For the past several decades, the church has engaged in study and discussion about sexuality, particularly questions related to same-sex attraction, orientation and relationships. One result of this study is the church’s recognition of its role in the harm experienced by LGBTQI people and others as a result of homophobia, hypocrisy, transphobia and heterosexism. In 2018, the moderator issued a letter of repentance to LGBTQI people and the church at the direction of the 2017 General Assembly (A&P 2017, p. 46). The letter acknowledged: “We live in a culture and a world where LGBTQI persons are bullied, brutalized and sometimes killed. Moreover, bullying and violence occurs in congregations or in the community with the support of church members. Presbyteries and sessions fail to hold church members and church leaders accountable for their hateful acts. For our failure to protect those attacked and brutalized, we are sorry, and we repent. For our ongoing failure to hold people accountable for abuse and hatred, we are sorry, and we repent.” Congregations, sessions, presbyteries, synods and other bodies of the church are urged to give public expression to the Moderator’s Letter of Repentance and to seek ways to live out that repentance for harm done and that continues to be done, to LGBTQI people and others in The Presbyterian Church in Canada. (A&P 2019, p. 19)

As the church seeks to live out its repentance, discernment continues about appropriate pastoral care of LGBTQI people, the church’s definition of marriage and expectations of LGBTQI candidates for ministry.

*Please note that terms used to describe LGBTQI people have changed over many years and that the terms used below reflect the time and context in which they were written. As the PCC continues producing reports, resources and liturgies, we consider it best practice to use terms LGBTQI people use to describe themselves.

This page contains content on People who are Transgender or Intersex and Same-Sex Relationships and the Roles of LGBTQI People in Ministry.

People who are Transgender or Intersex
Same-Sex Relationships and the Roles of LGBTQI People in Ministry

People who are Transgender or Intersex

Justice Ministries was directed by the 2016 General Assembly to prepare a report regarding people who are transgender and intersex. (A&P 2016, pp. 28, 265) A narrative report, which included information from confidential interviews with transgender members of the church and members of their families, was prepared and adopted by the 2017 General Assembly. (A&P 2017, pp. 374-379) General Assembly adopted a recommendation that congregations, ministers, chaplains, elders and youth leaders be encouraged to study the report: “The Church and People who are Transgender or Intersex.” (A&P 2017, p. 36) Prior to 2017, the church had never considered or made a statement regarding transgender or intersex people.

Intersex is an umbrella term for differences in sex traits or reproductive anatomy. Intersex people are born with these differences or develop them in childhood. There are many possible differences in genitalia, hormones, internal anatomy, or chromosomes, compared to the usual two ways that human bodies develop. (InterAct)

Transgender is a term used to describe people whose gender identity does not correspond with what is socially expected based on their sex assigned at birth. Trans can be used as an umbrella term to refer to a range of gender identities and experiences. (Egale Canada)

For a more in-depth glossary of terms, read the 2019 report of the Rainbow Communion (A&P 2019, pp. 486-490).

Same-Sex Relationships and the Roles of LGBTQI People in Ministry

Since the 1980s, the church has received many overtures regarding the church’s stance on homosexuality. General Assembly has adopted reports that make distinctions between same-sex orientation and being in same-sex relationships (in previous reports the language used is “homosexual orientation” and “homosexual practice”). Recognizing that “the church is called to be a welcoming, nurturing, loving and supporting community, a true church family, where all are welcomed, nurtured, loved and supported” (A&P 1994, p. 267), General Assembly has affirmed that the church should not limit the roles of its members on the basis of sexual orientation. The church continues to discern questions regarding same-sex relationships and whether clergy may perform marriages between two consenting adults regardless of gender as well as whether to call and ordain as ministers and elect and ordain as ruling elders, LGBTQI persons.

