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Lisa Larges approved for ordination     [11-11-09]

After waiting 23 years, Lisa Larges was approved for ordination on Tuesday evening, November 10, by the Presbytery of San Francisco. The vote for ordination was 296 votes: 156 for, 138 against.

That All May Freely Serve, for whom Lisa serves as Minister Coordinator, was approved as a validated ministry. 303 ballots were cast, and 152 votes were needed to pass the motion. The vote was 157 for, 144 against, with 2 abstentions.

Thanks be to God!

Beth Van Sickle
MLP Board Member
Columbus OH


Click here for the report in the San Francisco Chronicle, which begins:

The San Francisco Presbytery agreed late Tuesday to ordain the first openly homosexual minister in the denomination.
The vote of 156 for and 138 against the ordination came after hours of contentious debate at the First Presbyterian Church of Berkeley. It is possible that the decision to ordain Lisa Larges, a deacon at Noe Valley Ministry Presbyterian Church, could be appealed.

It's a significant decision in the Presbyterian church, which like many other religious denominations around the country has struggled for years over how to include gays and lesbians in church affairs.

"Change is happening in the churches," Larges said in a statement after the vote. "People are realizing that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people have long functioned as contributing members of their faith traditions. It is time to tell the truth - we are all created in God's image."       The rest of the story >>


Presbyterian Outlook reports that a "remedial complaint" will be filed, which would put Larges' ordination on hold until the complaint is resolved.

Mary Holder Naegeli, a minister from San Francisco Presbytery who has been involved with earlier legal challenges to Larges’ efforts to be ordained, released a statement to the news media on Nov. 11, saying that “enough signatures were collected at the close of the meeting to secure a Stay of Enforcement while a remedial complaint is filed with the Synod of the Pacific Permanent Judicial Commission.”  More >>

How about a lawsuit on behalf of clergy’s right to perform same-gender marriages?   [11-10-09]

Ronald Goetz, a "Proud PFLAG Dad" is proposing a lawsuit on behalf of clergy and churches whose rights are being violated because they cannot perform marriages for same-gender couples. This is a turn-the-tables approach toward those Christians who argue that marriage equality somehow violates their freedom of religion. What do you think? Mr. Goetz is looking for advice and input. He writes:

"Proposed Class-Action Lawsuit on Behalf of Churches and Ordained Clergy Because of the Violation of their First Amendment Right to Free Exercise of Religion"

There are many denominations that are on record as supporting Marriage Equality and want to marry same-sex couples as a matter of religious faith.

There are thousands of Open and Affirming congregations nationwide that support Marriage Equality and want to marry same-sex couples as a matter of religious faith.

There are additional thousands of ordained clergy who want to marry same-sex couples because of their religious faith.

The first amendment states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

Congress includes state and local jurisdictions, which cannot violate your civil rights either.

Thousands of churches and ordained clergy are being denied the free exercise of their religion in violation of their first amendment right.

I urge that this violation of the constitution be resisted through a class-action lawsuit, or some other appropriate vehicle. We are also guaranteed the right to petition the government for redress of grievances.

I would like responsible parties (clergy, denominational officials, attorneys) and enthusiastic supporters to contact me. I need input, encouragement, and pro bono advice.

Please contact me at and let me know what you think. Thanks!

And please forward this to anyone you think might be interested.

Ronald Goetz
Proud PFLAG Dad

Thanks to John Shuck, who posted this on Shuck and Jive.

Mark Achtemeier addresses Covenant Network conference as an evangelical who now supports both marriage and ordination for LGBT persons

Dr. Mark Achtemeier, professor of theology at University of Dubuque Theological Seminary, and a long-time opponent of ordination of gays and lesbians, told the Covenant Network gathering that he has shifted his position on the marriage and ordination of lesbian and gay persons. Presbyterian Outlook’s Leslie Scanlon provides a lengthy report on his address.

She explains that “Achtemeier, to his own surprise, has made a trek through uncertain land over the last eight years, a journey from life-long certainty that homosexuality is ‘a kind of destructive addiction’ to what he is today: a man who sees the Holy Spirit leading the church to ‘a new and better place,’ and who thinks that gays and lesbians should be able to marry and be ordained.”

She continues:

In the kick-off plenary of the 2009 Covenant Network of Presbyterians gathering — which has brought about 300 people to Cleveland Nov. 5-7 to consider the theme of change in the church — Achtemeier gave his testimony, telling the story of his journey in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), from a man who grew up sure that homosexual practice was wrong to one who now sees God working in the committed relationships of his gay and lesbian friends and in the faithfulness of their lives.

For her full report >>

Afterthoughts on Authority

by Eric Mount, Rodes Professor of Religion at Centre College, emeritus, at Presbyterian-related Centre College in Kentucky



Transylvania Presbytery’s preparation for the vote on G-6.0106b offered seven regional gatherings that included ten minute presentations by an advocate for each position. I was tapped to speak on behalf of “New B” at several of the gatherings, and the issue of biblical authority was central to the disagreement between the spokesperson on the other side and me. He insisted that anyone who believed that “Scripture alone” is authoritative for the belief and practice of the church would reject the proposed change, and he distributed a list of biblical references as proof. I took the position that people could support the change because of the Bible and not in spite of it, and I also made reference to the “Wesleyan Quadrilateral,” which includes tradition, reason, and experience as sources of authority along with the Bible. How is that for biting off too much to chew in ten minutes!


Albert Outler, who coined the term “Wesleyan Quadrilateral” in 1964, later rued the day that he did so because many concluded that “quadrilateral” meant “equilateral.” John Wesley clearly did not intend that recognizing other sources of authority should compromise the centrality of biblical authority. In asking that the contributions of tradition, reason, and experience be recognized, I too did not mean to question the uniqueness and indispensability of biblical authority for Christians. The pivotal role of the Bible in defining our identities as Christians and informing our faith and practice is not an elective but an essential requirement, but that deference does not mean that biblical authority is exclusive or that it is infallible on every subject in contemporary debates. At issue for me and many others who share my position is the locus of biblical authority (whether in a list of rules and regulations, for example, or the workings of the Holy Spirit), the focus of biblical authority (on the sovereignty God or the Lordship of Christ as opposed to the sentences on the page), and the ways in which it can work in tandem with the other sources of authority. My opponent in the discussions seemed to believe that biblical truth and human experience are airtight compartments, and that one must choose either one or the other as one’s authority—Scripture alone or experience alone. I beg to differ.


For starters, let us consider the probability that drawing bright lines of separation between the four cited sources of authority is an oversimplification. Beginning with Scripture and experience, I would first acknowledge that making one’s experience a shield against encounter with unwelcome news from Scripture is a danger to be reckoned with. However, it is also true the readers of Scripture cannot avoid bringing their experience to that reading and that a message that does not ultimately make sense in the light of our experience will not be heard and appropriated. Furthermore, the experience of biblical writers is reflected in their varied, even at times contrasting, understandings of God and in the variety of ways in which they understand “why bad things happen to good people.” In turn, our experience will shape what explanations of suffering we can fathom and embrace. The various liberation theologies show us that the Bible is read differently from the underside than from a position of privilege. I, for one, would not want to argue that the spectacles of that marginalized experience are blinders to biblical truth. We could say then that we, bringing our experience, enter into a conversation with biblical writers, speaking out of their experience as well as out of divine inspiration. The faith community that produced and selected canonical scripture from its experience is a dialogue partner with today’s faith community with its varied experiences.


Mention of reading from the underside moves us nicely to a blurring of lines between Scripture and tradition as authorities. Martin Luther’s protest against the papacy’s rendition of the biblical faith (one example of tradition) does not mean that the unfolding tradition of biblical interpretation after the era of biblical events and communities does not produce “the breaking forth of more light and truth from God’s holy Word,” as John Robinson put it. The conversation mentioned above continues. And that conversation even starts within the Bible itself as Scripture converses with Scripture and differing interpretations and accounts emerge and are preserved. The editors of the canon seem willing to include varied and even contrasting accounts of pivotal events in the sacred story. Thus we have two creation stories side by side, the merging of two flood stories, the merging of two differing accounts of the exodus from Egypt, the inclusion of two renditions of the receipt of the Torah by Moses, two differing renditions of the occupation of Canaan (Joshua and Judges), two renditions of David’s reign (the Deuteronomic history and the Chronicler), four gospels, etc. Galatians and James offer different interpretations of the Abraham story, I Timothy derives a very different understanding of the status of women from Genesis than Paul’s view in Galatians would approve, and the views of Paul and James on faith and works are both included despite their seeming differences. What we would call tradition already begins in Scripture as Scripture interprets Scripture, and the continued unfolding of tradition has brought breakthroughs on slavery, the equality of women, and other contentious issues. A conversation that includes variation, contrast, and corroboration is ongoing. The faith community continues to check and balance itself through the authority of the Holy Spirit.


And then there is reason. Martin Luther had some harsh things to say about reason, terming it a prostitute in at least one instance because people can employ reason in the service of both noble and ignoble ends. Notice, though, what he said when asked to recant his Reformation-launching writings by Pope Leo X: “Unless I shall be convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason, I must be bound by these Scriptures which have been brought forward by me. . . . [T}o go against conscience is neither safe nor right.” Reason was evidently consulted. Faith informs the way we reason, but reason can also contribute to our analysis of the Bible and theology. John Calvin, the humanist as well as the Christian theologian, thought that wisdom was forthcoming even from pagan writers. Is it not possible that science can enlighten us about matters that the writers of scripture did not fully fathom or, in some instances, even consider? Given the dearth of attention to homosexuality as an orientation in the Bible, might we have something to learn about it from the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Anthropological Association, the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, the American Counseling Association, the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychoanalytic Association, and the American Psychological Association? They have findings to report and considerable consensus to relate.


In Homosexuality and the Bible, Walter Wink makes a salient point about the problem of authority. He finds the Bible rejecting incest, rape, adultery, and bestiality and thinks virtually all modern readers would agree. However, he finds the Bible condemning seven sexual behaviors that we would generally allow and permitting seven behaviors that we would condemn. These disparities lead him to say that the Bible does not provide us with a sex ethic, but only with a love ethic. We could debate individual items on his lists, but he effectively challenges claims that the Bible is infallible in its assumptions and directives about sexuality.


