Standing Vigil at the Presbytery Meeting, Tampa, Florida

Tampa VigilOn Saturday, February 24, 2001, volunteers from Soulforce vigiled outside the Presbytery of Tampa Bay (Florida) meeting at the Forest Hills Presbyterian Church. This Presbytery was scheduled to deliberate the national amendment that, if approved, would prevent church property from being used for and ministers from taking part in ceremonies or events that pronounce blessing or give approval of the church or invoke the blessing of God upon any relationship that is inconsistent with God’s intention for all people to live in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman or in chastity in singleness. Approval would prevent congregations from performing "Holy Unions."

We vigiled from 8 until 11:45 a.m. At that time, ten Soulforce volunteers accepted an invitation to lunch with the 250 commissioners. This gave us the opportunity to share our stories and tell why Soulforce, Tampa Bay was present and concerned. We believe this may have been the first time some of the commissioners had engaged in dialogues with supporters of holy unions. Many think they do not have homosexuals in their churches or, as some described, "the homosexuals are no longer attending."

After lunch, the meeting resumed and five of us accepted the Presbytery’s invitation to attend their meeting as observers. There was vigorous debate, but unfortunately, the moderator offered the commissioners the opportunity to limit debate and this offer was approved. A motion to go to executive session that would have excluded the observers, TV cameras and reporters was defeated. While we considered this a positive, a later motion to have a written ballot was defeated and may have made a difference in the vote totals. Some commissioners may have feared retribution if they voted against the amendment. After the final vote, the amendment was approved by a vote of 140 to 100. We are, of course, disappointed, but the 42 percent opposed, represent a significant increase in the number of those who understand the damage created by the Presbyterian Church, USA’s doctrine that prohibits same-sex marriages.

Nationwide, 173 presbyteries are voting on the proposed ban of same-sex unions. At the time of this vote, it appears that the vote by the Presbytery of Tampa Bay will not be significant in the national vote because the nationwide vote is showing that a majority of the Presbyteries are rejecting the amendment. For the amendment to pass, a majority of the Presbyteries (87) must approve. (Presbyterian Church, USA Web Site:

Subsequent to this vote, a motion was made to approve a proposal initiated by a New York Presbytery that would lift a ban which prevents "practicing" homosexuals from being ordained. This motion was voted down. Nevertheless, the New York proposal will be considered at the next national meeting.

Soulforce – Tampa Bay believes it is important to hold the leadership of these various denominations accountable for their actions. We must not allow them to do their work of impression under cover. That’s why we think it’s important to be present at the Presbytery meetings all over the country. Find out when the Presbytery in your area is meeting and ask to attend the meeting. Let them know that there are real people being affected by the exclusive policy on which they are voting. We will continue to look for the opportunity to stand with the religiously and sexually oppressed. We intend to relentlessly oppose spiritual violence wherever we find it and we will be faithful dissenters by withholding financial support to our congregations if they are not fully welcoming.

Dwight Lawton