Rachel Zoll reports for the AP that last night, March 17, 2015, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) recognized homosexual marriage as “Christian” in the church constitution by expanding its definition of marriage to include a “commitment between two people.” The denomination has nearly 1.8 million members and about 10,000 congregations and is now the largest Protestant group to authorize gay weddings churchwide.
The redefinition had been endorsed last year by the General Assembly, the Louisville, Kentucky-based church’s top legislative body, but required approval from a majority of the church’s 171 regional districts or presbyteries. The critical 86th “yes” vote came last night from the Presbytery of the Palisades in New Jersey.
After all regional bodies finish voting and top Presbyterian leaders officially accept the results, the change will take effect June 21.
So far, 41 presbyteries have rejected the redefinition and the vote in one presbytery was tied, according to a tally by the Covenant Network of Presbyterians, which advocates for homosexuals in the church and also works to keep Presbyterians united despite theological differences.
Last year, Presbyterians allowed ministers to preside at same-sex weddings if local church leaders approved in the states where same-sex unions were legally recognized. The new wording for the church Book of Order extends that authorization to every congregation and reads, “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.”
The amendment includes a provision that no clergy would be compelled to preside at a gay marriage or host such a ceremony on church property.
Between 2011, when the Presbyterians authorized queer ordination, and 2013, the latest year for which figures are available, 428 of the denomination’s churches left for more conservative denominations or dissolved. Their departure helped pave the way for approval of gay marriage, since many opponents had left the church.
Carmen Fowler LaBerge, president of the conservative Presbyterian Lay Committee, said the new definition was a repudiation of the Bible and approved “what God does not bless.” She urged Presbyterians to protest by redirecting donations away from the national church until the original marriage definition is restored.
The Rev. Paul Detterman, national director of The Fellowship Community, a network of conservative Presbyterian churches that have stayed with the denomination, said his organization will “remain faithfully engaged in conversation” with those of different views in the church. He said the Fellowship’s opposition to the amendment is not intended to be anti-gay but aims to uphold the traditional Bible view of marriage.
Other Protestant churches that are pro-homosexual marriage include:
- United Church of Christ (UCC): In 2005, the 1.1 million-member UCC became the first major Protestant denomination to back same-sex marriage, urging its individual congregations to develop wedding policies that don’t discriminate against couples because of gender.
- The Episcopal Church blazed a trail in 2003 by electing the first openly homosexual Anglican bishop, Gene Robinson, does not have a formal position on gay marriage, but allows bishops to decide whether their priests can officiate at the ceremonies. Episcopalians will take up homosexual marriage at a national meeting in June.
- The Evangelical Lutheran Church (ELC) in America eliminated barriers to homosexual ordination in 2009. ELC takes a similar approach on homosexual marriage as the Episcopal Church, allowing some discretion by clergy and congregations without formally recognizing same-sex marriage as a denomination.
- The United Methodist Church, the second-largest Protestant denomination in the U.S., bars “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” from ordination and prohibits homosexual weddings, but many Methodist clergy have been performing same-sex marriages as a protest of church policy.
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