016 General Assembly. Granted, that’s a long process.”

The length of the battle should not be a deterrent, LaBerge said. “Again, as we said in June, ‘God will not be mocked and those who substitute their own felt desires for God’s unchangeable Truth will not be found guiltless before a holy God.  The Presbyterian Lay Committee will continue to call for repentance and reform: repentance of those who have clearly erred and reform of the PCUSA according to the Word of God.’

LaBerge urged Presbyterians to visit The Layman Online in the coming days to find resources to “facilitate their faithful response to this unfaithful vote.”


Related resources:

Office of the General Assembly’s Advisory Opinion  on the approved Amendment of W-4.9000

Sample letters for church members and sessions


Alan F.H. Wisdom: Why marriage traditionalists are unprotected in PCUSA

Why the Authoritative Interpretation does more than you think

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


Read more

How could they do that? Because they could: Some perspectives on the GAPJC’s Decision

By Ruling Elder Robert B. Fish. 

221st ga

The 221st General Assembly

During its June, 2014 meeting, the 221st General Assembly (GA) issued an Authoritative Interpretation which altered the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s definition of marriage without following the required process for amending its Book of Order.  On Feb. 14, the denomination’s highest court, the General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission (GAPJC) ruled that there is no basis to challenge this action.

The decision of the GAPJC was technically correct. One presbytery and the sessions of four separate churches filed a remedial complaint that the input given to the commissioners during the GA from the Advisory Commission on the Constitution was contradictory to the plain language of the Directory of Worship and of Holy Scripture and also contradicted the ACC’s own written opinions.  The GAPJC dismissed the case and ruled that they had no authority to correct the GA’s action, even if the allegations were true and that wrong or contradictory advice had been given to commissioners from the ACC.

Organizational chaos and unintended consequences?

In other words, since a body – in this case the General Assembly — has the right to make and interpret its own rules, it may interpret them in a way which is inconsistent with its rules, as long as it follows proper procedure in reaching that inconsistent interpretation. The inconsistent interpretation then becomes the new rule.

While that may seem to result in organizational chaos, it comports with the concept that an organization with the power to establish its rules has the equal power to set them aside or change them. So logically, under this principle, a church can change its bylaws, including the provision that says it can’t change them, because the power to put that provision in in the first place is equal to the power to remove it.

Chaos is only avoided if the organization follows logical procedures in making changes, and otherwise respects its core principles.

If the PCUSA is going to go down this path, it needs to recognize that the principle will apply equally to particular churches, as well. And while they will argue that the difference is that the GA is the highest body in the church judicatory, certain rights are reserved for Presbyteries and local churches.  There are no provisions in the PCUSA constitution permitting a presbytery or GA to override a local church’s bylaws.

PCUSA isn’t like the federal government

The GAPJC decision was surprising to some since we are used to our divided form of federal government in which the Supreme Court can invalidate laws found to violate the Constitution.  However, for most organizations, including the PCUSA, no such analogy exists.  Organizations that use Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised as their parliamentary authority place that responsibility on the organization itself.[1]

In this case, the body itself erred when it decided to adopt an Authoritative Interpretation that allowed for pastors to perform same-sex marriages if permitted by the civil laws of the state. Procedurally, the GA should have operated like this:

  • After the offending motion was made, GA Moderator Heath Rada had an obligation to rule that the motion would not be allowed because it violated provisions the Book of Order.
  • After he failed to do so, a point of order should have been raised and the moderator would then rule on the point of order, giving his reasons for that ruling.
  • Commissioners who disagreed with the ruling could have appealed the ruling and the GA commissioners would vote on the question with a majority vote being needed to overturn the moderator’s ruling.

During the General Assembly debate on the issue, the moderator essentially ruled that while the bylaws explicitly say, “For Christians marriage is a covenant through which a man and a woman are called to live out together before God their lives of discipleship,” that can be interpreted as “two persons.”

Even if there were a point of order, the moderator could rule against it and, if put to a vote, the GA could side with the moderator, thereby creating an Authoritative Interpretation that is not only clearly at odds with the Book of Order, but also the Book of Confessions and Holy Scripture.  While one might ask, “how could they do that,” the answer would be “because they could.”

