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DETROIT (BP) -- The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) became one of the largest Christian denominations in America to endorse gay marriage when its General Assembly voted in Detroit yesterday (June 19) to allow pastors to conduct same-sex weddings and approved a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between "two people" rather than "a man and a woman."
The authorization for pastors to perform gay weddings takes effect immediately and applies only to ministers in the 19 states where the practice is legal. The measure passed by a vote of 317 (61 percent) to 238 (39 percent) and was classified as an "Authoritative Interpretation" of the PCUSA constitution.
A commissioner at a meeting of the General Assembly's Civil Union and Marriage Issues Committee raised a point of order regarding the Authoritative Interpretation, noting that it appeared to contradict the constitution it purported to interpret, the conservative Presbyterian Lay Committee (PLC) reported on its website. Currently the PCUSA constitution states, "Marriage is a civil contract between a woman and a man" as well as a "covenant" between "a man and a women" for Christians. The point of order, in parliamentary rules, was "not well taken."
Also in the Civil Union and Marriage Issues Committee meeting, a motion to read Scripture for 20 minutes before starting discussion of same-sex marriage was defeated 39-22, the PLC reported.
The General Assembly voted to amend the PCUSA constitution by a vote of 429 (71 percent) to 175 (29 percent), but the amendment will not take effect unless a majority of the denomination's 172 presbyteries approve it. However, 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.
Hunter Farrell, director of Presbyterian World Mission, told the Civil Union and Marriage Issues Committee that if passed, the amendment likely will lead 17 of the 54 organizations that partner with the PCUSA in world missions to sever their relationships with the denomination. Another 25 partner groups said the action would damage their relationship with the PCUSA, Farrell reported according to the PLC.
A similar measure approving gay marriage was defeated at the 2012 General Assembly 338-302.
The only bright spot for those who affirm the biblical model of marriage in this year's votes was the passage of an amendment to the proposed constitutional amendment stating that marriage has been between "traditionally a man and a woman."
The PLC called the General Assembly's endorsement of homosexuality "an abomination."
"In the name of 1.8 million Presbyterians nationwide, the General Assembly has committed an express repudiation of the Bible, the mutually agreed upon Confessions of the PCUSA, thousands of years of faithfulness to God's clear commands and the denominational ordination vows of each concurring commissioner. This is an abomination," the PLC said in a statement released by its board of directors.
"The Presbyterian Lay Committee mourns these actions and calls on all Presbyterians to resist and protest them. You should tell your pastor and the members of your session that you disapprove of these actions," the statement continued. "You should refuse to fund the General Assembly, your synod, your presbytery and even your local church if those bodies have not explicitly and publicly repudiated these unbiblical actions. 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."
PCUSA leaders issued a letter to congregations in which they admitted that there is "both happiness and sadness" among Presbyterians regarding the gay-affirming votes. The letter was signed by General Assembly moderator Heath Rada, stated clerk of the General Assembly Gradye Parsons and executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency Linda Valentine.
The votes "came with much thought, discussion and prayer, and clearly the entire body that is the PC(USA) will be interpreting these actions for some time," the letter stated. "Please know that the same triune God in whom we place our hope, faith and trust ... is still in control, and that the Assembly's action today is the result of deep discernment to hear God's voice and discern God's will."
Mark Tooley, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, an organization that that seeks to foster renewal in mainline demoninations, said that "by overturning natural marriage the PCUSA is only accelerating its already fast-paced demise. It will become even smaller, whiter and older.
"Only declining denominations reject historic Christian standards and in nearly every case that rejection reinforces the decline. Who respects a church that only echoes the secular world?" Tooley said. "Many faithful have already quit the PCUSA and many more now will. But some faithful will remain. May the Holy Spirit bless their witness and lay the groundwork for the PCUSA's return someday to the teachings of the global church."
Phillip Bethancourt, executive vice president of the SBC's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said the margin of victory for pro-gay measures in the PCUSA illustrates the extent of the denomination's departure from theological orthodoxy.
"Here's what I find most telling about this vote: While 54% of the American public supports gay marriage, 76% of the PCUSA does. It seems that the PCUSA is more pro-same sex marriage than the American public ... by 22%," Bethancourt wrote on his blog. "This isn't a total surprise, considering that white mainline Protestants in general support same sex marriage at a 62% clip. Meanwhile, only 23% of white evangelicals support same sex marriage. Why is it that the pathway to liberalism always seems to lead through the gate of shifting sexual ethics?"
R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said the PCUSA's votes were so "lopsided" in part because theological conservatives have departed en masse from the denomination.
"It's not only members, but congregations," Mohler said. "Approximately 300 churches have left the PCUSA just in the last three years."
Mohler said much news coverage of the PCUSA's decisions will fail to note that most Christians oppose gay marriage. According to Pew Research Center data released June 18, among denominations to oppose gay marriage are the Southern Baptist Convention, the American Baptist Churches, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, the Roman Catholic Church and the United Methodist Church.
David Roach is the chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention's news service. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists' concerns nationally and globally. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress
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