Values and principles that General Assembly has endorsed:

  • Homosexual orientation is not a sin. The weight of scientific evidence suggests that sexual orientation is innate, established early in life, and not a matter of choice. Studies have not revealed any scriptural, scientific or pastoral basis or justification for programs to change a person’s sexual orientation. (A&P 2003, pp. 526-547) This position was reaffirmed by the 2019 General Assembly. (A&P 2019, pp. 486, 46)
  • Scripture treats homosexual practice as a departure from God’s created order. (A&P 1994, pp. 251-274, 56)
  • Homosexual acts between consenting adults are a private matter and should not be criminalized. (A&P 1969, pp. 316-17)
  • The church does not limit the roles of its members on the basis of their sexual orientation. These roles include church school teachers, musicians, youth leaders, ruling elders, teaching elders and members of the Order of Diaconal Ministries. (A&P 2003, pp. 526-547)
  • The Presbyterian Church in Canada does not currently allow its ministers to perform public worship services blessing same-sex relationships. The 2019 General Assembly adopted a remit to be sent through the Barrier Act (the process through which official policies of the church may be changed). If the remit is passed by a majority of presbyteries and the next General Assembly, it would provide for the PCC to hold two parallel definitions of marriage; 1) as a covenant relationship between a man and a woman or 2) as a covenant relationship between two adult persons. If adopted, this would allow ministers who felt called to perform worship services blessing same-sex relationships to do so. (A&P 2019, pp. 5, 47-52) For more information see the 2019 section below.
  • A person described as a “self avowed and practicing homosexual” may be refused ordination to the ministry of Word and Sacraments in The Presbyterian Church in Canada. A celibate homosexual minister or member of the Order of Diaconal Ministries may still be ordained/designated under the present laws and practice of The Presbyterian Church in Canada. (A&P 2003, p. 544-545) The 2019 General Assembly adopted a remit to be sent through the Barrier Act that, if passed by a majority of presbyteries and the next General Assembly, would permit congregations and presbyteries to call and ordain as ruling elders LGBTQI persons (married or single). (A&P 2019, pp. 5, 47-52) For more information see the 2019 section below.
  • The church as a whole must repent of its homophobia and hypocrisy. The church is called to be a welcoming, nurturing, loving and supporting community, a true church family, where all are welcomed, nurtured, loved and supported. (A&P 1994, pp. 251-274, 56)
  • We must oppose the form of hatred known as homophobia as vigorously as any other. (A&P 1985, pp. 238-241, 31) Anger, hatred, and acts of denigration towards gay and lesbian people should not be tolerated within a congregation or the greater community. (A&P 2003, pp. 526-547, 43-45)
  • Sessions should provide support groups if needed and/or requested for those who are struggling with sexual issues, to support parents whose children are gay or lesbian, individuals facing sexual discrimination, and victims of sexual abuse. Presbyteries should also provide similar pastoral care of their ministers. (A&P 2003, pp. 545, 44)

Select actions endorsed by General Assembly

*A more complete history may be found on pages 27-43 of the 2019 Social Action Handbook .

2019: The 2019 General Assembly adopted the recommendation of the Special Committee re Listening (LGBTQI People) also known as the Rainbow Communion, that congregations, sessions, presbyteries, synods and other bodies of the church be urged to give public expression to the Moderator’s Letter of Repentance and to seek ways to live out that repentance for harm done and that continues to be done, to LGBTQI people and others as a result of homophobia, hypocrisy, transphobia and heterosexism in The Presbyterian Church in Canada including developing discussion spaces with leadership drawn from a diversity of people. (A&P 2019, pp. 486, 19) General Assembly also adopted their recommendation that the Life and Mission Agency develop and gather resources to strengthen our ability to provide appropriate support to congregations, sessions, presbyteries, synods and other bodies of the church in developing models of pastoral care that recognize the gifts of all and encourage mutual support and care for those who have been harmed by homophobia, transphobia, heterosexism and hypocrisy. (A&P 2019, pp. 486, 46)

Additionally, after a process of prayerful discernment following the report of the Special Committee of Moderators, the following were remitted to presbyteries under the Barrier Act, the process through which official policies of the church may be changed (click here to read more ):

The Presbyterian Church in Canada holds two parallel definitions of marriage and recognizes that faithful, Holy Spirit filled, Christ centered, God honouring people can understand marriage as a covenant relationship between a man and a woman or as a covenant relationship between two adult persons. That congregations, sessions, ruling and teaching elders be granted liberty of conscience and action on marriage.

