Welcoming Cumberland Presbyterians is an independent grassroots movement of LGBTQ+ Cumberland Presbyterians and clergy, elders and laity who wish to increase participation in the church by living out our confessional calling to seek reconciliation among all groups of people (CoF, 6.32) and embrace all people in the life of the church (CoF, 6.16).

The proposed amendments seek to modify the Constitution of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church in such a way as to target individuals in a sexual relationship outside marriage. This could encompass engaged couples, disabled couples at risk of losing benefits upon marriage, same-sex couples, or any couple yet to marry or opting not to marry for personal reasons, disqualifying them from a call to serve as an Elder or Minister.

We urge the Church to deny these amendments. We oppose the proposed amendments for being divisive, exclusionary, unnecessary and dangerous. They threaten the rightful and appropriate authority and discretion of our diverse presbyteries and sessions to ordain those whom they deem qualified. The following concerns are not an exhaustive list, but we hope it will be a starting place for further conversation:

  • For the sake of unity, it is crucial we recognize that the church consists of those who, in good faith, come to different interpretative conclusions on the complex issue of sexuality. As “God alone is Lord of the Conscience,” members should retain the prerogative to live according to their conscience.
  • The proposed amendments are unnecessary because each presbytery and session already has the rightful authority to ordain those they deem qualified. 
  • We believe the wisest path forward for the church is to continue respecting the rightful authority of our sessions and presbyteries to ordain those they deem qualified, uphold privacy and freedom of conscience for personal relationships, and practice tolerance and forbearance towards those with differing views, rather than seeking to force universal conformity.
  • Every person called to ministry should be evaluated on an individual basis, having the opportunity to face presbytery or session to determine their fitness and qualifications, without facing discrimination. The attempt to establish denominational policy that would categorically disqualify an entire minority of people hearkens back to times when African Americans and women were denied even the possibility of ordination, despite their giftedness and calls.
  • While the 1996 Statement on Homosexuality may not have satisfied all parties, that General Assembly at that time wisely adopted a middle path that was very Cumberland Presbyterian. It’s stance reflected the prevailing view on “homosexuality” at the time, but it refused to be too heavy-handed. Leaving room for the Holy Spirit, the assembly refused to establish a general rule that would outright exclude the possibility of ordination of those God may call and equip for ministry, and it refused to tie the hands of ordaining bodies. However, the proposed amendments abandon this middle path, infringing upon the right and freedom of sessions and presbyteries to select those they deem fit, undermining freedom of conscience, and marginalizing those with different perspectives.
  • While we hold the 1996 Statement was mistaken about the sinfulness of all “homosexual behavior”, it made clear it was “a theological and social statement and not to be understood as a rule or principle for ordination but never to usurp the authority of presbytery or session to ordain.” As a declarative statement, it’s goal was persuasion rather than judicial which is appropriate since we live under the Gospel rather than the law.
  • The amendments reflect a lack of understanding and friendship with members of the LGBTQ+ community who already faithfully serve God in the Cumberland Presbyterian Church and have been gifts to the denomination throughout its history.
  • When Scripture declares God will pour out God’s Spirit on all flesh and that God is no respecter of persons this includes people of all orientations. But these amendments will be used to remove faithful servants of God from leadership and limit how God is moving in the hearts of those whom God is calling into service.
  • The amendments unnecessarily and hypocritically target and burden LGBTQ+ members, and if interpreted as to mean the exclusion of those in same-sex relationships, this will harm LGBTQ+ members even further, and lead to further condemnation and harassment of LGBTQ+ people in the church. The amendments will cause division, loss of leadership and membership.
  • Supporters of the amendments claim the Bible as the authority for condemning and excluding “homosexual practice.” However, if we are honest, we would acknowledge disagreement among the faithful on the interpretation of passages commonly used to condemn LGBTQIA+ people and same-sex relationships. The vast majority of scholars agree that the modern concept of homosexuality did not exist in ancient times. Same-sex behavior at the time was associated with idolatry and sexual exploitation, and assumed to be a vice of excess that might tempt anyone, such as drunkenness. It is unjust and improper to associate ancient notions about same-sex behavior with same-sex relationships today.
  • Expert consensus and scientific evidence demonstrates that same-gender orientation and variations in gender identity and expression are a part of the normal spectrum of human diversity. Homosexual orientation is not pathological and not a condition in need of therapy. They do no harm to others and the partners in same sex relationships benefit from the relationship, same as heterosexuals.
  • Scripture says that we will know teachings by their fruits, but the fruit of teaching that condemns and excludes LGBTQ+ people is rotten! The results of these teachings have been increased suicide rates, mental health issues, broken families, and a decrease in church participation. Many people of all ages have simply left the Church altogether and cite this particular teaching as the reason. On the other hand, congregations that are welcoming and inclusive of LGTBQ+ families experience numerical as well as spiritual growth and young people in these congregations are healthier, happier and more likely to remain connected to the Church.
  • Underlying the exclusionary amendments are the question of the morality of same-sex relationships. However, it is now widely recognized that same-sex attraction is an involuntary aspect of character fixed at birth or in early childhood. Interpretations that suggest LGBTQIA+ people are condemned simply for being LGBTQ+ are morally indefensible and undermine the moral authority of the interpreter rather than strengthen the case against homosexuality. People are now recognizing that the critical moral issue actually at stake is the church’s condemnation and rejection of LGBTQ+ people because of the harm it causes.
  • These memorials would create a legalistic environment where relationships would be investigated and policed, opening the door to misconduct, abuse, lawsuits, and invasion of privacy. How is it to be determined who is in a sexual relationship versus an non-sexual one? Attempts to regulate and enforce will unfairly target an already vulnerable minority who will bear the brunt of this as sexual scapegoats. Outing LGBTQIA+ people puts them at risk of discrimination, hate, violence and harassment. It may marginalize them from their families, the church and the community at large. Outing can put people’s mental health at risk, and has even been linked to suicide.
  • The proposed amendments reference the “boundaries of marriage” in 6.17 of the Confession of Faith. However, 6.17 includes the phrase “marriage is subject to the appropriate civil law”. In 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in all fifty states in the case Obergefell v. Hodges. The highest court in the United States ruled that marriage equality/same-sex marriage is a fundamental civil right. While the proponents of the proposed amendments surely intend to limit the boundaries of marriage to heterosexuals, the language of the amendments fail because in the U.S. same-sex marriage is a right under civil law. The amendments only lists 6.17 as containing the boundaries of marriage presumably because it includes “man/woman” but fails to include the LIFELONG boundary of marriage in 6.18 which if read as rigidly as 6.17 would mean that divorced persons would also not be qualified.
  • In the 1991 Statement on the Sanctity of Persons, the General Assembly affirmed a church that made space for people to follow their own conscience and have different views and to act upon them. The Statement said it was not appropriate for the assemblies to define any one view of the church, instead they said that the church “affirms this range of views as equally valid interpretations of the Christian faith, equally faithful to scripture and equally open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Recognizing that members of our church will act on their convictions in the public arena and in the church, we affirm their prerogative to act in Christian conscience. Furthermore, the General Assembly calls upon all Cumberland Presbyterians to pray for the peace of the church, to repent of allowing this debate to divide us, to hear the pain of Christian sisters and brothers struggling with this issue, and to be open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit speaking through those who hold opposing points of view.”

