The Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) & the LGBT Community
PCA history, beliefs, practices, and books.
Harvest USA ministry to the LGBT community.
The term "LGBT" refers to lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender persons & transsexuals
Presbyterian churches are part of the Reform (a.k.a. Calvinist) tradition. The
movement was founded in Scotland under John Knox.
The history of the Presbyterian movement in the United States contains many
schisms based on moral and theological questions.
- A major split occurred in 1861 with a separation along on north/south lines over the issue
of the preservation or abolition of human slavery and the secession of the Southern states. In August of that year, 11 of the presbyteries in the Confederacy formed the Presbyterian Church in the Confederate States of America (PCCSA). 4
- Another major split occurred in 1972 when conservative denominations left the Presbyterian Church in the United States (Southern) to form the National Presbyterian Church -- later called the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). A major cause of this separation was whether women could be considered for ordination.
A graphic prepared by the Presbyterian Church (USA) shows that 18 schisms and 13 unions have occurred between 1706 and the present time among various Presbyterian groups. 5
The Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) is currently the largest American
denomination within the conservative wing of the Presbyterian movement.
- 1999: The World
Almanac and Book of Facts for 2004 reported that the PCA had 279,000 members in 1999. The Almanac estimates
that the largest and more liberal denomination, the Presbyterian Church (USA), as
having 3,445,952 members among 11,142 congregations; its membership is in
decline. There are also seven smaller Presbyterian denominations of which the
largest has about 40,000 members. 1
- 2004: The same source estimated their 2004 membership at 306,784
members among 1498 congregations.
- 2011: The PCA Administrative Committee estimated their 2011 total membership at 351,406 among 1,466 churches. 9 Its membership is steadily increasing.
Major events in the history of the Presbyterian Church in America:
||During 1972-3, Over 250 congregations totaling over 41,000 members
left the Presbyterian Church in the United States (Southern) to form the National Presbyterian Church. These included a
number of well known presbyteries: the Warrior Presbytery in Alabama, the Westminster Presbytery in Virginia and East Tennessee, and the Vanguard Presbytery at large. 2 Many high-profile conservative Presbyterian ministers
left, including Dr. D. James
Kennedy, of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, and Dr. Larry Roff of Knox
Theological Seminary. They left because of an internal
liberal/modernist controversy. This conflict generated many disagreements, largely over
the inerrancy of the Bible and whether women should
be automatically denied ordination because of their gender.
||In 1974, the National Presbyterian Church changed its name
to the Presbyterian Church in America -- a name that they have
retained to the present time. Their common acronym is: PCA.
||In 1982, the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod,
joined the PCA.
The denomination's stated purpose is to be "faithful to the Scriptures,
true to the reformed faith, and obedient to the Great Commission." Their
Reformed (a.k.a. Calvinistic) tradition is largely based on the Westminster
Confession of Faith and Catechisms, which was composed in 1645 CE. They have chosen to delete two
sections. One prohibited marrying one's wife's kindred; the other referred to
the Pope as the antichrist.
They believe that the authors of the books of the Bible were inspired by God to write biblical text which is free of error. Thus, the Bible is both inerrant and
The PCA is very active in missionary work, and outreach to hospitals,
educational institutions, prisons, the military and the LGBT community.
Church officers include teaching elders, ruling elders and deacon. 3 Only men are permitted to hold one of
these offices; women are automatically excluded because of their gender, regardless of their ability,
gifts, and talents. Elders, deacons, and ministers must agree to a loyalty oath in
which they confirm their belief in the inerrancy and infallibility of the Bible.
They must also agree to "receive and adopt the Confession of Faith and the
Catechisms of the PCA." As part of their ordination vow, they promise to
inform their Presbytery in the event that they find
themselves "out of accord with any of the fundamentals of this system of
Their Book of Church Order does not include any specific mention of the terms
"homosexual," "gay," "lesbian," or "sexual orientation."
