What Presbyterians Believe
This ongoing series of articles on "What Presbyterians Believe" explores the Biblical and theological foundations of our faith.
The authors have given permission for these articles to be reproduced. We hope this series will be useful for adult church school classes and discussion groups, new member classes and individual enrichment.
How to Speak Presbyterian
It has been estimated that 58 percent of the members of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) did not grow up in the denomination. For readers in that category, here is a short rundown of the lingo you are likely to hear in a Presbyterian church that you may not have heard in another church.
Julie, the PC(USA) is deeply committed to providing loving, pastoral care to all people, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons and their families. While some congregations may do a better job of offering this welcome than others, there can be no question on this matter: we are called to extend love and welcome to all of God's children. That is a commitment of Presbyterians whatever their beliefs about homosexuality, and there are many LGBTQ-affirming and welcoming congregations. Presbyterians, however, are divided on the question of whether homosexuality is a natural blessing from God or a sin (the latter being the historic position of the church). As I am sure you can imagine, there is a great deal of passionate debate on this subject. As of 2011, the PC(USA) presbyteries voted to allow ordination to ministry for lesbian, gay, and bisexual persons if a presbytery (a regional council) discerned God's calling in that person's life. Presbyteries are not required to ordain or not to ordain; it is up to their collective discernment. Currently, PC(USA) clergy are allowed to bless, but not officiate or perform, same-sex marriages. Overall, this is a place of deep woundedness in the church, and we are together seeking collective healing and understanding. Your prayers are most appreciated.
What are the beliefs of this church with gays/lesbians and their children?
To Adam: Yes, the PC(USA) ordains both men and women, without discrimination, to the position of teaching elder (our term for a pastor, formerly known as a Minister of Word and Sacrament) - after completing three years of seminary, earning a Master of Divinity, proceeding through several years of discernment and evaluation, doing several internships, and when determined fit for ministry. These teaching elders, with the authorization of their sessions or congregational governing bodies, are able to administer both the sacrament of Holy Communion and the sacrament of Baptism. Gender equality and justice is a priority for the PC(USA).
What is the Presbyterians stance on women baptizing in the church? Can they perform the ceremony?
To Santiago: Good question! Presbyterians of course differ in many of their beliefs, but one of our core tenets is 'grace alone.' In other words, we are saved through the death and resurrection of Christ, through the grace of God, not through any acts on our part. God is always the initiator. That of course doesn't mean we're then off the hook. We are called to respond to God's grace with gratitude and service. Our "works," as you call them, are always responsive to grace, for they are insufficient to earn our salvation.