That congregations and presbyteries may call and ordain as ruling elders LGBTQI persons (married or single) with the provision that liberty of conscience and action regarding participation in ordinations, inductions and installations be granted to ministers and ruling elders. (A&P 2019, pp. 5, 47-52)

Additional recommendations were adopted by the 2019 General Assembly as follows:

That the Clerks of Assembly be instructed to provisionally prepare guidelines to ensure that calls to LGBTQI ministers and the election of LGBTQI elders are facilitated in presbyteries and congregations; That the Moderator write a pastoral letter to the church; That as a matter of urgency, the Life and Mission Agency provide a means for those affected by this decision (regarding the remits) to express their concerns, views and pain in a safe environment, and that these concerns be reported back to the 2020 General Assembly before the report on remits is received and its recommendations considered. (A&P 2019, pp. 47-52)

2018: General Assembly adopted additional motions to set up a Special Committee of Former Moderators of the 2005-2017 Assemblies to propose a way ahead that allows the mission and ministry of the PCC continue. All overtures, reports, recommendations and petitions pertaining to sexuality, except for the Rainbow Communion, were referred to the Special Committee. The Special Committee’s work was parallel with the Rainbow Communion. (A&P 2018, pp. 25-26) The Special Committee presented its final report to the 2019 General Assembly.

General Assembly agreed that those who are subject to the discipline of the PCC who accepted the invitation to serve on the Special Committee re Listening (LGBTQI People) or who accept the invitation to tell their stories would have potential censure with respect to the PCC’s stance on same-sex relationships suspended indefinitely in order to allow them to participate freely and honestly in the work of the Special Committee. (A&P 2018, pp. 459-464, 29)

2017: The Committee on Church Doctrine and the Life and Mission Agency (Justice Ministries) jointly prepared a report with recommendations. Each group also prepared separate, individual reports. (A&P 2017, pp. 474-554) The joint report covers three topics: 1) How the overtures were referred by the General Assembly since 2015; 2) The history of the consultation between the Committee on Church Doctrine and the Life and Mission Agency; and 3) Repentance of Homophobia, recognizing that the church failed to fulfill the resolution “to listen to and share the very real pain of homosexuals and their families” that was adopted by the PCC in 1994 and failed in its call “to be a welcoming, nurturing, loving and supportive community.” (A&P 1994, p. 267)

The 2017 General Assembly also adopted recommendations: that (from the Committee on Church Doctrine report) the PCC and its agencies, colleges, congregations, sessions, presbyteries, synods, committees and groups “seek the peace and unity of Christ among [our] people and throughout the Holy Catholic Church” under the guidance of the Holy Spirit as it discerns the mind of Christ in the matter of sexuality before the church (A&P 2017, pp. 479, 14); and (from the Life and Mission Agency report) that the PCC and its agencies, colleges, congregations, sessions, presbyteries, synods, committees and groups seek the unity of the church under the guidance of the Holy Spirit as it discerns the mind of Christ in the matter of sexuality before the church. (A&P 2017, pp. 551, 14)

General Assembly commended the following reports to various groups of the church – such as sessions, presbyteries, theological colleges, etc. – for study, reflection and comment by January 31, 2018:

  • “The Historic Argument Concerning Human Sexuality” by the Committee on Church Doctrine (A&P 2017, pp. 480-504)
  • “What the Bible teaches on Covenanted Monogamous Same-Sex Relationships” by the Committee on Church Doctrine (A&P 2017, pp. 505-536)
  • “Where from Here?” by the Committee on Church Doctrine (A&P 2017, pp. 536-539)
  • The biblical reflection of the Life and Mission Agency’s report concerning the various overtures on human sexuality (A&P 2017, pp. 542-549)