Books about the Presbyterian Church in America:
- Don Clements & Will Barker, "The Historical Roots of the Presbyterian Church in America," Metokos Press, (2006). Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store
- John Richards, "The Historical Birth of the Presbyterian Church in
America," Liberty Press, (1986). Review/order from Amazon.com
- Jesse Russell & Ronald Cohn, Eds., "Presbyterian Church in America," Book on Demand, (2012). Read/order from Amazon.com
- Frank Smith, "The History of the Presbyterian Church in America,"
Presbyterian Scholars Press, 2nd edition, (1999). Read/order from Amazon.com
Harvest USA is an agency affiliated with the Presbyterian Church in
America. In 2002, they viewed their mandate as providing support for gays and lesbians who are "seeking
freedom from homosexuality." They have since modified their position, having admitted that same-sex attraction (SSA) experienced by adults with a homosexual or bisexual orientation is generally permanent.
They also have support groups for parents,
wives, and families of homosexuals. Harvest USA has offices in
Philadelphia, PA [3901B Main St # 304 Philadelphia, PA, 19127. (215) 482-0111] and Chattanooga, TN [103 Jordan Drive, Suite 8, Chattanooga TN 37421. (423) 266-0434] 6
Their Doctrinal Statement says in part:
"We believe that our sexuality and its expression was designed by God at creation, and that our sexuality and its expression was part of God’s original and good design for mankind, and is clearly communicated to us in the Scriptures. Male and female were both created in God’s image, and we affirm that God’s perfect design for all sexual activity is between one man and one woman in the context of the marriage bond. We recognize that, as a consequence of the Fall, all men and women are sexually broken and thus relate in twisted ways to God, self, others, and nature. Therefore, all expressions of sexual activity outside of the bond of marriage [by one man and one woman] are sinful and are a distortion of God’s good design. This includes all involvement with pornography, sexual fantasy, sexual addictions, adultery, homosexuality, gender distortions and any other sexual activity outside of marriage. All sexual sin grieves God and is offensive to His Holiness, and all sexual sin ultimately harms people, whether it is homosexual or heterosexual sin.
We believe that homosexuality is not what God wills for human beings made in His image. We affirm that both homosexual desire and behavior are expressions of mankind’s fallenness, and like all other types of sexual sin, needs to be confessed, renounced and forsaken by those who would be followers of Jesus Christ. We believe that God has always called men and women out of homosexuality or other sexual sin patterns and into the new life of His kingdom through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. Thus any attempt to claim, cultivate, or promote a gay identity for oneself is out of place in a confessing Christian since it necessarily competes with the holy identity in Christ that every believer has been given and must claim by faith. We believe that Christ gives to all who seek it a growing freedom from the compulsive pull of all sorts of sinful sexual fantasy and behavior. This does not preclude the possibility of serious lapses of love and obedience on the part of those who truly believe, but such must be evaluated in light of the ordinary path and process of sanctification in which God places all of His children. Such failure on the part of believers can never be taken as license to abolish the call to holiness or to allow a reinterpretation of the Scriptures that permits a 'gay Christian' theology." 7
[Phrase within brackets added by us for clarity, since loving, committed same-sex couples can freely marry in the District of Columbia, in six U.S. states, and in all 10 provinces and 3 territories in Canada.]
The term "gender distortions" apparently refers to transgender individuals and transsexuals. This is commonly referred to as "gender confusion" by religious and social conservatives and "gender identity" by most liberals, secularists, therapists, and others. Almost all individual transgender persons and transsexuals have a firm belief that they have no distortion of gender; they know exactly what gender they are; their brain tells them so and cannot be convinced otherwise. It is just that their birth-identified gender and the sex chromosomes in their cells don't agree.
Harvest USA views same-gender sexual behavior as a pathology, and outside of God's will, even if it is confined within a loving, monogamous marriage or other committed relationship. They consider such activity as a method of "relating that
tends to rationalize one's sins, blame shift, and live in a sort of self-pitying
victimization mind set." They view Satan as a living, supernatural being who
takes an active role influencing each homosexual's life, working to keep him or
to the "lifestyle."
Religious conservatives often use the term "lifestyle" to refer to LGBTs." Lifestyle implies a choice, which harmonizes well with their belief that a person makes a conscious choice to become a homosexual, and that they can revert to heterosexuality with a dedicated effort. Many others, including therapists, secularists, and religious liberals use the term "sexual orientation which harmonizes well their belief that a homosexual orientation is not chosen and is fixed. In recent years, Harvest USA appears to have departed from the conservative belief system and now admit that same-sex attraction is generally permanent in adults.
