PCUSA Approves Same-Sex Marriage

At its General Assembly in June 2014, the Presbyterian Church (USA) approved a change to its constitution that redefines marriage so as to include same-sex couples. The key sentence now simply refers to “two people”:

Marriage involves a unique commitment between two people, traditionally a man and a woman, to love and support each other for the rest of their lives.

It also voted to allow ministers to conduct same-sex marriages.

The PC(USA) constitution requires a majority of Presbyteries to agree with a decision such as this for it to come into force. On 17 March 2015, the 86th of their 171 Presbyteries agreed. That means that this is now the position of the PC(USA) and will come into force on 21 June 2015.

See the reports in the Washington Post and the New York Times.

The PC(USA) has lost 37% of its membership since 1992 including a growing number of congregations that have left to join other denominations because of concern about the PC(USA)’s increasingly liberal values. The loss of those conservative congregations undoubtedly led to the surprisingly strong vote. The redefinition of marriage was approved by 76% to 24%.

Already (29 March 2015) the PC(USA) has ordained its first lesbian couple to ministry.

At least one congregation has began the process of leaving the PC(USA). Leaving though can be expensive. It has recently cost one church $7.8 million.

The PC(USA)’s own website gives details on the number of congregations leaving, in an article called “Who’s Joining The Exodus?”.

What are the legal implications for ministers and churches that might refuse a same-sex wedding?

Unsurprisingly, the response among many Christians has been scathing. For some of the reaction, see the following.

The Presbyterian Church of America (PCA) broke away from the PC(USA) in 1973 and maintains markedly different standards. It has grown 10-fold since 1983. The PCA’s response on the same-sex marriage issue can be read here.

Thinking Christian” suggests this is not a redefinition of marriage only but also of grace and justice.

Gina Miller doesn’t hesitate to call the PC(USA) apostate.

See here some of the response – largely from within the PC(USA).

The National Black Church Initiative that represents 34,000 churches from 15 denominations has cuts its links with the PC(USA) over this issue. They have called the PC(USA) to repent, saying that they can no longer call themselves a Christian entity. “No church has the right to change the Word of God. By voting to redefine marriage PCUSA automatically forfeits Christ’s saving grace,” said NBCI President, Rev Anthony Evans.

In 2008 I had the privilege of attending the 218th General Assembly of the PC(USA) on behalf of the PCANZ. It really was a privilege. Our hosts were extremely hospitable and generous. It was fascinating observing what was a huge event. But it seemed to me that the church was strangely conflicted. It was wringing its hands about the decline of membership numbers yet still making the decisions that were driving people out. The Assembly spent a lot of time trying to build relationships with other churches in other nations but its internal relationships were being strained to breaking point.

For Rev Dr Mark D. Roberts reflections on that Assembly, see the blog The End Of The Presbyterian Church (USA)? Revisited. Helpfully, this (rather long) blog also includes a history of the PC(USA)’s decisions on this issue up to 2008.

My prediction (for what it is worth) is that the PC(USA) will decline even more rapidly following the 2014/15 decision. Keep watching.

Peter Cheyne

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