We can say that biblical authority is central. After all, what gives us Jesus? But it is also problematic . It presents Jesus as saying that “not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished” (Matthew 5:18) and also saying, “But I say to you . . .” (in contrast to ancient authorities). The Gospel of John (16:12) has Jesus saying that he has others things to teach his disciples, but not now. The Spirit of truth will take up that educative function. Only God is an absolute authority, and regarding every word of the Bible as infallible is idolatry. In this regard, James Gustafson writes in the introduction to H. Richard Niebuhr’s The Responsible Self about how Niebuhr’s radical monotheism relates to biblical authority in Christian ethics. In relation to authority of the One who is absolute, the authority of Scripture is “mediate derived authority.” And although the Bible occupies a unique role, the church has other mediate authorities, such as nature (as understood by reason in the natural law tradition, for example). Other communities also have a pluralism of mediate authorities, as evidenced in science and politics. This pluralism forces a balancing in which no one authority is absolute.


As Gustafson continues, in a way, the church stands under the Bible because of what it mediates; but in another way the church stands beside the Bible, and rank orders are a mistake. The several sources of authority are dialogue partners in a community held together by a common Center of Value and inspired by the continuing influence of the authority of the Holy Spirit. Thus our experience may interrogate the Bible and tradition and conventional wisdom, and the Bible may interrogate our experience, our traditions, and our conventional wisdom. Both the Bible and our experience may have what Niebuhr calls “corroborative authority” in an ongoing educational dialogue, in a continuing corporate effort at discernment (as recommended, for example, by the Theological Taskforce on the Peace, Unity, and Purity of the Church). It is important to remember that this is community activity and that in a community, authority is jointly acknowledged, jointly debated, and jointly corroborated. And the process should never become frozen in time and place.


Before my friendly opponent and I made our presentations at the regional gatherings, we ate supper together along with our general presbyter (who preached at each session) and the person presiding at the gathering. We got to know each other pretty well and even joined in the leadership of the communion service prior to the final vote by the full presbytery. We could probably have given each other’s presentation with precision if the other had been deterred from showing up. As we sat together following our final effort, he remarked that he appreciated the tone of our exchanges and that neither of us had apparently budged the other even an inch. I agreed. I don’t know how much we budged anyone else either. Although our presbytery changed its stance on the original Amendment B vote and supported G-6.0106b, I am under no illusions about how many minds I changed. The debate on the floor of presbytery did not last very long, and the most steam emerged in one commissioner’s effort to reverse the decision to have a written ballot. People seemed to arrive knowing where they stood, but the balance of positions on the nature of biblical authority had shifted. Although the balance also shifted in more than thirty other presbyteries that voted as we did and many more that voted against “New B” by narrower margins than before, the overall outcome supported the retention of Amendment B. The conversation/argument will no doubt continue. Based on my experience this time, I remain convinced that some widespread assumptions about biblical authority still need to be challenged without ceasing to acknowledge its indispensable and inescapable importance.


Church of Scotland and ordination of LGBT persons:

Not ready to act – but there’s more to it.

We recently posted news from Scotland that the Church of Scotland had acted to permit the Presbytery of Lochcarron-Skye to approve the appointment of the Rev Scott Rennie, who is openly gay, to Queen’s Cross Church in Aberdeenshire. That action was set aside, however, when the General Assembly, meeting in Edinburgh, set up a study committee on the matter, to report back to their next Assembly in two years.

The Rev. John Mann, a former minister of the PC(USA) who is now serving in Glasgow as a member of the Church of Scotland, encourages us to avoid oversimplifying this matter, and suggests looking at a report by The Times, which is based largely on comments by the Rev. Lindsay Biddle, who is his spouse, and is also serving a church in Glasgow. She, however, has not transferred her membership to the Church of Scotland, and so is not affected by the “gag rule” which the Church of Scotland General Assembly has imposed on its own members.

Lindsay Biddle appeared earlier in May on an STV news program report on Scott Rennie and his struggle to remain in ministry after coming to terms with his own homosexuality. Click here for the interview, which runs a little over two minutes.

John Mann sums it up by saying, “Those of us working for justice are taking a positive rather than fatalistic approach.”

Red Presbyteries, Blue Presbyteries: Analysis of the Vote on Amendment 08B

by Dale A. Johnson

With the voting on amendments to the Book of Order complete, some analysis of the results of the most contested amendment, to change the language of G-6.0106b, is urgently needed. Thanks to the several websites that have kept close watch on presbytery votes over the past several months—they include the Presbyterian Coalition, following the process by date of voting and running total; the Covenant Network,  organizing alphabetically, with tallies from the three previous voting opportunities; and the spreadsheet from Bruce Hahne’s blog, giving presbytery and raw votes, comparisons with 2001-02, and percentage changes for and against 6b in these two ballotings—even those of us without complex data analysis software are able to make some judgments about what has happened, what the history of the votes might mean, and what all this might say about future activity on this contested issue in the denomination.

Anyone with even modest interest in the thirty-plus years of discussion of homosexuality in the church will know that the proposed amendment from the 218th General Assembly has been defeated, but by a smaller margin than in any of the earlier votes since G-6.0106b was ratified in 1996-97. Two intervening attempts to change the language, the first in 1997-98 with a more generalized text, and the second in 2001-02 by deleting 6b and adding a new sentence specifying the authority of the governing body to determine suitability to hold office, were each defeated by a larger margin (67%-33% in 1998 and 73%-27% in 2002) than 6b had been approved by initially (57%-43%). Because each amendment addressed the issue in a different way, it is not easy to make comparisons between them. One might draw a broad conclusion, for example, that the church cared less for a generalized 6b than the more detailed language—“fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman” and “self-acknowledged practice which the confessions call sin”—and even less for the elimination of that language altogether. Further, that the church could be somewhat more attracted to the more subtle language of 08B referring to constitutional questions for ordination and installation, the authorities of the faith (Christ, Scripture, Confessions), and the responsibilities of governing bodies to establish a candidate’s sincere efforts to adhere to these standards. That, however, is just a guess. The shift away from increasing margins of support for 6b this time around may more simply be explained by the increasing support for gay rights in the culture at large and by the drop in the number of votes against the amendment (down by almost 19%, leaving aside the four presbyteries that provided only voice vote judgments, two on each side). This latter decline could again be attributed to membership losses in the denomination over the past several years, both in the congregations and individuals who have departed because of differences with the perceived directions of the church, rather than to any particular change of view or loss of interest.

Much enthusiasm has been displayed by pro-amendment groups in the shifts from the 2001-02 vote: 34 flips from No to Yes, a 5.6% gain in raw vote to a 49% total. All that is significant, but I believe that the analysis should not stop there. Religious language is appropriate, of course, to the arguments, but insufficient as explanations—“the need for a genuine biblical ethic,” on the one hand, or “what God is doing in the church,” on the other. When I returned from my involvement as an elder commissioner to the 2008 General Assembly, I told several people that “I came for politics, but I got a whole lot more.” Now, in retrospect, having followed the voting on 08B closely, I think it would have been good to have gotten a bit more politics, too.

The national map provided by the Presbyterian Coalition to track the votes on 08B suggests the title for this analysis, for the presbyteries are color-coded red for opposing the amendment and blue for supporting it. Such coding obviously calls to mind the political analysis of the last presidential election, as well as any others that have used tracking polls and other data to ask what the odds are that a particular candidate or ballot measure would win, to make projections as to how a race will turn out once all the votes have been counted, and to ponder what the election might imply for the immediate future. It would not have been unseemly for the commissioners at the last General Assembly to calculate the chances of a controversial overture being passed by the church or to project the difficulty of surmounting the hurdles that two previous votes had placed in the path of revision of the Book of Order. When opponents of what became 08B made their case, it was largely in terms of the threat that membership losses would escalate; and neither side asked what would happen after winning or losing when it became apparent that the church is almost evenly divided on the question.

In reviewing voting patterns of presbyteries for an earlier contribution to the Witherspoon Society website (February, 2009),  I offered three organizational categories to help frame the discussion: those solidly on the 6b side (that is, for the “fidelity and chastity” requirement), those solidly against 6b, and those that could be labeled “too close to call” (with modest later revisions for accuracy, 89, 41, and 38 respectively). Five presbyteries in the latter category were in group favoring 6b, and seven in the group opposing 6b, but with slimmer margins in the three voting opportunities that warranted some hesitation. In the pro-6b group, 75 continued their support (I count Suroeste, which has yet to vote, in this number), while 14 flipped—certainly the most notable of the shifts of position on the issue. Of those presbyteries consistently against 6b, only two did not support the amendment (San Francisco and Sierra Blanca, the latter a “too close” presbytery from the start). In the “too close” category, clearly a judgment call, 27 supported the amendment and 11 opposed it. While these sets of results have given hope to the persons and groups opposed to 6b, they also should set the longer task of “so much done, so much yet to do.”

The contrast of 34 and 2 in the flips from the 2001-02 vote has certainly been dramatic, but the initial gap was so great that the gains can be misleading. A comparison with the original vote to establish 6b is more sobering. Here the flips (Yes in 1996-97 to Yes in 2008-09, No to No) are 16 to 13, respectively, where the needed gain was roughly 13 to accomplish the change. Nine presbyteries stand as consistently contrarian (two of them with tie votes this year), opposing each of the four resolutions, while no presbytery has consistently supported them. A solid 10-12 additional flips would be needed in order to remove or revise 6b. Where will that come from?

A casual look at the votes from the presbyteries reveals that, just as in our national elections, the church is not “one person, one vote.” Even a rough calculation of the demographics offers interesting comparisons. Of the over 75 presbyteries that registered one hundred or fewer votes this time around, votes against the amendment more than doubled those supporting it. In presbyteries with between 101-200 votes, supporters of the amendment led by 39-30. And in presbyteries with more than 200 votes, the Yes votes led by 13-11. There is no direct correlation between size of presbytery and urbanization, of course; but one might make a tentative judgment that the more rural the area, the less likely the church is to support inclusive ordination. It is at least worth noting that the roster of presbyteries in the category of most dramatic flips into the Yes column includes the cities of Charlotte, Birmingham, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Dallas-Ft. Worth, and Los Angeles.

