Late Thursday, the 219th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) voted to postpone a proposal that would have changed their definition of marriage to be a covenant between “two people” rather than between “a man and a woman.”
They also voted, however, to permit practicing homosexuals to be ordained as ministers within PC(USA).
The assembly’s subordinate committee on civil union and marriage issues had voted 34-18 on Tuesday to change the definition of marriage. Cindy Bolbach, the moderator for the general assembly, said that the failure of the committee’s proposal in the wider assembly showed that delegates wished to discuss the subject further.
Bolbach personally supports same-sex “marriage” but has said she does not believe the denomination is ready to accept it yet. The proposal was postponed for two years, after which it will be considered again.
The gay-ordination proposal, which passed 373 to 323, must still be approved by a majority of the 173 local Presbyterian presbyteries or churches before it takes effect. This is the 4th time PC(USA) has approved the ordination of homosexual ministers; each of the previous times it has been rejected by local presbyteries.
PC(USA) has permitted the blessing of same-sex couples since 2000, and has endorsed civil unions for same-sex couples since 2004.
Rev. Janet McCune Edwards of Pittsburgh, who wore a rainbow-colored knit scarf to show her support of homosexuals, spoke in favor of permitting same-sex “marriage.”
“The heart of marriage is the love and commitment between two people,” Edwards said. “That’s what scripture teaches. Two men or two women can show all the love and commitment we recognize as marriage.”
Many were unconvinced by such arguments.
Carmen Fowler, president of the Presbyterian Lay Committee, said she believes such initiatives are to blame for the denomination’s falling membership.
The Presbyterian church has been rapidly shrinking for the last four decades. In 1965 it had about 4.25 million members; it now has about 2.1 million members.
To Bolbach’s contention that the church has become paralyzed, Fowler said that that is what happens when the church body is separated from its head: Jesus Christ.
The General Assembly also voted to alter another ordination standard during the assembly. Current standards for ministers require that they “live either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman, or chastity in singleness.”
If the General Assembly’s change is approved by local presbyteries, all references to “fidelity” and “chastity” will be dropped. Instead, standards for ordained service will be commanded to “reflect the church’s desire to submit joyfully to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in all aspects of life.”
Such a change has been rejected four times before.
Some threatened to leave should ordination standards change.
Hector Reynoso, of Mission Presbytery, said during the debate that “homosexuality is either a sin or it’s not. But it’s not both. Someone is in the right and someone’s in the wrong.”
He said he would leave the PC(USA) if the presbyteries vote to change the ordination standards, saying, “I stand for Jesus and I invite you to stand with me.”
The Presbyterian Coalition, which backs current ordination standards, released a statement Thursday night after the General Assembly vote on homosexual ministers was complete.
“We grieve the decision today by our General Assembly to recommend removing the moral standard for our ministers and officers that rightly requires fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman or chastity in singleness,” the Coalition release states. “The action was adopted by a narrow margin.
“Nevertheless, it marks a separation from the teaching of the universal Church on holiness of life. The Holy Scripture teaches us to flee sexual immorality”