Reactions have been mixed in the days following decisions regarding same-sex marriage and divestment from major U.S. corporations doing business in Israel made by the 221st General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) in Detroit.
In a vote on June 19, the assembly passed an Authoritative Interpretation (AI) to allow pastors discretion to conduct same-sex ceremonies in states that allow such unions, voting 371-238 in favor of the motion.
Nineteen states and the District of Columbia currently recognize same-sex marriage.
The GA also voted to approve an amendment to the denomination’s Book of Order to change the definition of marriage from “a woman and a man” to “two people.” That motion, which would become part of the PCUSA constitution June 21, 2015, if ratified by a majority of the denomination’s 172 presbyteries, passed by a margin of 429-175.
The decision prompted the Presbyterian Lay Committee (PLC) to repudiate the GA’s action and issue a statement on the matter, referring to it as “an abomination.”
A portion of that statement reads, “God will not be mocked and those who substitute their own felt desires for God’s unchangeable Truth will not be found guiltless before a holy God. The Presbyterian Lay Committee will continue to call for repentance and reform: repentance of those who have clearly erred at this General Assembly and reform of the PCUSA according to the Word of God.”
In response to the vote, PCUSA GA Moderator Heath Rada commented, “I think the fact that a decision has been made is viewed as a relief in many ways because we’re so much more than that issue.”
That proved to be the case when the commissioners voted in favor of another highly controversial topic.
The assembly also voted to divest from major companies doing business with the nation of Israel. The vote of 310-303 on June 20 calls for divestment of the denomination’s holdings in Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard and Motorola, a decision labeled by many as a setback in the effort to negotiate a sustainable Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.
Those companies were targeted for divestment because their products—construction equipment, biometric scanners and cell phones, respectively—are used by Israel in maintaining its military presence on the West Bank.
The decision means the denomination will divest holdings worth approximately $21 million in the three companies.
Following is a compilation of comments – for and against – the two most controversial issues discussed and voted on last week during the 221st General Assembly.
“We are laying hands on something that is holy, that God has given us, so we need to be sure any changes we make are in accord with God’s will revealed in Scripture.” (Bill Norton, commissioner from Presbytery of de Cristo)
“For many of us, our understanding of Scripture is that God created marriage between a man and woman. For the 230 years of the Presbyterian Church USA and 2,000 years of Christianity, we have defined marriage between a man and a woman, and this assembly, the highest governing body of the church, reversed that today.” (Rev. Bruce Jones, commissioner and pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Janesville, Wis.)
“My heart breaks. I don’t think it’s up to us to change the definition of marriage; in fact marriage has been defined by us and revealed to us in God’s word.” (Rev. Steve Wilkins, commissioner from New Harmony Presbytery)
“I was once a ‘proud’ Presbyterian. I believe now that what we call the PC(USA) is not ‘Presbyterian’ anymore, or even a church. It has lost constitutional integrity, confessional clarity and connectional ties. It has sacrificed the things of God for those of the world. I consider that catastrophic for the church and expect the PC(USA) to continue to wither and eventually die. It offers nothing to the world, except that which the world already owns, ‘death.’ A very sad day. I am thankful to God for my congregation, but I now view the larger church as apostate. God still reigns and will still call people to Himself, regardless of this.” (Jack Sharpe, Presbyterians Pro-Life Board of Directors)
“The influence of the Bible-believing church in our culture is harmed when entire denominations depart from Biblical authority, and credit the will of God as the source. It not only harms the church in influencing American society and informing political and government policies, it also harms the Church (capital C)’s primary mission in spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ. For if Christians can’t agree on the source and authority of the Word of God, how can any nonbeliever trust the Gospel when it is proclaimed from that same Bible?” (Steve Berman, contributor for RedState)
Related article: Conservatives react to GA marriage decision
“You know, I think that today really affirmed my faith as a Christian, that God has been calling us to affirm marriages as same-sex couples. I remember growing up in the South, I never thought it was going to be possible to marry a partner. I didn’t think that marriage was ever going to be for me. Today, the church has reminded me that I am loved by God and claimed by this denomination.” (Alex McNeill, executive director of More Light Presbyterians)
“We’re fully committed to the unity of the Church, and we will do everything in our power to facilitate a denomination that truly welcomes all – including those whose views may differ from the decisions reached by the Assembly today. We look forward to an ever deeper understanding, not only of marriage but also of our common bonds of faith.” (Rev Brian Ellison, executive director of the Covenant Network)
“This is a glorious day for the church and for LGBT people who have been seeking full inclusion here for decades.” (Rev. Randy Bush, co-moderator of the board for Covenant Network)
“It’s a historic day for us. We can offer people who are LGBT a church home where they can be who they are.” (Gradye Parsons, stated clerk of the PCUSA)