Looking at the voting from a regional perspective also offers insights. First, comparing synods: Alaska-Northwest, Southern California and Hawaii, South Atlantic, and Puerto Rico voted strongly against the amendment, while Northeast, Lincoln Trails, and Covenant voted strongly for it. From a wider regional perspective, here following the NCAA basketball divisions, West (11-27) and South (12-33) oppose the amendment, while East (24-14) and Mideast (31-20) support it. Quite apart from the contested views regarding a biblical ethic or justice questions, this church is divided demographically and regionally. If the more religious and moral questions are uppermost in our ongoing considerations, surely these other factors are relevant, too, as the next stage of discussion ensues.

How close was it? With three tied votes (Central Nebraska, Cincinnati, and Mission) counting in the negative column, and fourteen additional presbyteries where the margin was five votes or less, the vote was closer than a 78-94 published result would indicate. But since the margins could tilt in either direction, neither side should claim too much. How much is victory worth? When next to take up the cudgels? How might some diversity be possible in a divided church? The questions for the church’s leaders at every level—congregation, presbytery, synod, and national—are too serious to let the discussion stop now that the voting is over.

The author:

Dale Johnson, who lives in Nashville, Tenn., was an elder commissioner to the 2008 General Assembly and a member of the Church Orders and Ministry Committee, which considered the overtures dealing with ordination. He is emeritus professor of church history at Vanderbilt Divinity School.

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The South makes the difference

A comment on this article from Gordon Shull, a Witherspoon member in Wooster, Ohio:

Dale Johnson's analysis makes it possible to discern that the Southern presbyteries tipped the scales. With the South, the amendment loses 78-94. Without the South, it wins 66-61.

I did a similar calculation on the original vote on G6.0106B. With the South, the amendment won 96-71. Without the South it would have lost, 65-70.

Am I still an ecumaniac? I don't know: ecumenicity has its price.

Gordon Shull
May 27, 2009

Church of Scotland backs away from its stand for justice     [5-26-09]

This report (with plenty of commentary) comes from John Shuck:

John Knox struck up the alleluias too soon it appears. The Church of Scotland (behaving like all superstitious and fearful cults--like the PCUSA) gave into its homophobic element. I praised it yesterday for approving an openly gay man as minister. The backlash has begun.

Instead of outright rejecting a motion similar to the PCUSA's G-6.0106b (effectively banning gays without mentioning them), the General Assembly decided to set up a commission. From the BBC:

    The Church of Scotland has avoided a potentially damaging debate about whether gay people should be allowed to become Kirk ministers.

    At its General Assembly in Edinburgh, it was decided instead that a special commission should be set up to consider the matter and report in 2011.

    There will be a two-year ban on the future ordination of gay ministers.

"Avoided a potentially damaging debate" says the news. Potentially damaging to whom? Those of us who have watched commission after commission in the 35 year struggle in the PCUSA know what these commissions end up doing.

The Church of Scotland will experience a shit storm of fear-mongering for two years. At the end of this time, the beleaguered commission will come up with some report. It makes no difference what the report will say. Fundamentalist forces will wrest control and tell the same lies and offer the same threats that have been made here for the past third of a century. Then they will come up with some horrific rule (just like G-6.0106b).

The Church of Scotland will be no further ahead then than they are now.

It was fun for a day.

Our earlier report >>

Church of Scotland GA approves church's call of openly gay minister    [5-23-09]

After 3 1/2 hours of debate, the General Assembly of The Church of Scotland meeting in Edinburgh on Saturday evening, May 23, 2009, voted 326 for and 267 against the Presbytery of Aberdeen's action (taken in January 2009) to sustain the call (issued in November 2008) from Queen's Cross Parish Church in Aberdeen, to the Rev. Scott Rennie, an openly-gay minister in The Church of Scotland who is in a committed relationship with his Christian partner, David, who is a religious education teacher.

We thank God for an inclusive church, where all are welcome!

This welcome news comes to us from the Rev. Lindsay Louise Biddle, a minister of the PC(USA), who is now serving the Church of Scotland in Glasgow along with her husband, the Rev. John Mann.

Click here for the Associated Press report >>

But beware:  The AP, like a number of others, makes the mistaken assumption that the Church of Scotland is related to the Church of England, and is thus a part of the worldwide Anglican Communion, so that this policy decision is seen as reflecting the Anglican struggles over gay ordination.  We know that is not the case!

More presbyteries switch to support inclusive ordination
A late addition:

One more switch for inclusion

The Presbytery of Missouri River Valley (Greater Omaha and Southwestern Iowa) tonight approved Amendment 08-B by a vote of 50-41-6, becoming the 34th to switch in favor compared to 2001-2.   The presbytery had faced a recommendation to take no action, but voted that down; in addition, they directed a committee to design and implement a plan for further dialogue about this and other controversial issues, keeping the conversation going.

Thanks to Tricia Dykers Koenig of Covenant Network

Over the past two weeks two more presbyteries have shifted their votes in support of amendment 08-B, which opens the door further to ordination of LGBT Presbyterians by making clear that suitability for ordination does not hinge on sexual orientation.

On May 9, the Presbytery of Utah approved Amendment 08-B by a voted of 28 to 25.

On May 8, the Presbytery of Northern Waters voted Yes on 08-B by 53 to 11, which is a 25% pro-LGBT shift from its vote in 2002.

Then on May 12, by a vote of 100 - 90 - 3, the Pacific Presbytery became the 33rd presbytery to switch from opposition in 2002 to support for LGBT equality and justice in 2009.

The same day, the Presbytery of East Iowa voted Yes on 08-B, 74 to 21, which is a 25% pro-LGBT shift from its vote in 2002.

Thus far, with the last presbytery vote scheduled for May 30, 77 presbyteries have approved the amendment for inclusive ordination, which is 35 more than the final count of 42 in 2002. Michael Adee, of More Light Presbyterians, who has furnished these reports, concludes his own report: “As the prophet Isaiah spoke, ‘surely God is doing a new thing in our midst.’ ” To which we can only say Amen.


For a careful and insightful analysis of the voting, you may want to look at Bruce Hahne’s statistics and commentary.

Voting on 08-B goes on, with surprises happy and not-so-happy


While your Web-Weaver has been in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains of North Georgia for his son’s wedding (ask me about it sometime – a wondrous experience in the diversity of life these days!), a few presbyteries have taken their actions on the proposed amendment to the Presbyterian Church’s Book of Order, which would have eliminated definitively the old G-6.0106b ban on ordination of anyone living in a same-sex relationship.

It is now clear that the amendment will not be passed, but the voting is still significant as a statement of progress that is being made in our church. So here are reports from some of the voting last week:


The Presbytery of Middle Tennessee voted on May 7, according to Gene TeSelle, "95 for, 139 against, and 1 courageous abstention." His report continues:

It has been difficult to predict the vote. Middle Tennessee voted against Amendment B in 1996-97, probably because it looked like something new, intruding on presbytery's prerogatives. But it voted against any change in 2001-02, perhaps because it was now the existing law. 

A presbytery task force had carefully organized a series of three discussions on Sunday afternoons (simultaneously in five different locations). The impression is that these were attended mostly by people favorable to 08-B, and that attendance from small town and rural areas was lower than from the greater Nashville area. But impressions, of course, are untrustworthy.

Before the vote, a number of ministers and elders received a copy of the agenda with a box saying "Vote No," just like what you receive outside your precinct on election day. With it were two statements from conservative ministers in the presbytery, with bullets on why the amendment was wrong and counterproductive.

Two procedural observations. The committee had recommended that there be a vote, that there be five-minute statements from one proponent and one opponent, then that statements be two minutes, alternating pro and con, and that the vote be by written ballot. (a) They forgot to mention that only commissioners should vote, and this was announced only after ballots had been distributed. And (b) the last time, proponents and opponents who wished to speak gathered at the front and lined up, and were able to yield to each other as the debate went on. This time, since no one had thought about it, speakers rose one by one from the floor, making it difficult for them to decide who should speak and when.


John Shuck added this comment on the Middle Tennessee vote:

The anti-equality forces mobilized in Middle Tennessee Presbytery today, defeating B, 95-139 compared to 95-118 last time. Those hoping for a flip received a sober slap in the face. Let us learn from this.

Equality is not automatic. 

Alan Wisdom of the IRD writes in After the Vote

There is a larger "progressive" narrative operating here. Our liberal friends are convinced that history is on a steady leftward course: towards greater individual moral autonomy, greater freedom in entering and exiting sexual relationships, and reduced relevance of traditions or authorities that might restrain individual autonomy and freedom. (If they are religious, our friends hail these trends as the will of an "inclusive" God.) 

Progressives see themselves as "prophetic." History will vindicate them, they are sure, and they will become the majority and sweep us conservatives into the dustbin. If they don’t win a vote today, they will win it tomorrow. And if society goes their way, then the Church must surely follow. 

This "progressive" myth has many obvious problems. The Church does not always follow the culture. Sometimes it resists the culture. Sometimes it changes the culture. Christians in past generations have taken stands against dueling, abandonment of unwanted infants, and polygamy—all common in their day, and all rare today. 

Did you get that? Wisdom compares LGBT equality with "dueling, abandonment of unwanted infants, and polygamy." He had to dig deep into the recesses of his phobias to find those comparisons.

But Wisdom does have a point. Equality and justice are not automatic. The culture of empire that the IRD represents and the deity that it worships is well-funded, full of fear, and overflowing with falsehoods. Remember what happened to the Southern Baptist Convention. 

Have you read Jeff Sharlet's The Family yet? You really should. Just don't read it alone at night. 

We should celebrate what has happened in our New England states, but without vigilance and action, rights and freedoms can be taken away just as quickly (i.e. California). 

People think that the younger generation is more accepting of gay and lesbian folks. Yes, but...young people can be turned into fundamentalists too as they are educated in their home schools and churches that Adam and Eve (not Adam and Steve) hung out with the dinosaurs. 

Things can change for the worse. All it takes is a prolonged economic downturn and a smooth-talking theocrat steps in to save the day with a scapegoat at hand. 

Niebuhr warned us not to rely on "progress." Justice is not automatic.


The Presbytery of Northern Waters (northern Minnesota and Wisconsin) met on May 7, and voted in favor of 08-B, by 52 to 11. Just in from our presbytery meeting.

Thanks to the Rev. David Oliver-Holder, of Bayfield, Wisconsin, for this report.


