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Ordination of LGBT Christian clergy


Ordination of LGBT Christian clergy

The ordination of lesbian, gay, bisexual and/or transgender clergy who are open about their sexuality (or gender identity if transgender), are sexually active if lesbian, gay, or bisexual, or are in committed same-sex relationships is a debated practice within some contemporary Christian Church communities.

While the majority of churches are opposed to it because they view homosexuality and transgenderism as incompatible with Biblical teaching and traditional Christian practice,[1] there are an increasing number of Christian churches and communities that are open to the ordination of people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, and/or transgender. These are mainly moderate and liberal Protestant churches. The first mainline denomination in the USA to ordain openly gay clergy was the United Church of Christ—UCC in 1972. Other groups include the Metropolitan Community Church and the Church of Sweden where clergy may serve in senior clerical positions. In 2003 the United Church of Christ General Synod called for full inclusion of transgender persons.[2]

The issue of ordination has caused particular controversy in the worldwide Anglican communion, following the appointment of the Bishop of New Hampshire in the US Episcopal Church.


  • Protestantism 1
    • Moderate and Liberal Protestant denominations 1.1
      • Episcopal Polities 1.1.1
      • Presbyterian polities 1.1.2
      • Connexional polities 1.1.3
      • Congregationalist polities 1.1.4
      • Mixed or other polities 1.1.5
    • Conservative Protestants 1.2
  • Anglicanism 2
  • Roman Catholicism 3
  • Latter-day Saints 4
  • Literature 5
  • See also 6
  • References 7


Moderate and Liberal Protestant denominations

Episcopal Polities

In the United States, the Evangelical Lutheran Church (ELCA) and the Episcopal Church or ECUSA[3] allow the ordination of openly gay, lesbian, bisexual, and/or transgender clergy. In 2012 the Episcopal Church of the United States approved a change to their nondiscrimination canons to include gender identity and expression.[4] The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America decided in August 2009 to accept gay, lesbian, and bisexual clergy in sexually active monogamous relationships.[5] In 2014 Megan Rohrer became the first openly transgender leader of an ELCA congregation (specifically, Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church of San Francisco.) [6]

In July 2011 the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada decided to accept gay, lesbian, and bisexual clergy in sexually active monogamous relationships. In 2013, openly gay minister Guy Erwin was ordained as a bishop in California.

In Scandinavia, the Church of Sweden permits openly gay, lesbian, and bisexual clergy to act as ministers, often in senior positions. In May 2009 the Diocese of Stockholm elected Eva Brunne as its Bishop-Elect. Brunne lives in a registered partnership with another woman, and they have a son. Likewise the Danish National Church in Denmark, and the Church of Norway permit the ordination of openly LGBT clergy. Also the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland and the Church of Iceland permit the ordination of openly LGBT clergy.

In Germany, the Lutheran, United and Reformed churches as part of the Evangelical Church ordain openly LGBT Christian clergy.[7][8] In 2008, the North Elbian Evangelical Lutheran Church announced that Horst Gorski, who was openly gay, had been nominated as a Lutheran bishop, but he did not make election.[9]

Presbyterian polities

In the United States, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) allows the ordination of openly gay, lesbian, or bisexual clergy.[10] In 2012, Katie Ricks became the first open lesbian to be ordained in the church.[11]

The Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), the second-largest Presbyterian denomination in the United States considers homosexuality to be a sin. Therefore a practicing homosexual continuing in this sin would not be a fit candidate for ordination or membership in the Presbyterian Church in America.[12] PCA is growing in membership by approximately 1% annually while PCUSA membership has declined 3 to 5% per year since 2008.[13][14]

The Church of Scotland discussed the issue at its 2009 General Assembly. This was in response to the induction of openly gay minister Rev. Scott Rennie, to serve at Queen's Cross Church, Aberdeen. The outcome was agreement that the induction, which had triggered the debate, should go ahead, but that no further such cases should be permitted until a commission on the subject has reported in 2011. In 2011, the Church of Scotland voted at its 2011 General Assembly to allow open gay, lesbian, and bisexual ministers who live in civil unions.[15] On May 20, 2013, the General Assembly of the Kirk approved a proposal to allow gay, lesbian, and bisexual ministers. Parishes will be able to 'opt out' of this new policy.[16]

