Presbyterian
Delegates of the Presbyterian Church in America gathered June 28 thru July 2, 2021 for the General Assembly meeting in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo: @Presbycast / Twitter)

Presbyterian Church in America Leaders Say Those Who Identify as Gay Are Not Qualified for Ordination

By Emily Miller

Pastors and church leaders in the Presbyterian Church in America passed an overture at its General Assembly this week saying those who identify as gay are not qualified for ordination in the conservative Presbyterian denomination.

The overture includes any identity Christians may profess “that undermines or contradicts their identity as new creations in Christ,” though it singles out “gay Christian,” “same sex attracted Christian,” and “homosexual Christian” among those identities.

The denomination already bars any “practicing homosexual” from ordination.

Overture 23 was overwhelmingly approved 1,438-417 late Thursday night at the Presbyterian Church in America’s annual business meeting in St. Louis.

“This has been a hot topic in our denomination, so it won’t surprise you to hear that we spent more time on this overture than any other overture,” Scott Barber, chair of the Overtures Committee, said before the vote.

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According to byFaith, the official publication of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), the final, approved overture read:

Officers in the Presbyterian Church in America must be above reproach in their walk and Christlike in their character. Those who profess an identity (such as, but not limited to, ‘gay Christian,’ ‘same sex attracted Christian,’ ‘homosexual Christian,’ or like terms) that undermines or contradicts their identity as new creations in Christ, either by denying the sinfulness of fallen desires (such as, but not limited to, same sex attraction), or by denying the reality and hope of progressive sanctification, or by failing to pursue Spirit-empowered victory over their sinful temptations, inclinations, and actions are not qualified for ordained office.

Barber told the elders voting on the overture that its intent is not to exclude Christians who are gay but remain celibate.

Rather, he said, “What we said is if we use terms like that that undermine or contradict our identity as new creations in Christ, if such an identity becomes higher than our identity in Christ, that would eliminate us from being qualified in the PCA.”

Barber’s message is consistent with those who have opposed the controversial ReVoice conferences that PCA churches began hosting in 2018. ReVoice leaders promote the view that LGBT identity is compatible with Christianity. Yet they say that Christian LGBT persons should refrain from sexual relationships.

Rev. Greg Johnson is the lead pastor of Memorial Presbyterian Church in St. Louis, which has hosted the ReVoice Conference, and opposes the overture.

“We don’t need to amend our constitution to make a non-affirming denomination (hostile) to gay people who want to follow Jesus in celibacy,” Johnson said in an email.

Johnson, who voted against the overture, has previously shared his story as a “gay atheist kid who experienced a conversion to Jesus in college and has joyfully walked with him in celibacy ever since.” His faith hasn’t changed his sexuality in the years since he became a Christian, he said, but it has convicted him to live celibately, following the denomination’s conservative beliefs about sexuality, which reserve sex for between a married man and woman.

Johnson doesn’t believe the overture will remove him from ministry, he said. But he does worry about its impact on younger generations, saying their poor treatment of LGBTQ people is the No. 1 reason why young adults leave conservative religious traditions like the Presbyterian Church in America.

Yet advocates praised the overture for its consistency with the denomination’s beliefs about sexuality.

Bart Harmon of the Southeast Alabama Presbytery spoke in favor of the overture at General Assembly, calling it “most consistent with the gospel — and because it’s consistent with the gospel, it is by definition compassionate.”

Harmon shared several stories from the biblical accounts of Jesus’ life in which Jesus tells others to give up everything to follow him.

And on Twitter, conservative Christian commentator Erick Erickson called the overture’s approval “a strong vote for Biblical sexual ethics.”

“Very proud of the elders in St Louis who are standing for orthodoxy against cultural currents,” Erickson tweeted.

To take effect, Overture 23 still must be approved by two-thirds of the denomination’s regional presbyteries and then again by a majority at the next General Assembly, scheduled for 2022 in Birmingham, Alabama.

Emily McFarland MillerEmily McFarlan Miller is a national reporter for Religion News Service. 

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14 thoughts on “Presbyterian Church in America Leaders Say Those Who Identify as Gay Are Not Qualified for Ordination”

  1. Tim McCutcheon

    There are people born gay. Following the teachings of patriarchal 2000 year old have discriminated (and worse) against women, non-believers, jews, and gays. Supported slavery, discrimination and wars. Held back scientific progress from Galileo, evolution, and stem cell research. Why on earth do any of you believe this is a superior morality?

    1. The point is we should not as believers in Jesus find our identity in our sexuality. Look at some interviews on the topic by Becket Cook and/or Christopher Yuan.

    2. Gordon Hackman

      This is nothing but a list of cliche objections to the Bible and Christian faith which have been answered numerous times over.

      1. Heidi boomsma

        There’s a number of reasons God put in his word scriptures concerning homosexuality. But none of them where to harm us only to help us. This may not be the case in every situation concerning homosexuality but the majority of them involve sexual brokenness. And homosexuality is just the fruit of deep wounds. I serve a God that not only wants to heal all that hurt and pain but he’s also made a way through the sacrifice of his son to appropriate that healing. His love is so deep and so wide and so involved that he urns to see his child delivered and free from the original injury rather than finding false hope in some other means or answer. He’s a good God! I pray that his goodness will rip through the enemy’s clock of deception and lies over his victims holding them captive and set us all free!

    3. Frannie Christensen

      Isn’t having a celibate, gay Pastor a part of the Patriarchal system? It is still a male that is in charge and has all the power, right? Or am I missing something?

      1. You are missing a lot. Even though you don’t like having “a male in charge,” in the PCA they don’t “have all the power”. The congregation has input.
        But I think your questions are not so much inquiries but statements.

  2. Julie, please ban Peg Harpham on Twitter. I read your work, but her constant attacks on Christians (telling them that their God is a jerk, etc) takes some of the fun out of following you.

    1. Gordon Hackman

      Joy, you can block her yourself and then you won’t have to see anything she posts and she won’t see anything you post either. I just blocked her myself.

  3. Barring someone from ordination because they self-identify as gay makes as much sense as barring them from ordination because they’re left-handed. And in the past, both groups were subjected to persecution and discrimination so it’s an apt comparison.

    1. Gordon Hackman

      Not really. One is a completely benign trait with no moral implications, the other involves an aspect of life (human sexuality) that is nearly universally believed to have moral implications.

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