July 9, 2010
PCUSA General Assembly Votes Not to Redefine Marriage (Updated)
Hours after voting in favor of permitting practicing homosexuals to serve in the clergy, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) decided to keep their definition of marriage "as being between a man and a woman," the Associated Press reports.
The Minneapolis Star-Tribune wrote early this morning that the Assembly voted to allow the church two more years to study the proposal. (Corrected)
Had the proposal passed, the PCUSA could have become the largest US denomination to permit same-sex marriage, the Baptist Press reported earlier this week.
Update: James Berkley, designated pastor at Seattle's Bethel Presbyterian Church, explains the decision.
The business on marriage was byzantine and bizarre, but what happened is that both the majority and the minority reports of the special committee on same-sex unions will go out to the churches to study. None of the efforts to change constitutional language from “a man and a woman” to “two people” even got debated. They got “answered” as a batch by the actions on sending out the study. I wouldn’t have bet a plug nickel that that would have happened.
Update (9:15 a.m.): Carmen Fowler, the president of the Presbyterian Lay Committee, spoke with CT this morning.
"I would say that I was surprised," Fowler said of the decision, "and I will just openly admit that. The assembly acted very faithfully in terms of what Scripture says and in terms of the heritage of the church...that's great. It was a wonderful way for the assembly to respond to very, very controversial business that certainly many in the church would have responded to disfavorably."
Fowler attributes the surprise decision to "a genuine movement of the Spirit."
"I don't know how else to account for it," she said. "There were some very compelling arguments made on the floor of the Assembly. I would say the most compelling ones came from racial/ethnic commissioners."
Several in the General Assembly noted yesterday that Presbyterians in the Global South have strongly conservative views on homosexual issues.
"We do try to listen in the Presbyterian Church to voices other than just an Anglo culture," Fowler said. "I think that moderates are not used to hearing those voices spoken in a conservative manner."
She also points to an "incredible" ecumenical greeting from the Orthodox Reverend Siarhei Hardun of Belarus.
"He just made all the right points," Fowler said. "If you're going to be instructed at a church gathering by a faithful witness from another part of the world, it does have the power to change minds and change hearts."