Connexional polities

The United Methodist Church has also been discussing the issue for many years, but its official position continues to deny ordination to "Self-Avowed Practicing Homosexuals." In theory, a homosexual who is celibate is a fit candidate for ordination within the United Methodist Church, but in practice this rarely happens. However, in 2008, the United Methodist Church Judicial Council ruled that openly transgender pastor Drew Phoenix could keep his position.[17] At the UMC General Conference the same year, several petitions that would have forbidden transgender clergy and added anti-transgender language to the Book of Discipline were rejected.[18]

Congregationalist polities

The Metropolitan Community Church logo in front of the altar at a regional conference of the denomination.

The Ecclesia Gnostica, and the Apostolic Johannite Church also do so.

The United Church of Christ began ordaining LGBT clergy in the 70's. Bill Johnson was ordained in 1972 and Anne Holmes in 1981. This denomination was also the first to endorse marriage equality and full recognition and celebration of people regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity or expression. The UCC was the first mainline Protestant denomination to take these stands.[19]

In 2006 [22]

In 2009, the British Quakers confirmed the Church was open for LGBT ordination and said issued support for same-sex marriage.[23]

The United Christian Church decided to ordain openly LGBT Christian clergy at First Annual Conference in Seattle, WA [24] in 2010.

In the Philippines, the Ekklesia Tou Theou (Church of God) believes and ordains LGBT Christian Clergy through its denominational jurisdiction the Catholic Diocese of One Spirit.

The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) has a decentralized church structure as well. Regional bodies ordain individuals and as such have different rules regarding ordination. Northern California is the only region labeled as Open and Inclusive; however, the Ohio Commission on Ministry (the body that grants ordination) has decided that sexual orientation is not a criterion for ordination. At the 2012 Regional Assemblies, a number of Disciples regions (including Kentucky and Indiana) joined Ohio in eliminating sexual orientation as a restriction for ordination. Other regions are in the process of investigating the matter, mostly on a polity (since congregations determine ethical fitness for candidates and hire their ministers) and not a theological basis. In July 2013, the General Assembly of The Disciples of Christ passed a "Sense of the Assembly" resolution (GA-1327 "Becoming a People of Grace and Welcome to All") to allow ordination clergy "regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity", although no individual congregation will be forced to ordain LGBT clergy if the object to doing so.[25][26]

Mixed or other polities

The Moravian Church,[27] is discussing it.

In 2013 Shannon Kearns became the first openly transgender person ordained by the North American Old Catholic Church, not to be confused with the Roman Catholic Church.[28] He was ordained in Minneapolis.[28]

Also, in Switzerland the Reformed churches in Federation of Swiss Protestant Churches ordain openly LGBT Christian clergy and the same situation is in Austria in reformed church and Lutheran churches.

The Protestant Church in the Netherlands also ordains openly LGBT Christian clergy.

The United Church of Canada and the Uniting Church in Australia [29] already welcome gays, lesbians, and bisexuals in permanent partnerships into the ordained ministry. In addition, on August 16, 2012, the United Church of Canada elected its first openly gay moderator, Gary Paterson, and, in doing so, became the first mainline Christian denomination in the world to have an openly gay person at its helm. The United Church of Christ, because of its decentralized model that arose from the Congregational churches of New England, allows such ordinations by default since there are no official denomination-wide stances on doctrine.

In December 2013 the Mennonite church in the USA announced that it would be appointing Theda Good as its first openly lesbian pastor following a period of consultation and internal consideration. She will take up her position in Denver.[30]

The Universal Life Church, founded 1959 in Modesto, California, has always upheld as a core belief that ordination is to be open to all.[31] Legal status of the Universal Life Church varies between jurisdictions; ULC (and its various factions and splinter groups[32]) have been willing, ready suppliers of officiants for same-sex marriages in states where both LGBT equality principles and recognition of a ULC Minister as a real ordained minister under freedom of religion protections have been upheld by law and courts.