Divestment from Israel
“When the Middle East is fragmented in this horrible war, this savage, savage war between militant Shiites and militant Sunnis … the only place where you have freedom, tolerance, protection of minorities, protection of gays, protection of Christians and all other faiths, is Israel. Let’s arrange a bus tour for (Presbyterians) in the region. Let them go to maybe Syria, Lebanon, Iraq. I would give two pieces of advice, though: one, make sure the bus is an armored bus, and two, don’t say you are Christian.” (Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli prime minister)
“A vote for divestment will cause a painful rift with the great majority of the Jewish community. If we are truly partners and you disapprove this divestment overture, I look forward to sitting with your leadership in the prime minister’s office in Jerusalem. You can choose partnership and engagement or you can choose separation and divestment.” (Rabbi Rick Jacobs, President of the Union for Reform Judaism)
“The PCUSA leadership is facilitating the delegitimization of Israel in the guise of helping Palestinians. It is a very sad day for Presbyterian-Jewish relations when church leaders from across the U.S. align with the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. This is an affront to all who are committed to a peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The PCUSA decision is celebrated by those who believe they are one step closer to a Jew-free Middle East.” (Rabbi Noam Marans, American Jewish Committee director of Interreligious and Intergroup Relations)
“We are greatly disappointed by the vote in favor of divesting from companies doing business with Israel, a move that is out of step with the views of the majority of Presbyterians in the pews at the community level. The claim by the PC(USA) that it does not support the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement is simply not reflected in this resolution and the overall tone of the discussions.”(Rabbi David Sandmel, Anti-Defamation League Director of Interfaith Affairs)
“Over the past ten years, PC(USA) leaders have fomented an atmosphere of open hostility to Israel within the church, promoted a one-sided presentation of the complex realities of the Middle East, and permitted the presentation of a grossly distorted image of the views of the Jewish community … (the resolution) “threatens the long-standing relationship between the Jewish community and the national Presbyterian Church with whom we have worked closely on many issues of mutual concern.” (Abraham H. Foxman, Anti-Defamation League national director)
“Even Christians who doubt that the modern nation of Israel represents a specific fulfillment of biblical prophecy can appreciate that Israel is the only major nation in the region that champions democracy and promotes the freedom of worship. Rather than simplistically criticizing Israel, no matter how politically correct that action may be at this moment in our own nation’s history, when Christian denominations gather, it would be a more biblically faithful stance to ‘pray for the peace of Jerusalem’ (Psalm 122:6). We should pray that wise diplomacy and just policies would prevail in the Middle East. However, we must also remember that there will be no permanent peace in Jerusalem — or anywhere else — until that day when every knee bows and every tongue confesses that Jesus Christ is Lord (Philippians 2:10).” (Nathan Finn, associate professor of historical theology and Baptist studies at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary)
“How ironic that, as the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church USA voted to divest from Israel, it also voted to recognize same-sex marriage.It’s ironic for two reasons. First, because Israel is the only gay-friendly country in the Middle East. For example, this month’s 16th annual Gay Pride Parade in Tel Aviv drew over 100,000 participants. Try doing that in Saudia Arabia, Yemen or Iran. Second, because Israel is also the only place in the Middle East where Christian minorities can practice their faith freely. The hypocrisy of the vote, which declared that the Presbyterian church “cannot profit from the destruction of homes and lives,” is underscored by the group’s silence on the slaughter in Syria and Iraq, not to mention the persecution of its fellow Christians elsewhere in the region — including by the Palestinian Authority.” (New York Post editorial board)
“We are grateful the church voted not to profit from the suffering of Palestinians under Israel’s 47-year-old occupation. Now that U.S.-backed peace talks have proven to be ineffective, we hope that others, including Jewish institutions, will follow suit. Divestment has become one of our best hopes for change.” (Cecilie Surasky, deputy director of Jewish Voice for Peace)
“In no way is this a reflection for our lack of love for our Jewish sisters and brothers.” (Heath Rada, moderator of the 221st General Assembly)
“We as a church cannot profit from the destruction of homes and lives. We continue to invest in many businesses involved in peaceful pursuits in Israel.” (Gradye Parsons, stated clerk of the PCUSA)
“…[T]hrough ethnic racism and tribalism they discriminate against Gentiles and take over media and other institutions. Their racist power over the media and government is why Israel can get away with it all. But people can stand up. Bravo to the Presbyterian Church for standing up to Jewish racism and supremacism! The world is waking up to Jewish supremacism!” (Dr. David Duke, white supremacist)
“The Presbyterian Church (USA) divestment decision is inspiring and morally courageous. It is a victory for all peace with justice loving people around the world. It shows that commitment to justice comes with a moral obligation to act: the time has come for other church denominations to follow suit.” (Bisan Mitri of the Palestinian BDS National Committee)