Responses to the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s decision to change the definition of marriage so that same-sex marriages may be conducted by PCUSA pastors and in PCUSA churches have been varied – from pain and tears that the denomination has departed from Scripture to jubilation that all can be married in the church.
The 221st General Assembly Moderator Heath Rada and Vice-Moderator Larissa Kwong Abazia released a statement encouraging PCUSA congregations, presbyteries and synods to continue discussions on marriage and family.
“We hope that such ‘up/down’ voting does not mark the end, but the continuation of our desire to live in community; a partnership that requires prayer, the study of Scripture, listening to and with one another, and a dedication to partnership in the midst of our diversity of opinion,” they wrote. “We trust that God whose Word brought Creation into being is also the same Word that speaks to us today. With confidence, we believe that God calls the Church into living as a transformative community that embraces the call to be God’s beloved community in the world.”
In a video posted on the denomination’s web site, PCUSA Stated Clerk Gradye Parsons made it clear that there was “nothing in the amendment to compel any teaching elder to conduct a wedding against his or her judgment nor a session to host one against its judgment.”
He then referred to the denomination’s Book of Order (F-3-0105) which “encourages us to exercise mutual forbearance toward each other when we differ that forbearance should show itself in respect and genuine care for each other. As a church, the Presbyterian Church (USA) has received much grace from God in Jesus Christ. We should extend that grace to each other in all gentleness as we live into this common chapter of our life.”
The Office of the General Assembly (OGA) issued an advisory opinion on the approved amendment of W-4.900 – the section of the constitution where definition of marriage can be found.
According to the advisory opinion, the new wording, which goes into effect June 21, 2015, allows teaching elders to perform marriage services for same-gender couples, “as long as the couple ‘meet the requirements of the civil jurisdiction in which they intend to marry.’”
It also makes clear that:
- “A teaching elder cannot be compelled to perform a marriage service for a same-gender couple.”
- “Sessions may permit the use of church property for the marriage service of a same-gender couple.”
- “Sessions may deny the use of church property for the marriage service of a same-gender couple.”
- While a session can prohibit same-sex marriage from being held on church property, it cannot prohibit the pastor from performing such a service elsewhere. “The pastor cannot compel the session to approve a marriage service nor can the pastor conduct any such service within the church facilities without session approval.”
“God will not be mocked,” said the Presbyterian Lay Committee board of directors. “Those who substitute their own felt desires for God’s unchangeable Truth will not be found guiltless before a holy God.”
“The PLC continues to call for repentance and reform: repentance of those who have clearly erred and reform of the PCUSA according to the Word of God.”
PLC President Carmen Fowler LaBerge said that “In terms of the PCUSA’s witness to the world, this vote demonstrates a complete accommodation to the prevailing winds of our culture. Any prophetic voice that the denomination may have once had to speak truth and call people to repentance is now lost. All she can do now is echo the voices of the world for she has abandoned the clarion call to bear faithful witness to the God who has clearly spoken on this matter.”
In a statement posted on its web site, the Fellowship Community said that by “approving this change we are disregarding the clear teaching of Scripture, the wisdom of those who have lived and died for the faith before us, and the continuing consensus of the contemporary church around the world. To do this is both disobedient and unwise. We know this particular change was intended by its proponents to extend the grace and the good news of Jesus Christ, and to further the witness of his Kingdom. We believe it accomplishes neither. Our objection to the passage of this redefinition is no way anti-gay. Our concern is that the church is capitulating to the culture and, in so doing, is misrepresenting Scripture.”
The Presbyterian Church in America felt led to make a statement after it received “numerous emails and calls regarding the recent action of the mainline Presbyterian Church (USA) in redefining marriage.”
PCA Stated Clerk L. Roy Taylor wrote that the PCA “like other evangelical, conservative, orthodox, and traditional Christians from many branches of the Christian faith, believe that, from creation, God ordained the marriage covenant to be a unique bond between one man and one woman. This biblical understanding is what the Church has always believed, taught, and confessed. Therefore, we believe that the divinely sanctioned standard for sexual activity is fidelity within a marriage between one man and one woman or chastity outside of such a marriage.”
Blogger Viola Larson, wrote that the PCUSA is “now, with clarity, stepping beyond biblical Christianity by changing the Book of Order to allow for same-gender marriage. In many other ways the denomination has turned her back on her own documents without changing them. She has allowed apostate ministers to teach her people heretical and damming doctrines. She has allowed her most precious gifts, her unborn children, to be killed. But none of this has entered into her constitution, theBook of Confessions and theBook of Order. … And this will not be the end of new revelation, new twisting of Scripture. When the door is open to darkness in the name of religion a deeper darkness occurs. … The candle of the denomination is going out—it only burns in those who still hold tight to the biblical witness.”
On the other side of the issue, the Covenant Network of Presbyterians board of directors posted a statement in which it says the “change aligns the church’s constitution with a reality that has long been true: Both same-gender and opposite-gender couples have been living in relationships that demonstrate covenant faithfulness, shared discipleship, and mutual love. We rejoice that all couples can now see those relationships solemnized before God and the Christian community in marriage, at the discretion of ministers and sessions.”
The statement continued: “We are also aware that the discussion has been a difficult one for many, and that some will feel a deep sense of pain over this decision. The Covenant Network is committed to fostering healthy dialogue and working with those who hold a view different from ours, seeking opportunities for us to model an authentic and productive unity. We continue to affirm that ministers or sessions whose conscience precludes them from officiating (or hosting) same-gender marriages should not be compelled to do so or in any way disciplined or excluded for those views.”
“Today, we can bring our whole selves to church,” said Alex McNeill, executive director of More Light Presbyterians. “Ratification is not the end; it is the continuation of ongoing sacred conversations. This is the next step in our long journey to minister to all of our people.”
“This vote is the culmination of decades of selfless service by so many people. More Light empowered courageous Presbyterians to host honest conversations about marriage within their local Presbyteries,” said the Rev. Robin White, co-moderator of More Light Presbyterians. “Today we are rejoicing! So many families headed by LGBTQ couples have been waiting for decades to enter this space created for their families within their church communities.”