Utah makes the shift for inclusion and equality

The Presbytery of Utah, meeting on Saturday, May 9, voted in favor of amendment B, by 28 to 25. This was a major shift from a vote of 21-32 against equality last time. The Presbytery of Utah thus became the 32nd presbytery to shift from opposing inclusion in 2002, to supporting equality in 2009.


Tricia Dykers Koenig of Covenant Network adds these reports:

I've seen a report that Dakota Presbytery (non-geographical Native American) disapproved unanimously in a voice vote last weekend .... That brings the presbytery tally to 74-90. The Presbytery of Sheppards and Lapsley, which approved 08-B in February, at today's meeting was facing a motion from two Sessions to rescind their previous vote – but the motion was withdrawn, so the prospect of a cycle of do-overs was avoided, thanks be! ...

Utah's approval of 08-B reaches a milestone record of 75 presbyteries that support ordination standards based upon faith and character, not marital status or sexual orientation. We rejoice that 75 presbyteries call for the end of discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Presbyterians who are gifted and called by God to serve as Ministers, Elders and Deacons. ... 

We now stand at 75 supportive presbyteries which is already 33 more than the final count of 42 in 2002 with more presbyteries yet to vote. The last presbytery vote is scheduled for May 30. As the prophet Isaiah spoke, "surely God is doing a new thing in our midst." 

Late news       [4-28-09]

Two more presbyteries shift to support Amendment 08-B

In their meetings today, the presbyteries of Lehigh (Eastern Pennsylvania, by a vote of 60-46-2) and Detroit (by 141-92) brought the number of presbyteries switching from their 2001-2 opposition to 30, and the total approving Amendment 08-B to 71.

Thanks to Tricia Dykers-Koenig of Covenant Network

Amendment 08-B will not be approved, but the struggle for a more just and inclusive PC(USA) will continue    [4-27-09]
by Doug King, your WebWeaver

On Saturday, April 25, the number of presbyteries voting against Amendment 08-B reached a total of 87, which constitutes a majority of presbyteries, and thus defeats the proposed amendment of the Book of Order. Amendment 08-B, which would have removed the explicit ban on ordination of LGBT members of the church, will still be voted on in a number of presbyteries, and it’s important to keep working on those votes, for they will be counted in the final tally.

The Presbytery de Cristo (Southern Arizona and Southwest New Mexico) maintained its previous support (59-48), but Sierra Blanca (Eastern New Mexico) did not (23-30), becoming the second presbytery (after San Francisco) to shift from previously supporting inclusion to opposing it in this vote. Also, the Presbyteries of Boise (Southwest Idaho, by a vote of 25-34) and Northern Plains (North Dakota, by 21-33) continued their rejection of the change in ordination standards.

The current tally stands at 69 in favor of 08-B, with 88 having voted against. (Actually, three of the “No” votes were ties, which are counted as No votes.)

Fifteen other presbyteries have yet to vote, and judging by past actions, at least five of them seem likely to support the change.

So what's next?

There’s a “visceral shift”

Presbyterian Outlook national reporter Leslie Scanlon offers a very good survey of the situation, including opinions on both sides of the issue, and some astute analysis as well. She writes: 

... [T]he result has already been determined: the “fidelity and chastity” standard will stay.

Despite that, however, this vote has convinced virtually no one that the gay ordination issue is now dead and buried in the PC(USA). Why?

For one reason, the vote was closer this time than ever before – with 27 of the 127 presbyteries that wanted to keep “fidelity and chastity” the last time around (when the vote was taken in 2001 and 2002) voting this time to change the standard. Many presbyteries in the South – for example, four of the five presbyteries in North Carolina – shifted. Only one presbytery – San Francisco, in a close 177-167 vote – flipped the other way. [She was apparently not yet aware of the negative vote in Sierra Blanca.]

So even though a majority of the 173 presbyteries have voted to retain “fidelity and chastity,” there’s been a visible, almost visceral shift in the support – with the final vote when all the presbyteries have weighed in expected to be closer than ever before.

What is this “visceral shift”? Many observers have noted, as Scanlon does, the number of presbyteries even in the South that have shifted from their long-standing opposition to inclusive ordination to support for it. This shift is seen against the background of clear changes in our culture, ranging for legalization of same-sex marriage in at least four states, to increasing awareness among straight people that they know LGBT people and find them to be ordinary human beings, not the strange specimens they’ve often been portrayed as being.

We Presbyterians do “bend toward justice”

The Rev. Dr. Janet Edwards, co-moderator of More Light Presbyterians, has captured this well in her essay for the Washington Post. She takes her title from the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, calling it “Presbyterians Bending Toward Justice.”

It seems as if, slowly and sometimes painfully, we Presbyterians are catching on to the wild idea that God is more interested in love and justice than in some ancient notions of religious purity.

The trends are positive

As More Light Presbyterians notes in their statement following the weekend votes:

The trends are clear: the Presbyterian Church (USA) is remarkably close to removing the barriers so that Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender people can faithfully answer God's call to serve. The witness of this ratification process across the country indicates without a doubt that a growing number of Presbyterians believe that LGBT persons and their families should have the same opportunities and responsibilities of full participation, membership and ordained service in our Church offered to their heterosexual sisters and brothers.

Legislative action is the way to go

The Rev. John Shuck, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Elizabethton, Tennessee, and a strong supporter of an inclusive church, responds to the defeat of Amendment 08-B by arguing that continuing legislative efforts are needed. Citing Janet Edwards’ article and the shifts in presbytery voting, as well as changing attitudes toward homosexuality and same-sex marriage, reflected in surveys reported by Forbes magazine and others, he concludes that: 

For those like myself who see this change as positive and who work for it in the civil and in the ecclesiastical worlds, we think the method of advocating legislative change is going pretty well. 

            ►          It provides the best opportunity available to change hearts and minds.

            ►          It encourages individuals to speak and to work toward removing discriminatory barriers.

            ►          It reflects the trend toward equality in church and society.  

We will continue through legislative means to give the church the opportunity to vote for equality and non-discrimination.

One church is already going down that legislative route

In one very concrete response, Northside Presbyterian Church in Ann Arbor, Michigan, has already approved another amendment to the Book of Order, which “would allow the ordination of openly lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) members.”

They will send this overture to the Presbytery of Detroit for action, and if approved there it will be sent to the 219th General Assembly in 2010. Their hope, of course, is that be approved there, and sent again to all the presbyteries for another vote.

Thoughts from one Witherspooner

These cogitations from your WebWeaver are my own, offered on behalf of the Witherspoon Society to our own members and the church at large, but not reflecting any official action by the Board. We welcome your comments and suggestions! Just send a note, and (unless you specify otherwise) we’ll share it here. Doug King

One Presbyterian elder wrote a note to her pastor, which he shared on an MLP email list. She wrote:

It is heartbreaking that we as a church are still not ready to love each other heart and soul – just as we are. But we all have to get to the place of acceptance and I am not patient – (the hardest lesson for me) but I know it will come.

My job now is to be open to people where they are, to listen to fears, and to respond in love.

Perhaps that’s a good place to start – acknowledging the pain we all feel as walls of separation remain standing, exclusion continues, and people are condemned for simply being who they are.

But this is also a time to move forward, buoyed by shifts that are clearly present in the Presbyterian Church and in our wider society, and energized by the patient, unfailing grace of God toward all people.

It’s not clear yet just what forms that forward movement might take, but here are a few thoughts gleaned mostly from what others are saying and writing.

►          We must not stop our efforts for change. As the struggles for racial justice and for equality for women have shown us, change comes, but slowly, and often at great cost. But the struggle must go on. 

►          The work must be guided by those whose lives are on the line – the ones directly impacted by the walls of exclusion and the systems of oppression.  

►          Changing the rules in the Presbyterian Book of Order must remain a major focus.

►          As in votes on proposed amendments in the past, there is a danger that amendments offered at the next General Assembly, in 2010, will be greeted with great groans of weariness, and even if passed by the Assembly, will be buried in the presbyteries by people who feel they’ve said what they have to say about inclusive ordination, and don’t want to hear about it again. 

►          It seems therefore that coming back with proposed changes that have already been considered may be unfruitful. It might be helpful, though, to do some serious rethinking of the issues and of the proposed steps forward, offering a new approach that could give people a chance to rethink their positions. 

►          Presbyterians love to study, and this could be a challenging focus for just such study. This would not be a call for more delay, but an urgent invitation for people to gather voluntarily in their presbyteries, or in affinity groups, or just in little groups that want things to get better in the Presbyterian Church (USA), to seek fresh approaches, fresh ways to think and talk about justice and grace and sexuality. Organizations such as Witherspoon, and More Light Presbyterians, the Covenant Network and That All May Freely Serve, and many others might join together in supporting and resourcing these efforts. 

►          The hope would be that some of these small-group conversations could produce proposals for amendments to the Book of Order, or for other steps forward. They could present them in presbyteries, and seek to move them on to the 2010 General Assembly for action. 

►          Some of these groups might shift their focus from ordination to other gender-related issues, and specifically the question of same-sex marriage. There will be a report on this subject coming to the 219th General Assembly, and proposals might well build on that.

Other reports and comments: 

Jerry L. Van Marter of Presbyterian News Service lists the presbyteries voting for and against the amendment, and those shifting from one position to the other. He also notes that “Twenty-seven of the 127 presbyteries that voted ‘No’ in 2001-2002 – plus Western New York Presbytery, which voted to take ‘no action’ last time – have voted in favor of this year's amendment. Two presbyteries that voted ‘Yes’ last time - San Francisco and Sierra Blanca - have switched to a ‘No’ this year.” The full story >>

Presbyterian Coalition

The Layman reports that Terry Schlossberg, coordinator the Presbyterian Coalition’s Campaign to Defeat Amendment B, declared that “It is time to accept the Church's decision. Since the 1970s the PCUSA has heard, considered and responded to appeals to change her standard of sexual morality. Those who wish to change the Biblically-rooted standard have continually pressed the matter and required repeated votes that have had the same outcome each time. It is well past time to acknowledge that the Church today, as throughout her history, knows her mind on this matter, and that it is the mind of Christ. It is time to call for forbearance from those who constantly disturb the peace and unity of the church.”

Institute on Religion and Democracy

Alan Wisdom, IRD’s Vice President for Research and Programs, and Director of Presbyterian Action, writes:

This is fourth time in 12 years that PCUSA presbyteries have voted on sexuality standards. Each time they have upheld “fidelity and chastity.” If ever there were a case when the church had made up its mind on an issue, this is it. Faithful Presbyterians ask the proponents of non-marital relationships to stop forcing this divisive issue and instead endeavor to live within the church’s constitution.

