Social context and the presbyterian gay/lesbian ordination debate: Testing open-systems theory

Jerome R. Koch, Evans W. Curry

Research output: Contribution to journalShort surveypeer-review

13 Scopus citations


This paper examines the context within which Presbyterian Church (USA) leaders formally decided to prohibit the ordination of openly gay and lesbian elders, deacons, and clergy. Data from resolutions presented to Presbyterian General Assemblies from 1990-1996 reveal that a disproportionate percentage of initiatives seeking to restrict leaders' sexual behavior in general, and homosexual behavior in particular, come from Synods located where conservative Christians dominate the religious culture. State and county-level data on religious affiliation gathered by the Glenmary Research Center were merged to correspond with Synod boundaries. Analysis reveals that resolutions explicitly prohibiting homosexual and non-marital sexual behavior by church leaders are, overall, more likely to come from Synods where conservative Christians disproportionately outnumber Presbyterians. However, our analysis falls short of completely explaining this phenomenon. The Synod from which the single largest number of conservative overtures originated is actually the same one wherein conservatives are least prevalent. Thus, we provide qualified evidence that aspects of the larger "Open-System" within which church leaders make decisions help predict organizational action. In general, we argue that Presbyterian leaders who live and work where Biblical conservatism dominates the cultural scene are more likely to act in ways which reflect a literal interpretation of Biblical prohibitions against homosexuality. But much more work needs to be done.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)206-214
Number of pages9
JournalReview of Religious Research
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2000


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