Fate of Presbyterian Church USA Effort to Redefine Marriage to Include Same-Sex Unions Uncertain

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) holds its biennial meeting in Detroit, Michigan, June 14-21, 2014.
The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) holds its biennial meeting in Detroit, Michigan, June 14-21, 2014. | (Photo: Facebook/PCUSA)

No certainty exists over the fate of an amendment brought before the regional bodies of Presbyterian Church (USA) that would redefine the denomination's marriage definition to include same-sex unions.

Last month, the largest Presbyterian denomination in the country voted in favor of a recommendation to change the official definition of marriage in the Book of Order from "a man and a woman" to "two people, traditionally a man and a woman."

Toya Richards, spokeswoman of the PC (USA) Office of the General Assembly, told The Christian Post that "we can't speculate on that."

At the PCUSA's 221st General Assembly, held in Detroit, a supermajority of the delegates voted in favor of a recommendation to change the language in the Church's Book of Order regarding marriage.

Presently, the Book of Order defines marriage as being between "a man and a woman"; the new language would remove the gender specific terminology.

To change the Book of Order's language, a majority of PCUSA presbyteries, or regional bodies, must approve the amendment.

"A proposed amendment to change the Constitution to include same-gender marriages in the church's Constitution passed the General Assembly but must be ratified by a majority of the church's 172 regional presbyteries," explained PCUSA in a FAQ document.

"Presbyteries have one year to vote on the proposed amendment. If a majority ratifies the amendment, it would take effect June 21, 2015."

Ted Land, coordinating presbyter for the Presbytery of Florida, told CP that his regional body will determine their position on the new language next year.

"At our January meeting, the Presbytery of Florida will vote, and the some 100 teaching and ruling elders in attendance will also vote their consciences, as led by the Holy Spirit," said Land, adding that "I would not begin to hazard a guess as to how they will vote."

Over the past few years, scores of congregations have voted to leave PC(USA) over its positions rejecting the traditional biblical teaching that homosexual behavior is a sin.

Land noted that "Presbytery of Florida has had only one of its forty-five churches leave since 2010."

One group that has been critical of the denomination's direction regarding sexuality, the Fellowship of Presbyterians, declined to comment to CP regarding the new language and possible fallout.

Regarding the amendment, Land also told CP that it "does much more than change the marriage definition."

"It also safeguards the right of teaching elders and sessions (local church governing bodies) to decline to participate in or host any marriage ceremony that they cannot in good conscience agree with," said Land.

"Because it is a multi-faceted amendment, it will be viewed from all sides. I cannot begin to predict how the presbytery itself, the sessions of its churches, or the people in the pew, will respond to the vote on this amendment."

The marriage amendment at the General Assembly passed with a vote of 429 to 175. Another resolution, calling to allow PC(USA) pastors to officiate gay marriages where they are legal, passed with a vote of 371 to 238.

"Obviously members of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) bring differing viewpoints to this issue," stated Heath K. Rada, Moderator of the 221st General Assembly.

"However, much respect has been shown between people with different viewpoints and there is an acceptance that even in a family where we disagree, we can love each other. The church has spoken and we will follow their lead."

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