Conservative Protestants

To many conservative Protestants, homosexuality is interpreted in terms of behavior. A homosexual is a person who engages in same-sex behavior. These denominations also interpret the Bible as condemning homosexuality.

The ordination of gays, lesbians, and bisexuals is not a new thing, but their ordination as openly gay, lesbian, and bisexual people has caused controversy among some churchgoers: a 2006 survey suggested that two-thirds of weekly Protestant church-goers in the United States of America believe that it is inappropriate for gays and lesbians to serve as bishops or pastors; with the number opposed rising to 80% amongst evangelical Christians (bisexuality and transgenderism were not mentioned in the survey).[33] In the past, ordinands who were gay, lesbian, or bisexual did not admit their sexuality, and were ordained.


For many years, moderate and liberal western Anglican provinces operated on a basis of "don't ask, don't tell".[34]

Bishop Robinson in 2006, during the 75th General Convention of The Episcopal Church

In the American Episcopal Church, a resolution was adopted in 2009 by the General Convention, the church's governing body, declaring that gays, lesbians, and bisexuals who had been baptized were eligible for "any ordained ministry", including becoming bishops.[35] In the wider Anglican Communion, which includes more conservative congregations in developing countries, the ordination of gays, lesbians, and bisexuals is highly controversial.

In 1999, openly gay Anglican bishop Peter Wheatley was ordained as Bishop of Edmonton in London. The Archbishop of Canterbury, spiritual head of the Anglican Communion, formed the Eames Commission due to controversy associated with the consecration of Gene Robinson to the order of bishop in the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire and the planned consecration of Jeffrey John (who was to be ordained Bishop of Reading) in the Church of England. Its findings, published as the Windsor Report, recommended that the consecration of people in same-sex relationships as bishops cease, although it conspicuously avoided discussing gays, lesbians, and bisexuals ordained as priests and deacons. In response, the Episcopal Church placed a moratorium on confirming the consecrations of all bishops.

Bishop J. Neil Alexander of the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta said that he voted for the ordination of Gene Robinson as a bishop because Robinson was open about his sexuality and honest about his caring relationship. In the past known gays, lesbians, and bisexuals clergy were ordained to the episcopate only because they lied about or did not mention their sexuality.

In July 2009, clergy and laity in the United States voted to reject the three-year moratorium on the consecration of gay clergy as bishops. The Archbishop of Canterbury responded to this in a statement which regretted that this move would not heal the divisions in the church, and effectively sets in motion a two-tier system of Anglicanism in which those within the covenant can speak as Anglicans, and LGBT clergy and those who support them fall outside the covenant, and so cannot speak on behalf of other Anglicans.[36] A coalition of thirteen LGBT Christian groups in the UK formulated a united response to the Archbishop's statement, questioning whether the 'listening process' he had called for had been properly engaged with, that LGBT people are committed members of the communion, and criticising a 'two-track' system within Anglicanism.[37]

In August 2009, it was announced that two gay Episcopal priests were among the six nominated candidates for the role of suffragan Bishop of Los Angeles; both were in committed relationships. The appointment was voted on in December 2009 and, in March 2010, it was announced that Mary Douglas Glasspool had been elected; becoming only the second openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church. In December 2009, the Episcopal Diocese of Minnesota also announced a lesbian had been nominated as a bishop, but did not make election.[38]

Formed in opposition to the Episcopal Church's policies concerning gays, lesbians, and bisexuals are several other Anglican church bodies. The Anglican Mission in the Americas was founded in 2000 by the Anglican Communion's Rwandan and Southeast Asia provinces to serve North American Anglicans formerly affiliated with the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada; it claims more than 100 parishes in the United States. A church-planting partner with the Anglican Mission is the Anglican Church in North America, founded in 2010. It claims over 600 parishes serving 100,000 members, most of whom are former members of the Episcopal Church opposed to the ordination of LGBT clergy. The Anglican Church in North America includes four dioceses which withdrew from the Episcopal Church and subsequently joined with the 13,000 member Reformed Episcopal Church and several smaller bodies.

