Since the mid-1980s, the church has engaged in study and discussion about sexuality, particularly questions related to same-sex attraction, orientation and relationships. During the 2021 General Assembly, The Presbyterian Church in Canada made changes to its theology and practice regarding marriage, permitting people to choose to define marriage either as a covenant relationship between a man and a woman or as a covenant relationship between two adult people. This decision provides Presbyterian ministers with liberty of conscience and the freedom to choose to officiate or not officiate at the marriages of same-sex couples. LGBTQI people (whether married or single) can be ordained and may serve as ministers and ruling elders in The Presbyterian Church in Canada.

Conversation in the church is ongoing about recognizing the harm the church has done to LGBTQI people. The church is repenting and taking steps so that this harm does not continue. In 1994, General Assembly adopted a report which called for the church as a whole to repent of homophobia and hypocrisy. Following further reports and discussion, the moderator issued a letter of repentance to LGBTQI people and the church at the direction of the 2017 General Assembly. 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.

In 2017, the General Assembly established a Special Listening Committee re LGBTQI, also known as the Rainbow Communion, to hear stories of harm experienced by LGBTQI people and others as a result of homophobia, hypocrisy, transphobia and heterosexism. The Rainbow Communion’s final report was received and adopted at the 2021 General Assembly, including 23 recommendations for ways forward. These recommendations, along with the 2018 Letter of Repentance are commended to courts of the church as we pursue repentance and reconciliation for harm done and that continues to be done, to LGBTQI people and others in The Presbyterian Church in Canada.

Resources

*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.

The Rainbow Communion’s final report includes stories that describe the harm experienced by LGBTQI people and others in the church as a result of homophobia, hypocrisy, transphobia and heterosexism. Two sections of the report focus on the particular experiences of harm done to people who identify as transgender (A&P 2021, RCL p.46-47) and intersex (p. 49). The following are a few key points from these sections:

  • “In The Presbyterian Church in Canada transphobia is rarely named in addressing the experiences of LGBTQI people.”
  • “The distinction between sexual orientation and gender identity is often forgotten, dismissed or minimized in discussions of lived experience and harm done when in fact it is very significant”
  • “The church has done very little to address the harm done to transgender people and often assumes that statements addressed to lesbian, gay and bisexual people are also addressed to transgender people.”
  • “It can be especially confusing and marginalizing to those who are intersex as to where they belong in the Body of Christ. Questions may arise such as: “What or who determines if ours is an opposite gender relationship?”, “Are intersex people to remain celibate?”, “Must one pass as cisgender and remain closeted as intersex?” The adherence to heteronormative and gender-binary identities, means that those who are intersex are erased and harm is perpetuated.”

The 2021 General Assembly affirmed that all people whatever their sexual orientation or gender identity are equally beloved by God. (A&P 2021, RCL p. 34)

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, download the definitions of commonly used words in discussions about sexuality from the 2019 report of the Rainbow Communion.

The Presbyterian Mission Agency of PCUSA has also produced helpful guidelines for using inclusive language in speaking and writing. The resource, “Well Chosen Words,” can be downloaded here

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

Following the 2021 General Assembly, 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. Congregations, sessions, ruling and teaching elders are granted liberty of conscience and action on marriage. (A&P 2021, REM No. 2)

Congregations and presbyteries may call and ordain as ministers and elect 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 2021, REM No. 3)

These changes to The Presbyterian Church in Canada’s theology and practice are the result of reports and denominational discernment since the mid-1980s. The following reflects statements currently endorsed by The Presbyterian Church in Canada as well as a timeline of actions related to LGBTQI people and the church.

