One of the nation's largest mainline denominations, the 1.8-million-member Presbyterian Church (USA), passed resolutions June 19 at its General Assembly to recognize and embrace same-sex marriage. PCUSA delegates voted 317 (61 percent) to 238 (39 percent) to allow ordained clergy to conduct same-sex weddings, and also approved an amendment to the denomination's constitution to define marriage as between “two people” rather than “a man and a woman.”
While the change to allow same-sex wedding ceremonies goes into effect immediately, it applies only to the 19 states that have legalized same-sex relationships as “marriage.” A similar move was voted down last year, although the denomination did vote in 2011 to allow the ordination of clergy who are practicing homosexuals. However, until the vote this year PCUSA ministers technically faced discipline for blessing same-sex partnerships.
The 429 (71 percent) to 175 (29 percent) vote to amend the PCUSA constitution still requires the approval of a majority of the denomination's 172 presbyteries, but “the departure of many conservative churches from the PCUSA as well as the amendment's landslide victory at the General Assembly make approval seem likely,” reported Baptist Press News.
Hunter Farrell, director of Presbyterian World Mission, warned the denomination's Civil Union and Marriage Issues Committee that passage of the amendment would most likely prompt 17 of the 54 organizations partnering with PCUSA in world missions to sever their relationships with the denomination, and damage the relationships with 25 other PCUSA affiliates.
Homosexual activists within the denomination cheered the vote. “This vote is an answer to many prayers for the church to recognize love between committed same-sex couples,” said Alex McNeill of More Light Presbyterians, one of the lead groups pressing the denomination to drop its biblically based prohibition of homosexual behavior.
But the Rev. Steve Wilkins, who represented the PCUSA's New Harmony Presbytery in South Carolina, said that “my heart breaks” concerning the moral change. “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.”
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