While it was understood from the pre-election responses that Candidate Rada favored allowing homosexual marriages, Moderator Rada had a responsibility to moderate fairly and to rule properly on this issue.  Since the GA supported his position, it is now too late to correct that error.

There is a much bigger piece, however.  Some might say that the commissioners were confused by the contradictory advice provided by the Advisory Committee on the Constitution (ACC) which provided a written statement opposing the Authoritative Interpretation and then provided oral statements before the GA stating the opposite.

As ordained officers of the church they could hardly fail to recall their ordination vows to accept be governed by the church’s polity, to accept the confessions of our church as authentic and reliable expositions of what Scripture leads us to believe and do and, foremost, to accept the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament as “God’s Word to you.”  The church’s polity requires that amendment to the Book of Order would proceed in a particular, orderly process which was not done.  The confessions of the church speak of marriage as being between a man and a woman and not between two persons.  Christ also spoke plainly about marriage being between a man and a woman.

This action was not unforeseen.  The Apostle Paul warned, “Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them.” (Acts 20:30)  Sadly, that Scripture was fulfilled by these actions of the 221st General Assembly.

Presbyterians trust that commissioners to the councils of the church will abide by the rules for governing, even though there is no way they can be forced to do so.  “Decently and in order” should be expected rather than blatant disregard to the bylaws of the church.  However, even more sadly, this precedent sets the stage for further erosion of trust as future GA’s will feel free to bypass the process for amending the governing documents by issuing further statements of “Authoritative Interpretation.”

The 221st GA approved an Authoritative Interpretation that is in contradiction to the Constitution of the PCUSA, to the confessions and to Scripture.  This action has caused a great loss of trust between the membership of the PCUSA and the General Assembly.  The responsibility for this loss of trust clearly rests with Moderator Heath Rada and the GA commissioners who agreed with his ruling.

The author is a member of the National Association of Parliamentarians.  He has served as chairman, parliamentarian, rules chairman or similar roles in numerous volunteer, civic, political, and church settings at local, regional and national levels.  He served as clerk of session, a member of his presbytery’s general council and its permanent judicial commission and he was a commissioner to the 202nd General Assembly (1990).  He is a board member of the Presbyterian Lay Committee.


[1] “Each society decides for itself the meaning of its bylaws. When the meaning is clear, however, the society, even by a unanimous vote, cannot change that meaning except by amending its bylaws.” (Page 588, Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised, 11th ed.)  Robert’s Rules or Order Newly Revised is the parliamentary authority for the PCUSA.

Read more

GAPJC dismisses case about constitutionality of marriage redefinition

breakingnews3The General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission (GAPJC) of the Presbyterian Church (USA) said “… Under the Book of Order, the GAPJC does not act as the final arbiter of the Constitution in Presbyterian polity. This commission’s role is restricted and it has no jurisdiction to directly declare an action of the GA unconstitutional.”

So, although “Prior to the GA, the ACC advised in writing that Item 10-03 was “contrary to the clear statement of W-4.9000,” and during the GA on the floor, during recorded testimony, the ACC offered a diametrically opposed opinion, the GAPJC has refused to hold either the ACC accountable. 

If the GAPJC is not a position to hold the General Assembly accountable for acting within the bounds of the PCUSA constitution, then who is?

Here’s the ruling: 0217-CherokeePbyetalvACC- CaseDismissed will offer further analysis in the coming days.


Read more

If I had a vote … an analysis of the amendments to the PCUSA constitution

pcusaPresbyteries in the Presbyterian Church (USA) have begun voting on the eight amendments sent down by the 221st General Assembly. While The Layman Online and other web sites are “tracking” the voting on the proposed redefinition of marriage (Amendment 14-F), some people are simply asking, “How would you vote on the rest of them?”

So, if I had a vote, here’s how I’d mark my ballot:

How I would vote on 2014 PCUSA amendments

My rationale?

