By a vote of 22 in favor and 76 opposed, commissioners to the Presbytery of San Diego’s September 16 meeting, disapproved the proposed amendment which would change the definition of marriage from between “a man and a woman” to “between two persons, traditionally a man and a woman.”
The San Diego Presbytery’s action may be the first in the nation, according to Executive Presbyter Rev. Dr. Clark Cowden. Based largely on the rationale that the church should adjust to state laws allowing same-sex unions, the proposed amendment was passed by the PCUSA’s 221st General Assembly in June and recommended for ratification to the presbyteries over the course of the next year.
San Diego Presbytery is well known within the denomination for its conservative stand on social issues involving standards for ordination of pastors and church officers, and sexuality ethics and practices.
The Ecclesiastical Committee of the presbytery recommended the negative vote to the commissioners. The members included Rev. Tom Straeter of Grace Presbyterian Church of Vista, CA, and Rev. Dr. Jerry Andrews of First Presbyterian Church of San Diego.
In his presbytery report, Cowden spoke of the General Assembly as a system that has “become stuck and dysfunctional. … We don’t create the conditions where we can be at our best. I think we set ourselves up into polarized situations – where we push people into yes/no, up/down decisions. There is no room for nuance or simply saying – we’re not ready to decide yet.”
He continued, “I think the GA chooses decisions over discernment, taking positions over building relationships, and does not have a heart that is focused on congregations. I wish GA would follow the medical guideline – ‘do no harm.’ When what they do is harming congregations, something is wrong. I have never heard of people streaming into Presbyterian Churches because of what the GA has done. But, I have heard of people who have left Presbyterian Churches because of what the GA has done, and that is wrong.”
But he then asked, “Does it matter anymore what our GA does?” Cowden cited a recent U.S. Study of Congregations which indicated a trend of growing disaffiliation between congregations and their denominations. “We have long known that most people don’t join churches because of their denomination. They join because they like what is happening in the congregation,” he said. “So, where does that leave us?”
“I believe the decisions that we make as congregations and as a local presbytery are more important than the decisions that are made by the General Assembly,” Cowden said. “I have said before that I believe our denomination is a mission field, and that we still need strong, Biblical, evangelical, Reformed disciples reaching people for Christ and making a difference in the PCUSA. I still believe that. I have said before that I believe we have the freedom to make all of the decisions we need to make. I still believe that.”
Cowden said he believes that “We are in a time and place where the only way we can make our denomination any better is if we focus our time and our energies on making our presbytery better. We have to stop worrying about what other Presbyterians are doing in other places. We have to stop agonizing over other Presbyterian things that happen that we can’t control. We need to focus our time and energy on what we can control, what we do here, who we are, and what we are going to be about. All we can do is make our people and our congregations and our presbytery as strong as they can possibly be. We will trust God with the rest and we will not lose sleep over that.”
The meeting took place at Village Community Presbyterian Church in Rancho Santa Fe. CA. For more information, go to www.presbyterysd.org.