A Witherspoon member comments:

The Rev. Bobbie McGarey, pastor and Witherspoon member, gets the last word. Or two or three. 

Well this vote is in.... 

And as a beautiful lady said to a colleague and me following a vote in GA at Ft. Worth,

"Don't worry darlin's. Just remember, sometimes it's a long way around the teacup till you get to the handle. I've been there. – Don't give up."


I read today an article about Bishop Desmond Tutu and discovered this quote on the Appointment of the Anglican Bishop Gene Robinson:

Tutu has remarked that it is sad the Church is spending time disagreeing on sexual orientation "when we face so many devastating problems – poverty, HIV/AIDS, war and conflict." 

Well so it goes.
God Abide!

Here is the reference given for the Tutu, from Click here and you’ll find the quote in the second paragraph on “Church reform,” with a link to another source.

The Rev. Bobbie McGarey is Interim Pastor of First Presbyterian Church, Lawton, Oklahoma.

Two more presbyteries shift to approve Amendment 08-B, but San Francisco shifts to oppose inclusion

A number of presbyteries have met this week to vote on proposed amendments to the Book of Order, and two of them shifted from opposing the ordination of LGBT Presbyterians to approving Amendment 08-B.

Salem Presbytery (in North Carolina) approved the change by a vote of 156 to 149, with one abstention, while Wabash Valley Presbytery (in Indiana) voted 78 to 60. Both of these were shifts from their opposition to ordination equality in 2001-2. 

National Capital Presbytery first rejected a recommendation from their Bills and Overtures Committee for “No Action” by a resounding voice vote, and then approved the amendment by 222 to 102, with one abstention.

But San Francisco Presbytery, a traditionally supportive presbytery, became the first one this year to shift from support of inclusive ordination to reject Amendment 08-B, by a vote of 167 affirmative votes to 177 negative, with 4 abstentions.

That leaves the total tally thus far at 68 presbyteries in favor of 08-B and 85 opposed.

As Tricia Dykers-Koenig of Covenant Network comments, “Because 87 is the number needed for passage, it would take an even bigger miracle than we have yet experienced for the amendment to be approved (nothing is impossible with God!); yet we continue to rejoice in the progress we have made, and continue to work in the presbyteries that have yet to vote. Even if we don't amend the Book of Order this year, we are on track to do better than ever before; let's keep sending a strong signal about where the PCUSA is headed, and let's keep engaging in the respectful witness that advances our cause regardless of vote totals.”

Thanks to Covenant Network and More Light Presbyterians for these reports.

Two presbyteries have voted today on Amendment 08-B   [4-4-09]

The Presbytery of San Jose, meeting at the Los Gatos Presbyterian Church, Los Gatos, California, voted 84 Yes to 81 No to approve the 218th General Assembly's Ordination Amendment 08-B. They were the 65th presbytery to approve the amendment.

But also today, the Presbytery of South Louisiana came closer than in the past to approving inclusive ordination, with a vote of 42 Yes to 55 No. Still not enough, but the last vote was 51 to 71.

So the total of presbytery votes so far is 65 Yes to 82 No.

Scroll down for more on Amendment 08-B ...

... but South Louisiana voted No

The Rev. John Shuck offers this painful but helpful comment this evening on his always lively, always thoughtful blog, Shuck and Jive

And that is the clincher, I am afraid. I held out for a win until it was pretty much mathematically impossible to do so. With the score 65-82, only five presbyteries are needed to defeat it. There are five presbyteries that have historically voted 'no' unanimously or nearly so still yet to vote.

Now, team, we play for pride.

Our motivation is first of all to change hearts and minds one by one. This is the opportunity to tell the stories and to witness to the inclusive love of the gospel by proclaiming the equality of all people.

We also play the spoiler.

What we want to spoil is the claim by the voices against equality that the church has 'decisively spoken four times with increasing margins, blah, blah, blah....'

We have spoiled that already. 25 presbyteries have switched from no to yes, and the margin within most presbyteries who have voted no has decreased. The "popular vote" is nearly equal. These are clear factors that the denomination is moving toward equality. There is no decisive voice. We are about dead even and everyday hearts and minds change for equality.

This means we need to make this presbytery vote as close as possible and perhaps win the 'popular vote.' All of that matters as we look ahead to 2010. Bruce Hahne has a great analysis of all of this as well as commentary. He reminds us that we are in a marathon not a sprint.

‘In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, “Grant me justice against my opponent.” For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, “Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.”
A Tale of Two Pastors & Two Different Kinds of Churches

Michael Adee of More Light Presbyterians reflects on a newspaper report on the Grace Presbytery (Texas) meeting which approved Amendment 08-B by a vote of 203 to 182.

I do not know Rev. Kathy Collier or Rev. Ron Scates. They are the 2 pastors quoted in today's Dallas Morning News' article "North Texas Presbyterian leaders vote to ease way for gays' ordination" by Sam Hodges. The entire article about Grace Presbytery's recent vote of 203-182 in favor of the 218th General Assembly's Ordination Amendment 08-B can be found on their website >>.

Certainly one or two quotations do not sum up a human being, or give a fully accurate picture of someone or the totality of their beliefs and values. However, I was struck by the profound contrast of these statements made by 2 pastors who serve Presbyterian churches within Grace Presbytery in north Texas.

In many ways, the contrast between Collier’s and Scates’ statements may indeed reflect and reveal two profoundly different understandings of God's creation, faith, Scripture, ministry and what it means to be the Church. Frankly, I see, experience and feel "grace" in one and "law" in the other. Jesus lived and spoke often about such things.

On the one hand, for Rev. Scates: the sky is falling, the Church has lost its way, he appeals to fear and threatens schism when Ordination change occurs. "The PC(USA) is just one symptom of the greater demise of the American church, which has lost its biblical moorings," he said. Scates added that he's confident the language will not be changed in this national vote, but he wasn't so sure about the next time. "It may pass, in which case you're going to see the PC(USA) fly apart."

I would not recommend Scates' picture of the Church to an evangelism committee working on outreach in their community, to a confirmation class or youth group, or frankly consider it a life-giving one for my own heart and soul.

To be fair, of course, this is not the only thing Rev. Scates has ever said about the Church or Christian faith. However, this is what he chose and did say knowing he would be quoted and that his words in that moment would "paint" a picture of God, faith and the Church to everyone who might read the story.

On the other hand, Rev. Collier said: "This is a call from God for us to welcome all of God's children." As Sam Hodges reported from the presbytery meeting: "Kathy Collier, pastor of First Presbyterian of Forney, supported the change, saying it was past time for the denomination to accept qualified pastoral candidates regardless of their sexual orientation."

Collier said this is the God who calls us to be open, loving and welcoming to all of God's children – and that all of us are God's children, part of God's good creation, not just some of us. Collier calls for a Church that is accepting, not one that discriminates. Collier paints a picture of God and the Church as open, welcoming, full of grace.

Based upon these two statements and their connotations – which are only snapshots, of course – which picture of God, faith and the Church, essentially of Christianity, do you want to prevail? Which picture do you want to be "the last word" about what it means to be Presbyterian, to be Christian, to be a follower of Christ?

For me, Jesus paints the picture for all of us as recorded in the Gospel of Mark 12: 28 - 31 when he was asked what was the most important commandment. Jesus said: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all of your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."

The sacred gift of Amendment 08-B for our Church, and every local congregation, is that it restores the importance of faith, character and love while removing barriers to being part of God's church and following one's call to ministry regardless of one's marital status, sexuality or other human conditions.

For the story from the Dallas Morning News >>

Northern New York and Long Island presbyteries continue support for inclusion and justice  [3-31-09]

The Presbytery of Northern New York approved Amendment 08-B by voice vote today, following its pattern of support for ordination of LGBT Presbyterians in the past. 

Terry de la Vega, an Elder in First Presbyterian Church, Potsdam, NY, says:  "The votes were not counted, so we do not know the exact level of support, which was kind of anti-climactic for me. In any case, when we gave our voice vote, Yes was decidedly louder than No, which was good enough for our moderator to call it. I hope and pray the momentum keeps going until we reach 87 Yes presbyteries!"

To which we can only say Amen!

And the Presbytery of Long Island, also meeting today, voted by 78 to 29 to approve Amendment 08-B.

That leaves the tally of presbytery votes at 64 in favor of Amendment 08-B, and 81 opposed.

Thanks to Michael Adee of MLP, and Tricia Dykers Koenig
of Covenant Network, for these reports.

More presbyteries shift to support inclusive ordination    [3-30-09]

Of the six presbyteries meeting on Saturday, March 28, all six voted to ratify Amendment 08-B, which would remove the explicit ban on ordination of LGBP Presbyterians as elders or ministers.

Grace Presbytery (in the Dallas-Ft.Worth area of Texas) was presented with a recommendation by Presbytery Council to take No Action; rejecting that recommendation, they voted for Amendment 08-B by 203 to182, with 6 abstentions.

The Presbytery of Philadelphia also supported ordination equality for the first time in an amendment vote, by 152 to 139.

The Presbytery of Western New York (including Buffalo) returned to the supportive column after having taken no action (which has the effect of a 'no') in 2002.  Their vote was 66 Yes to 48 No.

Continuing their support of an inclusive church, two Upstate New York presbyteries voted to approve 08-B: Genesee Valley Presbytery's vote was 93 Yes to 24 No, while the Presbytery of Susquehanna Valley voted 59 Yes to 23 No. New York City Presbytery also voted to approve the amendment by 76 to 25.

In 2001-2, a total of 42 presbyteries voted for justice and to end discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons in the Presbyterian Church (USA). This year, 62 presbyteries have already approved Amendment 09-B, while 81 have rejected it. So 143 out of a total of 173 presbyteries have voted. With 30 presbyteries yet to vote, those who support a just and inclusive church will need to work hard, pray with passion, and urge their friends to reflect deeply on this matter, and vote for a church that will more faithfully reflect the inclusive, capacious grace of God.