General Assembly adopted a recommendation from the Committee on Church Doctrine/Life and Mission Agency joint report that the PCC repent of homophobia and hypocrisy by establishing a special committee to: 1) create a safe and respectful environment in which LGBTQ people can tell stories of harm done to them, of God’s grace experienced by them, and of Christian ministry performed by them, even in the midst of the challenges that they have faced; 2) listen to the stories told by LGBTQ people; 3) draft an appropriate response regarding homophobia within the denomination; 4) name concrete actions that the General Assembly consider implementing; and 5) report to a future General Assembly within the next 3 years. (A&P 2017, pp. 477, 28) For more information about the Special Committee re Listening (also known as the Rainbow Communion), visit https://presbyterian.ca/listening.

General Assembly adopted an additional motion that the moderator prepare a letter of repentance addressed to the LGBTQ community. (A&P 2017, p. 46)

2016: General Assembly adopted a report from the Life and Mission Agency (Justice Ministries) summarizing responses to “Body, Mind and Soul”. (A&P 2016, pp.436-439)

General Assembly recommended that the Committee on Church Doctrine in consultation with the Life and Mission Agency: 1) continue to reflect on the nature of Christian marriage in relation to LGBTQ and intersex people; and 2) reflect theologically on the spiritual needs of transgender and intersex people. (A&P 2016, pp. 260-265, 28)

2015: The Life and Mission Agency and the Committee on Church Doctrine received overtures regarding human sexuality. Twenty-three overtures were received by the 2015 General Assembly. Commissioners participated in facilitated, small group discussions. (A&P 2015, pp 20,30,35) Reading resources were recommended to commissioners to prepare for this discussion. (A&P 2015, pp. 268-274)

In response to recommendations adopted by General Assembly (A&P 2015, pp. 539-541, 46), the Committee on Church Doctrine and Life and Mission Agency (Justice Ministries) prepared a joint study guide called “Body, Mind and Soul” on the topics of human sexuality, sexual orientation, and other related matters raised in the overture. The study guide was posted on the church’s website by the end of October 2015 and congregations, sessions, presbyteries and synods were invited to share the result of their conversations with both the Committee on Church Doctrine and the Life and Mission Agency (Justice Ministries) prior to March 31, 2016.

The 2015 General Assembly adopted a motion that the moderator write a pastoral letter to all congregations, presbyteries and synods of the PCC inviting them to: 1) maintain unity in the bond of peace while debating and studying the full inclusion of LGBT people within the PCC; 2) treat one another with profound and mutual respect and integrity despite differences in biblical interpretation and perspective; and 3) be particularly sensitive and gracious to all who are vulnerable and might despair as a result of such deliberations. (A&P 2015, pp. 46-47)

1997-2003: The 1997 General Assembly appointed a committee to clarify the roles of homosexual and lesbian persons in the church. (A&P 1997, pp. 503, 19, 58) This committee’s work was expanded to include clarification of the term ‘sexual orientation’ by the 1998 General Assembly. (A&P 1998, p. 54) Interim reports were presented every year from 1998-2002. A study guide for congregations was prepared and distributed in the fall of 2002. The final report was received and adopted by the 2003 General Assembly. (A&P 2003, pp. 526-547, 26, 34, 37-41, 43-45)

1985 & 1994: The 1985 General Assembly adopted a statement on homosexual practice prepared by the Committee on Church Doctrine (A&P 1985, pp. 238-241, 31) and the 1994 General Assembly adopted for study a statement on human sexuality prepared by the Committee on Church Doctrine, which included a section on homosexuality. (A&P 1994, pp. 251-274, 56)

1969: The Board of Evangelism and Social Action communicated approval of the Government of Canada’s proposed legislation to remove homosexual acts between consenting adults in private from the Criminal Code. This action took place in between two General Assemblies and the statement was included in the Board of Evangelism and Social Action’s report to the 1969 General Assembly (A&P 1969, pp. 316-317; report as a whole was adopted p. 109).