After spending some time in the group, they believe that a client may
into the light, begin to confess, begin to believe God's truth, and actually
begin to 'struggle well' with integrity....They begin to see that homosexuality
is only a symptom of deeper rebellion. Hopefully, they begin to see a loving and
patient God who is wooing them to Himself. It's then they can experience the
love, forgiveness, and grace of God which leads to deeper repentance."
In the past, like most groups promoting reparative therapy, Harvest USA were somewhat vague about the end state their their clients can hope for. Much of their literature seemed to imply that those who are dedicated to change can develop a heterosexual orientation. In practice, their successes have tended to be:
- Persuading those with a homosexual orientation to remain celibate and without an intimate partner forever. They must give up the hope for a loving, committed, intimate same-sex relationship, the option of marriage, the option of raising a family, etc. This is a very hard sell, particularly as more liberal ministries to the LGBT community interpret the same biblical passages that have been used to condemn same-gender sexual activity very differently. The latter often promote such relationships, marriages, and families for same-sex couples as God's will for their life.
- Persuading those with a bisexual orientation to make a choice to seek opposite-gender relationships and to avoid same-gender sexual relationships, even if they are primarily attracted to persons of the same gender.
To our knowledge, they have never published their success rates at changing sexual orientation. Reparative therapists as well as transformational
ministries, like Harvest USA, are believed to have essentially no success
at actually changing their clients' sexual orientation. Such "cure" rates
are typically much less than 1%.
In recent years, reparative therapists and transformational ministries have experienced a massive change. They now frequently use the term "Same-Sex Attraction" (SSA) in place of homosexuality and recognize that it is often permanent and unchangeable. They have begun to acknowledge that a sexual orientation may be fixed throughout one's adult life. That is, an adult experiencing SSA will, in all probability, experience SSA forever. They teach that for those with SSM who repent, that God's promise can be:
"... that there will always be a way out of temptation so we are able to endure it (see 1 Corinthians 10:13). God doesn’t magically transport us out of the mess; rather, like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, we need to pass through the fire, but with a promise: he is with us and we won’t be consumed (check out Isaiah 43:1-7 for this glorious theme)." 8
As with many other matters, there is an unbridgeable gulf between the beliefs of conservative and liberal/progressive Christians about this topic. The two groups interpret the six or seven biblical passages that may relate to same-gender sexual behavior very differently:
- Most conservatives sincerely believe that all of the passages condemn all forms of such behavior as contrary to the will of God. They feel that it is important to follow the church's tradition of condemnation. They ignore or discount what scientific research into sexual orientation has found.
- Most liberals sincerely believe that taken as a whole, the Bible promotes love and commitment in marriage for persons of all sexual orientations: those with a homosexual orientation within same-sex marriage; those with a heterosexual orientation within opposite-sex marriage, and bisexuals in either. They believe that the church's tradition is incorrect and in need of improvement. They value the findings of science and incorporate them into their belief system. They view homophobia and transphobia as the evil here, not same-gender sexual behavior.
One way to resolve the conflict might be to assess the will of God. We tried a pilot study to determine God's will through prayer. However, it was unsuccessful in a rather remarkable way. Prayer does not seem to work to assess God's will.
So, the culture appears to be stuck without a rational path forward, except to see which side eventually wins. In the meantime, the row of coffins continues to tragically lengthen, filled with the bodies of LGBTs who have given up hope that "it gets better."
- "The World Almanac and Book of Facts," World Almanac Books, (2004), Page
- "Presbyterian Church in America," Adherents.com, at: http://www.adherents.com/Na_515.html
- "The Book of Church Order...," at: http://www.pcanet.org/BCO
- "Presbyterian Church in the Confederate States of America," Presbyterian Historical Society, 2012, at: http://history.pcusa.org/
- "The Presbyterian Family Connections," Graphic, at: http://history.pcusa.org/
- Harvest USA's home page is at: http://www.harvestusa.org
- "Doctrinal Statement," Harvest USA, undated, at: http://www.harvestusa.org/
- David White, "Homosexuality and Change: Is it possible," Winter 2011/2012, at: http://www.harvestusa.org/
- "Statistics," PCA Administrative Committee, 2011, at: http://www.pcaac.org/
Copyright © 2002 to 2012 by Ontario Consultants on Religious
Latest update 2012-NOV-04
Author: B.A. Robinson