Hans Cornelder, editor of the PresbyWeb site, whose reporting on the voting has tended to emphasize the odds (if that’s the right word for a Presbyterian enterprise such as his!) against passage of the amendment, yesterday posted this evaluation of the tally as the voting nears its end:

March 29, with 30 of 173 votes yet to come

The proposal might pass

Fidelity and Chastity requirement is hanging by a thread

By Hans Cornelder, editor

Looking at the 2001/2002 margins in the presbyteries that yet have to vote, it appears very likely that the end result will be closer than 76-97. As a matter of fact, I think it is not entirely impossible that the proposal will pass. Why? Most of them had margins before that are smaller than or comparable to presbyteries that have changed sides.

Three more presbyteries shift to support inclusive ordination    [3-21-09]

Three more presbyteries voted on Saturday, March 21, to support Amendment 08-B, reversing their past rejections of inclusive ordination.

bulletThe Presbytery of Mackinac in Northern Michigan approved Amendment B by a vote of 44-32.
bulletNewark Presbytery voted by 42 to 8 in favor of the new Amendment B.
bulletThe Presbytery of West Virginia from 92-114-4, in 2001-02, to a very convincing 93-56-2.

In addition to these three that shifted to support change, the Presbytery of Grand Canyon (Arizona, including Phoenix) continued its support, in spite of an official committee recommendation against approval.

There were also presbyteries continuing their rejection of the change: The Western Pennsylvania presbyteries of Redstone and Northumberland voted 'no' today, as did Abingdon (Western Virginia) and Olympia (Washington) on Thursday.

Thanks to Steven Hammond, Pastor of Alpena (Michigan) Presbyterian Church, John Shuck of First Presbyterian Church, Elizabethton, Tenn., and Tricia Dykers-Koenig of Covenant Network, for these reports.

John Shuck concludes his report: 

Score? 51-79.  We need a hero. We actually need 36 heroic presbyteries to go blue.

We welcome your reports and comments
on voting in other presbyteries. 
Just send a note!

More voting on Amendment 08-B

No big surprises in last weekend’s presbytery vote

Just in -- another happy surprise:

The Presbytery of West Jersey, meeting today, switched from its 2001-02 vote to support Amendment 08-B, by 88 for to 80 against.

Thanks to Sonnie Swentson

Recent presbytery votes have pretty much followed their patterns in past votes, with presbyteries that have supported inclusive ordination continuing to do so, and opponents remaining opposed.

The votes for the Amendment 08-B came in these presbyteries:

bulletNorthern New England: 57-30
bulletTwin Cities Area: 138-54-10
bulletCascades: 150-48

Presbyteries voting against the amendment all did so by a narrower margin than in the past – except for San Juan (Puerto Rico) which acted by a voice vote. The other presbyteries were:

bulletMuskingum Valley: 44-70-2
bulletProvidence (North Central South Carolina): 39-48-4.
bulletHanmi (a non-geographic Korean presbytery, in the Synod of Southern California and Hawai'i): 1-30. Somebody had real courage there!

This leaves the total vote count at 46 for the amendment, and 74 opposed. But a number of presbyteries that have been supportive of inclusive ordination have yet to vote, so it’s not over!

Michael Adee, of More Light Presbyterians, offers some helpful reflections on “where we’re at” right now.  See the next item below.

Thanks to Tricia Dykers-Koenig of Covenant Network,
and many others, for providing helpful information.

Concerned about 08-B? Vote Tally: Fear Not. Have Faith. Continue Praying. And Keep Working.

Michael Adee of More Light Presbyterians writes:

A recent story from the Presbyterian News Service suggested that "the signs" in the ratification voting process on 08-B so far indicate two things: incredible shifts toward LGBT equality are clear since 2001-2 across our Church and in many surprising places as indicated in the number of presbyteries that have "flipped" from opposition then to support now; and that the current voting tally clearly shows that our Church will not ratify the 218th General Assembly's Ordination Amendment 08-B.

I agree wholeheartedly with the first sign which is obvious — that our Church is opening up to God's Spirit and leading us away from discrimination against our LGBT sisters and brothers; and there is much to disagree with the "foregone conclusion" of the second, that 08-B cannot be passed now.

A surface read of the current 08-B tally of 43 YES - 73 NO with 116 presbyteries having voted might lead one to such a conclusion that 08-B cannot be passed now. But I invite all of us to look beneath the surface. Bruce Hahne, Elder, First Presbyterian Church, Palo Alto, CA and a recent MLP Board member, has been crunching the numbers, doing thoughtful analysis, looking at trends, etc., and he reports that there is much more story to be told, beneath the surface. Hahne's analysis from today gives us more accurate information than a surface read of the tally or a foregone conclusion that 08-B cannot pass now.

More >>

Lisa Larges going to court (church court, that is) again

Lisa Larges, who has been a candidate for ministry for over 20 years, and who remains convinced of her call to ministry, is still being challenged by another judicial proceeding which will come before the Permanent Judicial Commission of the Synod of the Pacific very shortly.

Ray Bagnuolo, an ordained Presbyterian minister who is also an out gay man, has written a strong and loving affirmation of Lisa and her cause. Andhe invites us all to join in prayer with and for her in these days.

More on Bagnuolo’s blog >>

More presbyteries vote on Amendment 08-B

Twin Cities Area says Yes – again

Witherspoon member Peter Soulen reports that the Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area, meeting today at Faith Presbyterian Church, Minnetonka, Minn. approved Amendment 08-B by a vote of 138 Yes, to 54 No, with 10 abstentions. [So Amendment B received 71.9% of the Yes votes. The 2001-02 vote for inclusion was by a margin of 63.8%.]

Muskingum Valley again says No to inclusion

This report comes to us from Witherspooner Gordon Shull:

You may have learned that Muskingum Valley Presbytery defeated Amendment 08-B, today, by a vote of 44-70. The debate was conducted fairly, with two minutes allowed per speaker, and rigorously enforced; all who wished to speak were heard. I attach the talk I gave.

Opposition arguments were almost entirely based on simplistic interpretations of scripture. Supporting arguments dealt with scripture, experiences with gay family and parishioners, and the merits of some features of Amendment B. One opponent urged us to give the PUP proposal a try. Another was all in a tizzy over the Amendment's reference to transgendered and bisexual people - as if they require separate treatment.

My own assessment is that people came with their minds made up. I doubt that more than a few minds were changed by our eloquence. But I wish that supporters had lined up a series of 2-minuters on the scriptural issues.

This report comes to us from Witherspooner Gordon Shull

[So we note that in Muskingum Valley, Amendment B received 38.6% of the votes as affirmative; in 2001-02, it received just 30.4% of the votes.]

Gordon Shull’s talk to the Presbytery:

Ordination Amendment 3-09

I am Gordon Shull, an elder of First Pres,, Wooster.

I must be perfectly honest with you. I am Straight . . . but not by choice. I cannot point to a moment when I asked myself, "Shall I be Gay or Straight? . . . Gay or Straight? . . . Straight!"

Can YOU? (Be honest with yourself! Did you choose your sexual orientation, or just discover it?)

I have two sons who are Straight - but not by choice.

And I have a third son who is Gay - but also not by choice. What Dave knows is that for years he struggled with what he was finding in himself. He hoped he would outgrow it. He dated wonderful young women, hoping he could fall in love with one of them. But in all honesty and integrity, he could not. Like 5% of the whole animal kingdom, Dave is Gay.

Dave also felt called to the ministry. He and his partner – another gentle, sensitive, wonderful young man – have been pastors for 20 years. They are gifted preachers, beloved pastors. (They are a profound blessing to each other and to the churches they serve.) They, and we, thank the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ that they found a church who could celebrate their gifts, and welcome them as they are.

Some day the Presbyterian Church we love will decide that some of the gifted men and women among us discover in themselves a different sexual orientation than most of us have; that some of these hear a clear call to Christian ministry within the Presbyterian fold; and that we should trust ordaining bodies who know such people best to judge the integrity of that call.

Let that time be now.

More votes on Amendment 08-B

Two more presbyteries shift to support change

Again yesterday (Tuesday, March 10) two presbyteries shifted from opposing an inclusive church to supporting Amendment 08-B, which would take the Presbyterian Church one more step toward making “ordination standards” a matter of faith and life, and not of sexual identity.

The Presbytery of Transylvania voted by 84 to 61 to approve the amendment, having voted by 50 to 83 against change in 2001-02. And Eastminster voted for the change by 60 to 39, with two abstentions, where they voted 54 to 65 against the 2001 proposed amendment.

Peter Smith, of the Louisville Courier-Journal, reports on the action of Transylvania Presbytery, which is in Eastern Kentucky.

Lake Michigan Presbytery and New Brunswick both continued their support for change.

One presbytery – Riverside – rejected the change, but by a much narrower margin (45-53) than in 2001-02 (18-94).

San Gabriel voted to reject the amendment, and Nevada rejected it by a wider margin than before

So the total presbytery vote tally now stands at 42 approving the amendment, and 69 rejecting it.

Presbyterian News Service’s latest report on the voting, from Jerry Van Marter, portrays the amendment as “trailing,” but describes the voting as “closer than last time.”

Blogger John Shuck analyzes the voting and concludes that in numerous presbyteries the margin by which the amendment has been rejected have been very close (and in three the vote has been tied, which counts as a defeat that would have been reversed by one vote). So a few more votes could be making a big difference.

Shuck also notes the most recent report on The Layman’s website, which views with alarm the trend toward change.

You want more??  Here are links to some of the sites that are providing tallies of the voting:

Presbyterian Welcome
Covenant Network
Bruce Hahne
Presbyterian Coalition
Capetz restoration case sent back to synod PJC

Test case on ‘scrupling’ must be tried, GAPJC rules

Presbyterian News Service reports that the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s highest court has remanded back to a lower church court a case that will decide whether a former minister who refuses to promise that he will live in celibacy may be restored to active ministry.

The case revolves around Paul Capetz, a former PC(USA) minister and seminary professor who was ordained in 1991 but in 2000 set aside his ordination because of his conscientious objection to G-6.0106b of the church’s Book of Order, which requires of church officers “fidelity in marriage between a man and a woman or chastity in singleness.”  The rest of the story >>

Another presbytery shifts to support inclusive ordination   [3-3-09]

Yellowstone Presbytery voted earlier today in favor of Amendment 08-B by a vote of 25 yes, 23 no, 1 abstain.

This is another major shift, for a presbytery which has voted consistently against equality in the past.

The total tally now stands at 37 yes – 57 no.