Amendment 14-1 proposes amending the Book of Confessions by adding the Confession of Belhar. If you’re thinking we’ve been there and debated that, you’d be right. This same proposed amendment failed to achieve the 2/3 threshold in the last cycle of presbytery voting following the 2012 General Assembly. But the former Stated Clerk of the PCUSA, Clifton Kirkpatrick, is determined to see the Belhar in the PCUSA’s Book of Confessions.

The arguments against this amendment have been well articulated and I would vote against it:


Amendment 14-A proposes amending G-2.0509 to clarify that when a teaching elder (pastor) renounces the jurisdiction of the PCUSA while standing accused in an open disciplinary case, that person cannot serve in any capacity in a PCUSA congregation or related entity. Like most proposed amendments, this one has a back-story. Here’s the ugly reality: Sometimes teaching elders do immoral things. Ideally, the informal system of discipline (aka Matthew 18:15-20) would effectively bring recognition, repentance, reconciliation and restoration. The Church is at her best when she demonstrates this kind of redemption. However, we have a Book of Discipline and layers of ecclesiastical courts that bear witness to the fact that informal discipline too often fails. Two hundred years ago it must have been hard to imagine that anyone would “casually” renounce the jurisdiction of the denomination that ordained them. Today, pension benefits are secured by Federal rules and societal norms that regard holiness and accountability to righteous standards as inconsequential to ordained leadership. We face the reality that when accused of wrong-doing, some renounce the jurisdiction of the church instead of facing their accuser. The amendment would strengthen the penalty for such a choice — effectively barring the person from any service in the PCUSA or its related entities. Sadly, its a sign of the times that this particular amendment is necessary in our common life. I would vote yes on 14-A.


Amendment 14-B. 1 and 2 grow out of a the work of the Special Committee to Review the Preparation for Ministry Process and Standard Ordination Exams. Here’s the jist of it: Many people are failing the PCUSA standard ordination exams. Many others want to become ordained teaching elders without satisfying the mutually agreed upon constitutional standards outlined in the Book of Order. So, Amendment 14-B1 would allow for candidates to be assessed as ready to receive a call even if they fail their ords and Amendment 14-B2 says that if a presbytery “concludes there are good and sufficient reasons for accommodations to the particular circumstances of an individual seeking ordination, it may, by a three-fourths vote, waive any of the requirements for ordination in G-2.06, except for those of G-2.0607d.” But the following sentence outlines how the presbytery can circumvent the requirements of G-2.0607d as well.  My question is this, “Why have standards if they can be waived?” Yes, I understand the arguments about desiring to accommodate people who cannot, for whatever reason, satisfy the requirements, but how is it a requirement if it can be waived?  And although a 3/4 vote by the presbytery sounds like a valid gate against abuse, the reality is that 3/4 of a presbytery at a “special meeting” may well be only a handful of people. I see no harm in voting yes to 14-B1, but I would vote against 14-B2.


Amendment 14-C seeks to amend G-3.0301 which currently reads: “All councils shall adopt and implement a sexual misconduct policy.” The amendment would add “and a child protection policy” to the mandate. Again, this amendment is a sign of the times in which we live. Sadly, sexual misconduct, child abuse and molestation are dark realities from which we are not immune. Churches, presbyteries and the denomination often find themselves on the wrong end of civil and criminal lawsuits that expose the darkness and cost huge sums to settle with victims. This amendment is designed to expressly include the protection of children in the policies of councils at every level of the church. I would vote in favor of this amendment and then I would call my church’s insurance provider, my professional malpractice insurance provider, the clerk of my session, the chair of my church’s policy review committee, etc. Because this is an amendment that creates work at every level of the church. Every session, every presbytery, every synod and the General Assembly must, by constitutional mandate, “adopt and implement” both a sexual misconduct AND a child protection policy.


