Presbyterian Church Rejects Endorsement of Same-Sex Marriage
The Presbyterian Church (USA) narrowly voted last week to reject a measure that would have allowed clergy and the church to honor same-sex marriages.
The measure would have literally changed the definition of marriage in the church’s constitution from “a civil contract between one man and one woman” to “a covenant between two people,” opening the door for the faith to publicly affirm and perform same-sex weddings. As the PC (USA) voted two years ago to allow the ordination of non-celibate, gay clergy, both supporters and opponents of this year’s changes expected the vote to buck traditional course.
“It’s inevitable that at some point our General Assembly will vote in favor of redefining marriage,” Oklahoma Pastor Mateen Elass said. Elass is an opponent of recognizing same-sex unions. “This decision has just given some respite to the denomination before it faces an onslaught of departures.
None of the General Assembly attendees celebrated over the vote; most said they were too tired, exhausted from long hours of waiting, praying, and hoping. They also related they didn’t want to express joy at someone else’s expense—understanding that the deep and bitter divisions articulated in the vote have real consequences for the lives of those around them.
Like many denominations, Presbyterians have faced increasing tension over gay rights. Several churches left the denomination after last year’s General Assembly, choosing to join with the more conservative Presbyterian Church in America. But other churches see the acceptance of LGBT people as a mandate for survival: Young people are more likely to support gay rights, and more likely to reject any faith that ignores the humanity of their gay friends.
The Barna Group, a Christian research organization, found in a 2007 survey that the most common term identified with Christianity by both non-Christian and Christian youth alike was “antihomosexual.” Christianity blogger Rachel Held Evans put it eloquently in one blog post, “How to win a culture war and lose a generation”:
When it comes to homosexuality, [young people] no longer think in the black-and-white categories of the generations before ours. We know too many wonderful people from the LGBT community to consider homosexuality a mere “issue.” These are people, and they are our friends. When they tell us that something hurts them, we listen. And [North Carolina’s anti-gay marriage] Amendment One hurts like hell.
Sixty-four percent of millennials support same-sex marriage. Whether denominations choose, as the Methodist Church did this year, to outright reject pleas for even a modicum of gay recognition, or to grant LGBT clergy and congregants full acceptance in their faith, this generational shift compels churches that desire relevancy into addressing gay rights.
Later on Friday evening, after the vote on same-sex marriage concluded, the PC (USA) voted to spend the two years until the next General Assembly studying the theology of marriage.
In 2014, advocates on both sides expect the issue will once again come up for a vote. Until then, partnered gay pastors can minister to a congregation—but not get married in their own church.
Shay O'Reilly is a reporter with Campus Progress. Follow him on Twitter @shaygabriel.