Thanks to John Shuck for this good news

Click here for a full page of reports and commentary on this major concern in the PC(USA) >>

Presbytery voting on Amendment 08-B continues

The past week was not a good one for those seeking a welcoming, inclusive church.    [3-2-09]

Thirteen presbyteries voted during the past week on the constitutional amendments proposed by the 2008 General Assembly. Of those, ten have been clearly opposed to removing the effective ban on ordination for lgbt Presbyterians which was added to the Book of Order a few years ago in the form of provision G-6.0106b.

Proponents of the new pro-inclusion amendment had some hope that one presbytery, Indian Nations, might well shift this year to supporting the change, since its last vote, in 2001-02, was split 52 to 52 on a pro-inclusion amendment. That tie vote was counted as a rejection of the proposed change, but it was pretty close. This year, though, opponents of change were ready to resist.

They moved that the vote should be taken on 08-B without presentations or discussion. Their motion was passed, in a clear rejection of the call by the 2008 General Assembly for a careful process of discernment throughout the church.

So the week ended with 11 presbyteries rejecting the amendment, and 2 (Hudson River and Milwaukee) continuing their strong support for change – both by even higher margins than in 2001-02. As Bruce Hahne notes, though, most of those rejecting the amendment still saw an increase in the number of commissioners supporting it. The tide is clearly turning!

That leaves the total tally so far at 36 presbyteries approving the amendment, and 57 rejecting it.

Bruce Hahne, who is keeping a careful tally of the voting, complete with analysis and commentary, offers a list of four tactics that appear to be used in various situations by opponents of Amendment 08-B:

Here are some popular tactics that can be used by anti-equality groups to game the voting system so that pro-equality overtures have a reduced probability of success at the presbytery level:
bullet"Stifle the Spirit" tactic: Don't allow discussion of the equality overture, just go directly to a vote. Variation: schedule only a token time interval for discussion.
bullet"Public intimidation" tactic: Don't use secret ballots -- make people stand up in the middle of presbytery meeting to have their vote counted. Works particularly well in presbyteries with a strong majority on either side.
bullet"Endurance test" tactic: Schedule the vote on the overture at the end of a 7-hour meeting so that younger voters with kids at home have to leave before the vote.
bullet"Consent calendar" tactic: Put a "no" vote on the overture onto the consent calendar to try to sneak it through. Even if pro-equality supporters catch this trick, they then have to go through procedural hoops on the floor of presbytery to get the item removed from the consent calendar.

For more information and comment:

bulletMore Light Presbyterians >>
bullet John Shuck’s blog, Shuck & Jive >>
bullet Bruce Hahne’s vote tracking and commentary >>
More presbyteries voting on Amendment 08-B this week       [2-24-09]

These presbyteries will be moving through the process of discernment on 08-B in the days ahead. We continue to witness a strong movement of the Spirit in the decisions of many presbyteries, as we seek ratification of this amendment and an inclusive and unified church for all. We invite you to keep all those who will be part of these meetings in your prayers.


East Iowa
Geneva (?)
Hudson River


Missouri Union
Peace River


Indian Nations
South Alabama
South Dakota


Central Nebraska
New Harmony
North Puget Sound
Northeast Georgia
Tampa Bay

Thanks to Ray Bagnuolo

Lutherans move to allow gay clergy – sort of

Religion News Service reports:

A blue-ribbon panel recommended on Thursday (Feb. 19) that the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America lift its ban on partnered gay and lesbian clergy, but only after the church agrees in principle on gay relationships and respecting the consciences of those who dissent.

A majority of the 15-member Task Force for ELCA Studies on Sexuality believes that “it is possible to devise guidelines and policies that would allow ... some flexibility” in its ordination standards.

The 4.8 million-member ELCA currently allows gay or lesbian clergy who pledge to be celibate; partnered or sexually active homosexual clergy are technically not allowed in ELCA pulpits, though some buck the rules without punishment. ...

If adopted by the ELCA’s Churchwide Assembly in August, the proposals would remove the blanket ban on non-celibate gay and lesbian clergy, empowering local congregations and governing bodies to make their own decisions on whether to allow them.

The full story >>


And for a report from the heartland (or should it be Mighty Fortress?) of the ELCA, here’s a story from the Minneapolis Star Tribune

More heartening results from presbyteries voting today on Amendment 08-B     [2-21-09]

The Presbytery of Greater Atlanta, the largest presbytery in the PC(USA), met today at Druid Hills Presbyterian Church, Atlanta, and voted by 243 to 233 to approve Amendment B, which would effectively remove the ban on ordination of lgbt Presbyterians. This is the first time Greater Atlanta has voted for inclusive ordination.

Another shift came in the Presbytery of New Hope, meeting at Cary Presbyterian Church, Cary, North Carolina. They approved Amendment 08-B by a vote of 177 Yes to 139 No, with 10 abstentions. In 2001-02, New Hope voted 153 Yes to 159 No, rejecting a similar move toward equality.

Yet another shift came in the Presbytery of Ohio Valley. Today they voted 57 to 44 to approve Amendment B, while in 2001-02 they voted 90 to 74 against it. Also, the Presbytery of Arkansas voted 116 to 64 in favor of Amendment B, after opposing such changes in the past.

Continuing their earlier support for full inclusion, the Presbytery of Santa Fe and the Presbytery of Mid-Kentucky (formerly known as Louisville) both approved Amendment B. Santa Fe voted 110 Yes to 23 No, with 1 abstention. Mid-Kentucky voted 90 Yes to19 No. Giddings-Lovejoy also continued its support for inclusion, voting 125 to 83 for Amendment B. The Presbytery of John Knox voted 39 to 13 for the change -- in a snowstorm.

The presbyteries of The James, Lake Erie, North Alabama, Homestead, and Tropical Florida all remained steadfast in their opposition to this change.

Of 77 presbyteries reporting so far, 34 have voted Yes, and 44 No. And of the presbyteries voting Yes, 15 have shifted from previously opposing inclusive ordination to supporting it this time.

Thanks to Presbyweb and to Bruce Hahne
for most of this information.

The Vote on Amendment 08-B Marches On: Analysis and Prospect

by Dale Johnson

Election Day in the PC(USA) is six months long! As of February 18, 2009, just over one-third (61) of the presbyteries have voted, with the division being 23 in favor of the amendment and 38 opposed. Eleven of the twelve presbyteries that voted before Christmas opposed the amendment, and from the vote totals, it appears that these bodies did not think there was much to talk about (in only one case was the vote close). Since then, the votes have been almost equally divided, although the margin of the opposition has increased slightly. A look at past voting records and what that might suggest for those presbyteries that have yet to vote reveals a number of observations:

1. In 1996-97, the General Assembly’s establishment of ordination standards language in the current Book of Order’s G-6.0106b was approved by the presbyteries by a vote of 57% to 43% (97 presbyteries supporting and 74 opposing the addition). After the succeeding General Assembly voted to alter the language of “fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman, or chastity in singleness,” the presbyteries voted not to accept the proposed amended language by a vote of 67% to 33% (114-57 in the actual count). Again in 2001 the General Assembly proposed altered language, and again the church rejected it by an even larger percentage, 73% to 27% (127-46 in presbytery numbers). With the 2008 General Assembly’s further attempt at altered language, some have suggested that “the times,” generational shifts in consciousness, or demographics (i.e., some members and congregations moving to either of the more conservative Presbyterian denominations) would make this a much easier sell to the churches. But that view seems to ignore the large vote total that must be reversed to make this happen.

2. Of the 173 presbyteries in the church, I count a total of 85 that have been solidly on the side of G-6.0106b: that is, they voted to support the original proposal and they voted twice to reject proposals to alter the language. Of these 85 presbyteries, 34 have voted to this point; 31 continue their opposition to changing the language, while 3 that have consistently supported 6b have now shifted to oppose it (in the reports I have seen, this is typically referred to as “flipping”). These are Charlotte, Western North Carolina, and East Tennessee; I note also that they are contiguous geographically, although I am not sure whether this is accidental or if there is some underlying meaning in it.

3. Of the 173 presbyteries, I count 41 that have been solidly against 6b since its adoption: that is, they opposed the original proposal and they voted twice to support altered language. Of these 41 presbyteries, 14 have voted to date, with all 14 supporting Amendment 08-B. Thus, there have been no “flips” from this side to the opposition.

4. Of the 61 presbyteries that have voted through February 17th, 9 presbyteries have “flipped,” that is, gone from a No vote in 2001-02 to a Yes vote in 2008-09. No presbyteries have flipped in the reverse direction. Besides the three significant shifts noted above, three presbyteries (Cimarron, Great Rivers, and Lake Huron) had had close votes in the previous three ballots, first voting against the initial language but then voting against the two proposed changes of language; their votes this time (19-16, 85-74, and 43-32, respectively) suggest that depending on the number of possible commissioners not present to vote, these could easily have gone the other way. As in our November national election, getting out the vote will turn out to be crucial in many presbyteries.

5. The three additional presbyteries that went from No in 2001-02 to Yes in 2008-09 are Maumee Valley and Scioto Valley in Ohio (Synod of the Covenant) and Southeast Illinois. The first two had voted against the original 6b and for the 1996-97 amendment, but then voted against the 2001-02 amendment language. Margins here in these last two votes are worth noting: from 51-70 to 65-58 in Maumee, and from 103-105 to 115-88 in Scioto. Similarly, the two votes in Southeast Illinois went from 69-77 to 68-56. Cincinnati’s vote was a tie (83-83), thus putting it in the No column – a gain in percentage of Yes votes from 2001-02, but still a No. While getting commissioners to support the amendment was clearly important here, the drop in the number of persons arguing for the preservation of 6b may indicate declining interest or moves to a more conservative denomination where the question about ordination standards in this form is not an issue.

6. On the basis of previous voting patterns and the relative closeness of one or more votes, I would label 37 presbyteries as “too close to call.” These include some that might be called “contrarian,” that is, they voted No on the initial 6b language, but then voted No on the two previous attempts to alter that language. Alaska, Arkansas, and Boise, for example, just to take some from the front of the alphabet, fit this category; Boise’s 2001-02 vote was actually a tie, and thus counted against the amendment.