Amendment 14-D looks to amend G-30301 to allow for presbyteries with fewer than 10 churches. Again, as I’ve already noted, this is a sign of the times. The PCUSA is contracting in both raw membership and in the number of congregations in the denomination. These trends are universally acknowledged and efforts are underway to reverse them, but for now, “decline” is the reality. Even a cursory glance at the denomination’s comparative statistical reports reveals that in 2013 there were 89,296 fewer members, 224 fewer congregations and 1 less presbytery than in 2012.  It is reasonable that as presbyteries multiply in both the EPC and ECO, presbyteries constrict in the PCUSA.  The amendment rightly allows for flexibility in dealing with the declining numerics of the PCUSA and I imagine that the 2016 assembly will be asked by several synods to use this new found freedom to support the continuation of presbyteries that drop below the current threshold.  In the ongoing conversation about the purpose and function of synods, filling in when presbyteries fail may top the rationale. I would vote yes on 14-D.


Amendment 14-E. Just vote NO. For rationale, read the advice of the Advisory Committee on the Constitution (which both the General Assembly committee and the GA plenary ignored). The proposed amendment would amend G-5.0102 to allow for explicit pluralism and a further dampening effect on evangelism. If the first great end of the Church is the proclamation of the Gospel for the salvation of humankind then Amendment 14-E is contrary to the Spirit of the Church’s very calling. Does it sound like I’m passionate about this one? Yes, I am. If I could I would vote NO audibly and if the amendment prevailed in my presbytery I would register my dissent with the stated clerk. I would make it know broadly that I did not support efforts to strip the Church of her primary calling to lead people into transforming encounters with Jesus Christ who alone is the way to salvation.


Amendment 14-F has already received a lot of press. It hopes to formally redefine marriage in the Book of Order of the PCUSA. Currently, under the Authoritative Interpretation (AI) issued by the General Assembly, pastors can perform whatever kind of “marriage” is authorized by the state.  That license is however not currently available to pastors residing in states where natural marriage, between one man and one woman, continues to be the legal definition. The language of “two people” replacing “one man and one woman” in the Directory for Worship would allow all PCUSA pastors to perform same-sex marriages. It would also create a serious tension within the two parts of the denomination’s constitution. The Book of Confessions defines marriage consistently throughout as exclusively between one man and one woman. The amendment to the Directory for Worship in the Book of Order would have no effect on the Book of Confessions. An irreconcilable difference would thus exist. I would vote no on amendment 14-F and again, if the amendment prevailed in my presbytery, I would immediately ask the stated clerk to formally note my dissent in the presbytery’s vote record.


That’s how I’d vote, if I could.
Read more

Presbyteries begin voting on same-sex marriage actions

By Steve Salyards, The GA Junkie

voting-580x386With General Assembly season now behind us we move into the portion of the year where the actions of the General Assemblies that require presbytery concurrence are now being considered by the lower governing bodies.

Coming from three of the Assemblies we have proposed actions that have implications for same-sex marriage/partnerships within the church and the progress is being closely watched within each branch. Here is a brief summary of what to watch and where each is at this time.

Presbyterian Church (USA)

The 221st General Assembly (2014) of the Presbyterian Church (USA) adopted a proposed constitutional amendment that now needs to be approved by the presbyteries. This change in the language of Book of Order section W-4.9000 has been bundled into the Amendment booklet and is now referred to as Amendment 14-F.

Presbytery voting has begun and the Office of the General Assembly is, as always, the official tracker of the votes. They have created a page specific to the marriage amendment that has not only resources about the GA action and that amendment, but a nifty map of the presbyteries that have reported their vote and which way it went. I have to admit that with only a few recorded so far it is a bit tough distinguishing between the shades of purple they use for yes and no, but once it begins to fill in the difference should be more obvious. And interesting to see that the Dakota nongeographic presbytery was geographically placed in southern Saskatchewan.


Office of the General Assembly’s GA221 on marriage page 

Read more

San Diego Presbytery votes against redefining marriage

sandiegoThe result was an overwhelming “No,” in what may be the first presbytery vote on an amendment to redefine the definition of marriage in the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s Book of Order.

By a vote of 22 in favor and 76 opposed, commissioners to the Presbytery of San Diego’s September 16 meeting, disapproved the proposed amendment which would change the definition of marriage from between “a man and a woman” to “between two persons, traditionally a man and a woman.”

