Committee Advances Proposal to Change Marriage Definition in PCUSA

The Civil Union and Marriage Issues Committee at the 220th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has agreed upon two items to be considered by the assembly, one of which would amend the church's definition of marriage.

Those on the committee voted 28-24 on Tuesday in favor of sending the proposal, which could change the church's definition of marriage "between a woman and a man" to being "between two people," to the General Assembly for consideration. The proposal would also change the definition of marriage from being a "civil contract" to a "covenant" that "according to the laws of the state also constitutes a civil contract."

According to a live blog about the committee, they also approved sending another proposal, which would move the entire denomination "into a season of serious study and discernment concerning the meaning of Christian Marriage." This "season" would last until the next General Assembly in 2014, when the topic would be readdressed.

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This proposal also would require the denomination's Office of Theology and Worship to distribute educational materials to all of its presbyteries in order to further inform church members.

"These materials should include the relevant scripture key methods of biblical interpretations current understanding of our constitution and some suggested guidance for prayerful and reconciling ways of listening to one another," the legislation states, according to a website about the General Assembly created by More Light Presbyterians.

The two proposals reflect the uncertainty of the denomination on the issue, but the committee seems to think that they are both appropriate to be considered by the plenary.

"The committee's desire is to prompt the church to have deep discussion around Christian marriage," said Aimee Moiso, committee moderator, according to the blog.

Those on both sides of the debate expressed their concerns about acting in accordance of the will of God. One committee member expressed her fear that changing the definition of marriage will go against God's will. An advisory delegate, however, said that it would be going against God's will to not let gay couples be together if, in fact, He calls those individuals to be with one another.

Hunter Badgley, a young adult advisory delegate (YAAD) from the Presbytery of Alaska, expressed during the meeting his personal struggle with the issue.

"As much as it pains me to say it, from what I read in the Bible and Paul's letters, as confusing as this is, as much as I don't like to believe it, I believe the practice of homosexuality is a sin," Badgley said, according to "I don't believe people in the church have done a good job at loving others, but I also don't think it's okay saying this is okay. We need to follow Jesus' example to respond with love and then say 'go and leave your life of sin.'"

Heading into the General Assembly, which will continue in Pittsburgh, Pa., through July 7, four different presbyteries – Hudson River, New York City, East Iowa and Redwoods – made overtures, or recommendations, for a change in the PC(USA)'s definition of marriage. Two others – Charleston-Atlantic and Foothills – have called for the assembly to confirm the church's current definition of marriage.

As it currently stands, amendments require majority approval from the denomination's 173 presbyteries that are represented at the General Assembly. The overture presented by the Foothills, however, also fights against the simple majority and calls for a two-thirds majority in order to make amendments official.

The Civil Union and Marriage Issues Committee is expected to present its report before the plenary on Thursday or Friday.

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