7. Two other “too close to call” groups consist of presbyteries that have either consistently supported or consistently opposed the language of 6b, but where the margins are narrow enough that actual numbers voting or efforts on one side or the other could affect the decision. These overlap a bit with the first two categories above, but their margins have been narrow enough to imagine shifts without great difficulty. On the supportive side for 6b, Central Nebraska, Homestead, Salem, New Hope, and Indian Nations presbyteries are good examples; in New Hope, the margin was only six votes out of more than 300 votes cast, and in the latter case, the 2001-02 vote was a tie and thus was placed in the No column. Of those consistently opposing 6b language, East Iowa, Giddings Lovejoy, John Knox and Sierra Blanca presbyteries provide examples; the 2001-02 John Knox vote was a slim 66-62, while Sierra Blanca’s three votes have progressively narrowed the margin on the opposition to 6b side, with the last being a razor-thin 18-17. Clearly, work in advance of the vote this year is crucial in these cases.

8. A larger group of voting patterns – and less easy to categorize – includes presbyteries that have split their votes over the three ballot opportunities since 1996. Detroit, Minnesota Valleys, Ohio Valley and Utah presbyteries voted No, Yes, and No in these referenda, which may suggest that a Yes vote will be more difficult to obtain this time. On the other hand, de Cristo and Grand Canyon presbyteries voted Yes, No, and Yes, and a vote in the Yes column this time will not be called a flip but will clearly not be a foregone conclusion. If, as in the case of North Central Iowa and Northern Plains, presbyteries voted in favor of 6b at the outset, but then voted Yes and then No on the amendment votes that followed, there could be a flip to the Yes column this year, but perhaps the language of the amendment itself will be an important ingredient.

9. Here are a few geographical notes from tracking presbyteries within synods, on the basis of previous voting patterns: In Alaska-Northwest, 6 of 7 presbyteries have been solidly behind 6b; similarly, 16 of 16 presbyteries in South Atlantic, 7 of 8 in Southern California and Hawaii, and 9 of 12 in the Synod of Living Waters have voted consistently to establish and uphold the language of 6b. On the other side, 16 of 22 presbyteries in the Synod of the Northeast have been consistently on the side against 6b. These affiliations could well make it more difficult to switch from one side to the other, although it is clear that the greater predominance geographically favors the No votes in this referendum.

The clearest conclusion from this data, both from the current votes and the voting patterns from three previous ballots, is that changing the church’s mind on this contentious issue is difficult and challenging. It involves considerably more than simply getting out the votes for your side. It requires continuing conversation to unpack the arguments, engagement with contemporary reflection on the subject, and a willingness to engage the other side of the debate so as better to see your own. All of these are crucial elements in a thread that goes back to the early 1970s, and may well provide the key to change this year.

The author:

Dale Johnson, who lives in Nashville, Tenn., was an elder commissioner to the 2008 General Assembly and a member of the Church Orders and Ministry Committee, which considered the overtures dealing with ordination. He is emeritus professor of church history at Vanderbilt Divinity School.

If you have thoughts or information
to add to this analysis
(or reports on voting that we've missed)_
please send a note
to be shared here.

Another presbytery switches for inclusion

Today, February 20, at Grace Presbyterian Church of Midland, Texas, the Tres Rios Presbytery affirmed the 218th General Assembly's Ordination Amendment 08-B by a vote of 37 YES to 34 NO.

The Ordination Amendment vote in 2001-02 by Tres Rios Presbytery was 17 Yes, 54 No. This is a remarkable 28% positive shift from the previous vote to the one today.

Breaking news

Another presbytery (in Alabama) shifts to support equality in ordination    [2-19-09]

Sheppards & Lapsley presbytery, in central Alabama, voted today to approved Amendment 08-B, to restore ordination to its proper role as a commissioning of people for service in leadership of the church, and not as a test of sexual orientation.  The vote was close -- 77 for the amendment and 75 against.  But it was a major shift from a history of strong opposition to equality in past votes.

Western Colorado presbytery continued to reject the change, but by a narrower margin than in the past (11 yes and 23 no votes).

Amendment 08-B -- What now??

Considering the voting so far in presbyteries on Amendment 08-B, the Rev. Ray Bagnuolo offers this analysis, with suggestions for ways to give further support to change toward a more inclusive church.  [2-18-09]

February 18, 2009

This is the time…

News From Covenant Network:

On Tuesday, February 17, three presbyteries reversed their votes from 2001-2002:

Maumee Valley (Northwestern Ohio, Southeastern Michigan), Great Rivers (Western Illinois), and Scioto Valley (Central Ohio) and approved 08-B. "That makes 9 presbyteries that have switched in favor of ordination inclusivity." 

~Tricia Dykers Koenig

Since September sixty-one presbyteries have voted on Amendment 08-B, the reformed language of G-6.0106b.

1.           As of 2/17/09, there remain one hundred and eleven presbyteries yet to make their decision.

2.           For 08-B to be ratified, 64 of the remaining votes are required.

3.           As of 2/17/09: 23 Yes Votes and 38 No votes.

In the votes to date, nine presbyteries that voted "No" on the last attempt to delete G- 6.0106b, have reconsidered and voted "Yes" in favor of 08-B. To date, there have been no reversals of previous "Yes" votes.

There is a shift underway, which can be seen even in the ties and close votes that have moved toward ratification A shift that emphasizes the real chance we have of embracing the recommendation of the 218th General Assembly to ratify of 08-B.


Across the national church, progressive organizations are faithfully at work, reaching out to minister members (active and retired) and elder commissioners of every presbytery. We ask you to join us in contacting all who have yet to hold their presbytery meetings, encouraging them to attend their gatherings and vote. We also ask that you extend to them the resources that are available from every major progressive group to assist in their discernment process. (Attached is an extensive packet from More Light Presbyterians that is comprehensive and very helpful.)

It is important to know that in each progressive group, individuals are prepared to talk with you and others you suggest, ready to answer questions and provide support. We welcome those who are in favor of ratification, and we respect those who are unable to support the position for change. Be assured that everyone is honored with such respect and courtesy. Christian ethics and practices never cease; during such times, they are critical. This is about the Church of Jesus Christ, the Body of Christ and our relationship with one another – differences and all – in a church that is near to welcoming our Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender sisters and brothers as never before.

Please Help in Welcoming Unity and Healing:

The real work of unity and healing will follow the ratification of 08. We need you to help end this forty-one year struggle and usher in a new time. Here are some of the things you can do:

 1.           If you are able, be a voice in small groups and on the floor of your presbytery. Contact us if you would like help in ideas in participating in this way.

 2.           Please take note of the upcoming presbytery meetings. If you are a member of any of these presbyteries, contact minister members (active and retired), Elder commissioners, Commissioned Lay Pastors, and all those who might vote. Dialogue with them, encouraging them to attend the presbytery meeting (offer to travel with them, if you can), and extend to them the resources that are available.

 3.           If you know others in different presbyteries that might be willing to support the ratification of 08-B, reach out to them, asking them to attend their meeting and vote.

 4.           Send the attached resource packet from More Light Presbyterians to all those you think may find it helpful.

 5.           If you have someone you would like contacted, reach out to one of the progressive partners of let us know. We are ready to speak with them.

 6.           If you know anyone in your or other presbyteries that may need a ride to a meeting, contact us. We are creating a network to make sure that anyone who wishes to get to a meeting, requires child care, or has other special needs are accommodated so they are able to vote.

If there is anything else you can think of, let me know or contact any of your friends within the progressive groups that are listed below or others in your regional areas. Everyone is ready to help.

We have until May 18th to enter into the promise of this kairos, a passage that will lead us to a time of unity and healing, embracing the teachings of Jesus AND one another, extending the gifts and energies of all into a world that needs us, more than we know.

Blessing upon you all,

Ray Bagnuolo
914 682 3659 
Minister-at-Large Presbytery of Hudson River
Member of the Board of More Light Presbyterians

Contact Information

Covenant Network               
    Tricia Dykers Koenig 

More Light Presbyterians
   Resource Packet on 08-B on the website (also attached)       Debra Peevey 

Presbyterian Welcome
Comprehensive and up-to-date information on the vote

That All May Freely Serve  

Witherspoon Society            

NOTE:  This essay is posted on Ray's own blogspot, too.


GA actions ratified (or not) by  the presbyteries   

A number of the most important actions of the 219th General Assembly have now been acted upon by the presbyteries, confirming most of them as amendments to the PC(USA) Book of Order.

We provided resources to help inform the reflection and debate, along with updates on the voting.

Our three areas of primary interest have been:

bullet Amendment 10-A, which  removes the current ban on lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender persons being considered as possible candidates for ordination as elder or ministers.  Approved!

bullet Amendment 10-2, which would add the Belhar Confession to our Book of Confessions.  Disapproved, because as an amendment to the Book of Confessions it needed a 2/3 vote, and did not receive that.

bullet Amendment 10-1, which  adopts the new Form of Government that was approved by the Assembly.   Approved.

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Some blogs worth visiting

PVJ's Facebook page

Mitch Trigger, PVJ's Secretary/Communicator, has created a Facebook page where Witherspoon members and others can gather to exchange news and views. Mitch and a few others have posted bits of news, both personal and organizational. But there’s room for more!

You can post your own news and views, or initiate a conversation about a topic of interest to you.


Voices of Sophia blog

Heather Reichgott, who has created this new blog for Voices of Sophia, introduces it:

After fifteen years of scholarship and activism, Voices of Sophia presents a blog. Here, we present the voices of feminist theologians of all stripes: scholars, clergy, students, exiles, missionaries, workers, thinkers, artists, lovers and devotees, from many parts of the world, all children of the God in whose image women are made. .... This blog seeks to glorify God through prayer, work, art, and intellectual reflection. Through articles and ensuing discussion we hope to become an active and thoughtful community.


John Harris’ Summit to Shore blogspot

Theological and philosophical reflections on everything between summit to shore, including kayaking, climbing, religion, spirituality, philosophy, theology, politics, culture, travel, The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), New York City and the Queens neighborhood of Ridgewood by a progressive New York City Presbyterian Pastor. John is a former member of the Witherspoon board, and is designated pastor of North Presbyterian Church in Flushing, NY.


John Shuck’s Shuck and Jive

A Presbyterian minister, currently serving as pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Elizabethton, Tenn., blogs about spirituality, culture, religion (both organized and disorganized), life, evolution, literature, Jesus, and lightening up.


Got more blogs to recommend?

Please send a note, and we'll see what we can do!


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