The San Diego Presbytery’s action may be the first in the nation, according to Executive Presbyter Rev. Dr. Clark Cowden. Based largely on the rationale that the church should adjust to state laws allowing same-sex unions, the proposed amendment was passed by the PCUSA’s 221st General Assembly in June and recommended for ratification to the presbyteries over the course of the next year.

San Diego Presbytery is well known within the denomination for its conservative stand on social issues involving standards for ordination of pastors and church officers, and sexuality ethics and practices.

The Ecclesiastical Committee of the presbytery recommended the negative vote to the commissioners. The members included Rev. Tom Straeter of Grace Presbyterian Church of Vista, CA, and Rev. Dr. Jerry Andrews of First Presbyterian Church of San Diego.

Clark Cowden

Clark Cowden

In his presbytery report, Cowden spoke of the General Assembly as a system that has “become stuck and dysfunctional. … We don’t create the conditions where we can be at our best. I think we set ourselves up into polarized situations – where we push people into yes/no, up/down decisions. There is no room for nuance or simply saying – we’re not ready to decide yet.”

He continued, “I think the GA chooses decisions over discernment, taking positions over building relationships, and does not have a heart that is focused on congregations. I wish GA would follow the medical guideline – ‘do no harm.’ When what they do is harming congregations, something is wrong. I have never heard of people streaming into Presbyterian Churches because of what the GA has done. But, I have heard of people who have left Presbyterian Churches because of what the GA has done, and that is wrong.”

But he then asked, “Does it matter anymore what our GA does?” Cowden cited a recent U.S. Study of Congregations which indicated a trend of growing disaffiliation between congregations and their denominations. “We have long known that most people don’t join churches because of their denomination. They join because they like what is happening in the congregation,” he said. “So, where does that leave us?”

“I believe the decisions that we make as congregations and as a local presbytery are more important than the decisions that are made by the General Assembly,” Cowden said. “I have said before that I believe our denomination is a mission field, and that we still need strong, Biblical, evangelical, Reformed disciples reaching people for Christ and making a difference in the PCUSA. I still believe that. I have said before that I believe we have the freedom to make all of the decisions we need to make. I still believe that.”

Cowden said he believes that “We are in a time and place where the only way we can make our denomination any better is if we focus our time and our energies on making our presbytery better. We have to stop worrying about what other Presbyterians are doing in other places. We have to stop agonizing over other Presbyterian things that happen that we can’t control. We need to focus our time and energy on what we can control, what we do here, who we are, and what we are going to be about. All we can do is make our people and our congregations and our presbytery as strong as they can possibly be. We will trust God with the rest and we will not lose sleep over that.”

The meeting took place at Village Community Presbyterian Church in Rancho Santa Fe. CA. For more information, go to

Read more

A remedial case against the ACC

A Reformed Catholic in the PCUSA blog

ga221In case you are wondering if this blog post is going to be about college football, the ACC in this instance refers to the General Assembly’s Advisory Committee on the Constitution.

The Remedial Complaint, refers to the complaint that was just filed against the ACC by Cherokee Presbytery, three churches in Michigan, and one from Wisconsin. The complaint is about this:

That the ACC acted to instruct Assembly Committee 10 and then the plenary of the 221st General Assembly (2014) that the General Assembly had the authority to make an authoritative interpretation that effectively changes the plain and ordinary meaning the Directory of Worship and took other irregular actions after having previously instructed the General Assembly in writing that changes of that type cannot be done. The outcome of the advice given by the ACC was that Assembly Committee 10 and General Assembly approved an authoritative interpretation that was and is in conflict with the provision of the Constitution being interpreted.

What that paragraph says is that the ACC reversed itself from the time it gave written guidance about the AI overture, to the time it was asked about the constitutionality of such a move at the Committee and at Plenary.

OK, so you’re asking yourself why not just go after the AI if its felt to be unconstitutional. Well, you see there’s a slight problem. There is no way to bring a remedial case against the General Assembly except by bringing one up to the NEXT General Assembly.

Read more …

Cherokee Presbytery’s Statement of Complaint

Read more