In addition, the even more conservative Continuing Anglican movement is composed of various churches which were formed in the late twentieth century by former Episcopalians opposed to what they believed were liberal and unscriptural developments within the parent body. Although the place of homosexual persons in the life of the church was not one of the causes of these churches' separation from the Anglican Communion, all of them are strongly opposed to both the ordination of gay clergy and to church-approved matrimonial rites for LGBT persons.

An interfaith movement known as the Confessing Movement has also been a vehicle for opposition to the ordination of non-celibate gays, lesbians, and bisexuals.

In 2005 Sarah Jones became the first openly transgender person ordained by the Church of England as a priest.[39][40][41]

In 2011, the Church in Wales began giving pensions for the same-sex partners of gay clergy. The Church of England's General Synod approved the change in 2010.[42] In 2013, the Church of England allowed gay clergy who live in civil unions to become bishops as long as they remain celibate.[43]

Roman Catholicism

According to the Catholic Church's moral doctrine, homosexual attraction is disordered, and homosexual acts themselves are sinful. However, the Church does allow the ordination of men who may have, in the past, experienced same-sex attraction, but only on the condition that they have lived without engaging in "homosexual culture" or acts for several years, and that have no "deep-seated homosexual tendencies".[44] All priests in the Latin Rite are required to take the vow of celibacy and to live by the Church's moral teachings.

A 2006 survey suggests that Roman Catholic church-goers in the US are almost evenly split on whether homosexual men should or should not serve as priests or bishops.[33]

As for the ordination of openly transgender people, a 2000 document from the Catholic Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith concludes that the sex-change procedures do not change a person’s gender in the eyes of the Church. “The key point,” said the reported document “is that the transsexual surgical operation is so superficial and external that it does not change the personality. If the person was a male, he remains male. If she was female, she remains female.” [45]

Latter-day Saints

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ordains to the priesthood only men who have covenanted not to have sex with anyone besides their wife. Some gay men have chosen to remain celibate, while others have chosen to marry.[46] Regardless of orientation, only married men may become bishops.[47] Transgender persons who were assigned male at birth may only receive the priesthood if they have not had, and are not planning to have, sexual reassignment surgery (1999 Church handbook). Those assigned female at birth are not ordained to the priesthood.


  • David Berger: Der heilige Schein: Als schwuler Theologe in der katholischen Kirche. Berlin 2010, ISBN 978-3-550-08855-1
  • Debra Kolodny: Blessed Bi Spirit: Bisexual People of Faith. New York, Bloomsbury Publishing, 2000
  • Paula Nielsen: The Trans-Evangelist: The Life and Times of A Transgender Pentecostal Preacher by Sister Paula Nielsen. Oregon: One Spirit Press, 2012
  • Gene Robinson: In the Eye of the Storm: Swept to the Center by God, with foreword by Desmond Tutu, New York City: Seabury Books, 2008
  • R. W. Holmen: Queer Clergy: A History of Gay and Lesbian Ministry in American Protestantism, Pilgrim Press 2014, ISBN 978-0829819632

