U.S. Presbyterian Church assembly rejects proposal to redefine marriage

The decision, affirmed by 52% of the church’s General Assembly, sustains the church’s existing definition of marriage as a “civil contract between a woman and a man.”
Mon Jul 9, 2012 - 6:48 pm EST

PITTSBURGH, July 9, 2012 ( - True marriage won a temporary reprieve in the US Presbyterian Church, as its general assembly rejected a proposal to redefine marriage as “a covenant between two people.”

The decision, affirmed by 52% of the church’s General Assembly during an annual meeting in Pittsburgh on Friday, sustains the church’s existing definition of marriage as a “civil contract between a woman and a man” and its ban on performing same-sex weddings. In 2010, the Presbyterian Church censured the openly lesbian Rev. Jane Spahr of San Francisco for officiating sixteen same-sex weddings in violation of that ban. Clergy are, however, permitted to bless same-sex unions without calling them marriages.

The assembly also voted to conduct a two-year study on the theology of marriage, and figures on both sides believe it is only a matter of time before the church caves on the issue. “It’s inevitable that at some point our General Assembly will vote in favor of redefining marriage,” lamented Pastor Mateen Elass of Edmond’s First Presbyterian Church, a supporter of traditional marriage.

Former assembly moderator Rick Ufford-Chase, a redefinition proponent, considers reversal inevitable because “there are more and more people, of all ages, who are changing their minds about this important matter.”

Tensions over the issue run high in the church, which has debated recognizing same-sex “marriage” for years. The General Assembly has repeatedly voted in favor of ordaining openly gay clergy, with the change finally gaining enough support from local presbyteries to take effect in May 2011. The most recent vote also dropped language requiring gay and straight clergy alike to practice “fidelity in the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman, or chastity in singleness.”

Since that decision, approximately 200 Presbyterian congregations have left the church.

Conservatives expect a similar result should the church redefine marriage, with the US Presbyterian Church’s world mission director, Hunter Farrell, predicting that eighteen international partners would cut their ties to the denomination.

In response to last week’s vote, Theology Matters fellow Alan Wisdom released a cautiously optimistic statement declaring that despite the “closeness of the vote,” the “revisionists’ victory, it turns out, is not the inevitability that they boasted.”

“We know we will face the same debate in 2014 and beyond. Faithful Presbyterians must be ready to engage that debate, with truth and grace, over the long haul,” Wisdom said. “We commit ourselves to a new Marriage Initiative to restore a biblical understanding of marriage in our church and culture, so that men, women, and children may flourish.”

  gay marriage, presbyterian church usa

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