Principles that General Assembly has endorsed:

  • The Presbyterian Church in Canada affirms that all people whatever their sexual orientation or gender identity are equally beloved by God. (A&P 2021, RCL No. 2)
  • 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)
  • 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)
  • Identifying as LGBTQI and/or being in a same-sex marriage are not grounds for discipline and censure in The Presbyterian Church in Canada. (A&P 2021, RCL No. 16)
  • 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)
  • Committees and courts of the church should encourage the development of networks of support groups and formalized pastoral care relationships across The Presbyterian Church in Canada, to provide resources, guidance and care for people who identify as LGBTQI, and in particular for serving and retired clergy and for family members of LGBTQI people. (A&P 2021, RCL No. 7)
  • Congregations and other worshipping bodies are encouraged be inclusive by providing opportunities for all to offer their gifts in worship and in the life and ministry of the church (A&P 2021, RCL No. 18)
  • The Presbyterian Church in Canada rejects without qualification the false claim that those who identify as LGBTQI are any more likely to be involved in pedophilia or the molestation or abuse of children or vulnerable adults than any other persons. (A&P 2021, RCL No. 9)

Select actions endorsed by General Assembly

2021: General Assembly adopted the final report of the Rainbow Communion, including 23 recommendations which provide further steps toward addressing the harm that has been done, and continues to be done to LGBTQI people in the church due to homophobia, transphobia, heterosexism and hypocrisy. The recommendations included the following themes:

  • Expressions of gratitude for all who have told their stories and participated in the work of the Rainbow Communion. (A&P 2021, RCL No. 1, No. 21, No. 23)
  • Affirming that all people whatever their sexual orientation or gender identity are equally beloved by God. (A&P 2021, RCL No. 2)
  • Clarity that identifying as LGBTQI and/or being in a same-sex marriage are not grounds for discipline and censure in The Presbyterian Church in Canada. (A&P 2021, RCL No. 16)
  • A special committee was appointed by General Assembly to prepare a public confession to all individuals and congregations that have been harmed by the church in excluding and marginalizing people who identify as LGBTQI. (A&P 2021, RCL No. 3, No. 4)
  • A fund will be established to provide resources to support psychotherapy/counselling for those who have experienced harm done by homophobia, hypocrisy, transphobia and heterosexism in the denomination. (A&P 2021, RCL No. 6)
  • The Life and Mission Agency, together with synods, presbyteries, sessions and theological colleges will encourage the development of support groups and formalized pastoral care relationships across the denomination to provide resources, guidance and care for people who identify as LGBTQI, and in particular for serving and retired clergy and for family members of LGBTQI people. (A&P 2021, RCL No. 7)
  • Courts of the church, agencies, colleges, and camps will review and update their policies, procedures and practices by June 2022 to ensure they reflect the full inclusion of all people. The Life and Mission Agency will offer resources to support policy review, revisions and development. (A&P 2021, RCL No. 11-14)
  • Committees to Nominate at all levels and in all courts of the church, are encouraged to include LGBTQI representation in the membership of committees of the sessions, presbyteries, synods, colleges and the General Assembly. (A&P 2021, RCL No. 15)
  • Congregations and other worshipping bodies are encouraged to be inclusive by providing opportunities for all to offer their gifts in worship and in the life and ministry of the church. (A&P 2021, RCL No. 18)

For a full list of the Rainbow Communion’s recommendations, download their final report.

The 2021 General Assembly also voted to approve Remits B and C (see 2019). These decisions change the Presbyterian Church in Canada’s theology and practice regarding marriage. People may choose to define marriage as either as a covenant relationship between a man and a woman or a covenant relationship between two adult people. Presbyterian ministers may choose to officiate at the marriages of same-sex couples. LGBTQI people (whether married or single) can be ordained and are welcome to serve as ministers and ruling elders. (A&P 2021, REM No. 2 and No. 3) Provisional guidelines to facilitate calls and elections of LGBTQI candidates were commended to Sessions, congregations and presbyteries. (A&P 2021, CLK No. 3)

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 a 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: All overtures, reports, recommendations and petitions pertaining to sexuality, except for the Rainbow Communion’s work, were referred to a Special Committee of Former Moderators tasked with proposing a way forward in response to questions regarding same-sex marriage and the ordination of married same-sex clergy and elders. 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 twenty-three overtures regarding human sexuality in 2015. Commissioners participated in facilitated, small group discussions about human sexuality and sexual orientation. (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).

Looking for more context? Download the 2019 Social Action Handbook .