See also


  1. ^ Diarmaid MacCulloch, The Reformation (New York: Viking, 2004), 601.
  2. ^ "ONA: It's About Transgender Inclusion, Too!". UCC Coalition for LGBT Concerns. 
  3. ^ epd:USA: Presbyterianer-Versammlung für Homosexuelle im Pastorenamt (german)
  4. ^ Kaleem, Jaweed (9 July 2012). "Episcopal Church Takes Bold Step On Transgender Priests".  
  5. ^ StarTribune:ELCA votes to allow gay pastors
  6. ^ Nahmod, David-Elijah (27 February 2014). "Lutherans install trans pastor".  
  7. ^ "Theologische, staatskirchenrechtliche und dienstrechtliche Aspekte zum kirchlichen Umgang mit den rechtlichen Folgen der Eintragung gleichgeschlechtlicher Lebenspartnerschaften nach dem Lebenspartnerschaftsgesetz, September 2002 (german)". Retrieved 2012-10-09. 
  8. ^ "EKD:EKD-Synode beschließt neues Pfarrdienstgesetz (german)". Retrieved 2012-10-09. 
  9. ^ 11.07.08 (2011-11-23). "Welt:Wird er Deutschlands erster schwuler Bischof ? (german)". Retrieved 2012-10-09. 
  10. ^ BY Editors (2011-05-10). "Presbyterians approve gay clergy". Advocate. Retrieved 2012-10-09. 
  11. ^ Katie Ricks: Presbyterians Ordain Their First Out Lesbian. The Advocate. retrieved 6 June 2012
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^ http://www.pcusa.org_media/media/uploads/oga/pdf/2013_comparative_summaries_.pdf
  15. ^ Severin Carrell, Scotland correspondent (23 May 2011). "Church of Scotland votes to allow gay and lesbian ministers". London: Guardian. Retrieved 2012-10-09. 
  16. ^ [1]
  17. ^ Bartolone, Pauline (30 October 2007). "Methodists Vote to Keep Transgender Pastor".  
  18. ^ "The United Methodist Church". Transgender Christians. Retrieved 2 April 2013. 
  19. ^
  20. ^
  21. ^ a b
  22. ^ a b c
  23. ^ Hartill, Rosemary (2011-11-03). "Quakers make the right decision". London: Guardian. Retrieved 2012-10-09. 
  24. ^ 1st Annual Conference of Christian United Church
  25. ^ General Assembly of the Disciples of Christ (July 2013). """GA-1327 "Becoming a People of Grace and Welcome to All. Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). Retrieved 15 October 2014. 
  26. ^ Potts, Andrew (25 July 2013). "Disciples of Christ church moves to allow LGBT clergy". Gay Star News. Retrieved 15 October 2014. 
  27. ^ Moravian Church:Recognition of ordination
  28. ^ a b
  29. ^ Little, Jane (2003-07-17). "BBC:Australia church accepts gay priests". BBC News. Retrieved 2012-10-09. 
  30. ^ Gay Star News, 31 December 2013
  31. ^
  32. ^ Universal Life Church Supports, Facilitates Same Sex Marriage (press release), ULC Monastery Seattle, Nov 2012.
  33. ^ a b [2]
  34. ^ Gay Catholic priests and clerical sexual misconduct; by Donald Boisvert, and Robert Goss. Retrieved 2012-10-09. 
  35. ^ Noronha, Charmaine (2009-07-24). "Gays make advances at Episcopal confab". EDGE Boston. Retrieved 2012-10-09. 
  36. ^ "Communion, Covenant and our Anglican Future". 2012-10-04. Retrieved 2012-10-09. 
  37. ^ On the Archbishop's Reflections. Inclusive Church, 4 August 2009
  38. ^ Geen, Jessica. "Two gay priests among nominations for LA bishop". Retrieved 2012-10-09. 
  39. ^
  40. ^ "TREC Speaker - Rev Sarah Jones". Trans Resource and Empowerment Centre Limited. Retrieved 2 April 2013. 
  41. ^ "Bishop defends transsexual curate". BBC News. 24 September 2005. Retrieved 2 April 2013. 
  42. ^ Writer, Staff. "Welsh clerics to consider pensions for gay partners". Pinknews. Retrieved 2012-10-09. 
  43. ^ DailyMail:Church of England ends ban on gay clergy in civil partnerships becoming bishops (but they must remain celibate)
  44. ^ "Full text of the 2005 Vatican document on ordaining homosexuals into the priesthood". Retrieved 2012-10-09. 
  45. ^ Norton, John (14 January 2003). "Vatican says 'sex-change' operation does not change person's gender". Catholic News Service. Retrieved 19 July 2009. 
  46. ^ Moore, Carrie A. "Gay LDS men detail challenges", Deseret Morning News, March 30, 2007
  47. ^ "Interview with Elder Oaks and Wickman". Retrieved 2012-10-09. 
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