When we focus on Christ who unites us, the church is big enough for all of us!  Our unity is found in Jesus Christ, not disputed non-essential doctrines on sexual orientation. The Cumberland Presbyterian Confession of Faith said it well: “The church is one because her Head and Lord is one, Jesus Christ. Her oneness under her Lord is manifested in the one ministry of word and sacrament, not in any uniformity of covenantal expression, organization, or system of doctrine.” (CoF, 5.02). Respect for the diversity of the church and forbearance around theological differences are part of our confessional understanding of unity and essential for the peace and unity of the church.

We conclude with this affirmation from the 2017 General Assemblies: “We acknowledge that within both Cumberland Presbyterian denominations there is a wide range of biblical understanding and interpretation. With that said, we should resolve – first and foremost – to love one another, and as an expression of that love to listen to each other, affirming the even greater common ground we enjoy and embrace as Cumberland Presbyterians. Our goal need not be one hundred percent agreement on biblical interpretation, but rather a mature awareness and consideration of the diversity of theological perspectives that a global and multi-ethnic denomination manifests.” Unified Committee on Theology and Social Concerns Study Paper: A Question of Hermeneutics, Adopted in 2017 by the 187th General Assembly (CPC) and the 145th General Assembly (CPCA)


Print Friendly, PDF & Email