General Assembly backgrounder: Same-sex marriage

Proposals differ on whether to change church’s definition to ‘two people’

June 18, 2012

LOUISVILLE

Echoing the debate around legalizing same-gender marriage across the United States, the 220th General Assembly will consider the issue as well.

Overtures from four presbyteries — East Iowa, Hudson River, New York City and Redwoods — call for a change in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s definition of marriage.

The Book of Order’s W-4.9000 currently defines Christian marriage as “a civil contract between a woman and a man.”

In varying ways, the overtures call for a constitutional amendment to change that definition to “two people.” Such a proposed amendment would have to be ratified by a majority of the PC(USA)’s 173 presbyteries.

Overtures from Charleston-Atlantic and Foothills presbyteries call for the assembly to confirm the current definition of marriage. The Foothills overture also calls for a super majority (two-thirds) vote from the 173 presbyteries in order for any amendments to take effect.

Five presbyteries — East Iowa, Boston, Genesee Valley, Cayuga-Syracuse and Baltimore — have proposed Authoritative Interpretations that would allow pastors to officiate wedding ceremonies in states where same-gender marriage is legal.

An Authoritative Interpretation proposed by the Presbytery of Mississippi argues against such measures, stating that W-4.9000 is “binding upon teaching elders and commissioned ruling elders authorized to perform Christian marriages.”

But the Presbytery of the Redwoods has proposed an Authoritative Interpretation that argues that the language of W-4.9000 is descriptive — not prohibitive — and makes no mention of same-gender marriage or prohibits pastors from “celebrating a legally sanctioned marriage in a service of Christian worship.”  

Matters related to same-gender marriage will be considered by Assembly Committee 13 ― Civil Union and Marriage Issues.  

  1. I am all for civil unions. If two homosexuals want to cohabitate forever, good for them. Also, I’m not opposed to giving them the privilege (not right) to co-insurance each other. But Marriage is one man & one woman, period. A round peg does not fit into a round peg… get my point?? Our sexuality was and is a part of a divine creation. Calling gay sex normal is flatly wrong. It is abnormal.

    by Jack

    March 25, 2013

  2. Does the Presbyterian church truly recognize what is at stake here by redefining marriage? Don't you think you are redefining the Bible? To change dogma is dangerous and a spiritual death. sonia

    by Sonia Redmiles

    February 27, 2013

  3. 2/27/13 - How can you "change" what is in the Bible which clearly defines the roles and laws of man and woman from Genesis on. As leaders, how can you cave-in to what's popular?? What I read here is just shocking. God is the Author of "Order".

    by Sonia Redmiles

    February 27, 2013

  4. If God approves of gay "marriage", then would He not also have to approve if a man were to marry his sister (incest) or if a woman were to marry her dog (bestiality), since these relationships can also involve a loving, committed and enduring relationship? Furthermore, if God approves of gay "marriage", then would He not have said so when He originally defined marriage in the Old Testament and confirmed that definition later in the New Testament? Surely the all-knowing God -- the One who knows the end from the beginning -- would have given guidance on that point for all future generations, were it a valid point. See more at http://rethinkingtheology.com/2012/07/29/truth-and-hope-for-gays-and-lesbians/

    by James Aist

    September 13, 2012

  5. The advocates of gay marriage want us to believe that gay marriage is the equivalent of straight marriage, but is it, really? Let’s take a look: 1) Sexual relations in straight marriage involve genitals that God designed for each other, whereas sexual relations in gay marriage involve body parts that God designed for vastly different purposes; 2) God approves of and blesses straight marriage, but He doesn’t even recognize gay “marriage” as being legitimate, because it doesn’t meet the requirements of His definition; 3) straight marriage can fulfill God’s primary purpose for sexual intercourse by producing children to “fill the earth”, whereas homosexual “marriage” cannot; and 4) straight married couples have the opportunity to enjoy their eternity in heaven with Jesus without having to repent of their sexual activities (because they are not sinful), whereas unrepentant homosexual “married” couples will not be in heaven with Jesus (1 Corinthians 6:9-10), because their sexual activities are sinful and in need of repentance. Now, I don’t know what your definition of “equivalent” is, but in my definition there is no room for such nonsense! See more at http://rethinkingtheology.com/2012/07/29/truth-and-hope-for-gays-and-lesbians/

    by James Aist

    September 13, 2012

  6. Evolution teaches us that we must evolve, or die. So we must vote to support modern moralities support of marriage equality, or risk not gaining members of the younger generations. We depend upon the constant and consistent gaining of the younger generations in order for the church to continue. Without the support of these generations, we risk loosing the church in the long term.

    by Carolyn

    July 5, 2012

  7. The fear of a "fallout" is being used to discourage votes in favor of the change. We will attract more lgbt brothers and sisters in Christ that have left various denominations because they could not get married there. Furthermore, we will gain members of the lgbt community that have felt the sting of bigotry from those "christians" that have spurned them and drove them away from the church. Let us teach the world that Jesus supported love indiscriminately.

    by Carolyn

    July 5, 2012

  8. The question I have is those not wanting to change with the culture... Wasn't the Bible written by man? Isn't it possible that they too were influenced by the culture of their time? I believe the Bible to be God-inspired; however, if such a book was written today, how would that "God-inspired" book be written? We are all human beings unworthy of the kingdom of heaven. We all sin... Who is to say sin from a homosexual is greater than my own sin? ...and the greatest of these is love!

    by Heather

    June 26, 2012

  9. Here I am in Guyana, and our Guyana Presbyterian Church has benefited from the language in your constitution, which defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman, and which requires church officers to exercise faithfulness in marriage etc. To abandon these behavioral standards for our church is also to embrace a bohemian spirituality. Can one of the advocates of the accommodation of same-gender marriage in our standards of faith tell us what will prevent us from one day also being willing to accommodate an obsession with pornography or even pedophilia at some other stage? We can be assured that if these new (!) standards of faith and practice were to be a part of God's plan for us, there is nothing on the face of this earth that could prevent them. On the other hand, the Lord God is a Holy God; and inasmuch as we live in a relationship that is rooted in Love, we must not forget that He is not our buddy.

    by Thomas Singh

    June 22, 2012

  10. As a YAAD for the 2012 General Assembly I will be voting for the changing of our Book Of Orders Current state. Times are chaining, and its time that we reformed like everything good must in time. Who is anyone to say that two people do not deserve too be married?? Because the Bible states that we are ALL unworthy. I believe that no one person can make the decision on who is married in God and recognized by the church. Because no one person could make that decision. If you deny people who have contradicting beliefs then, you you might as well take out of the Bible "love your neighbor as your self." Because that would be a blatant disregard for the love and grace Jesus clearly states he wants his followers to show others.

    by Clara Wulfsen

    June 21, 2012

  11. Although the Bible does describe marriage in those times, the definition of marriage has changed since Biblical days. In Biblical times, women were possessions, property which was bought and sold by the fathers, or given as rewards for valor in battle. Abraham, Jacob, David and Solomon had multiple wives and concubines. Where does it say that God was displeased with that? In fact, God gave all of King Saul’s wives to David, 2 Sam. 12:8. Did God forget to give the wisdom of monogamy to Solomon? The Bible also forbids interracial marriage and interfaith marriage, both which are acceptable today. Joel - Jesus never said anything about homosexuality. And, as far as adultery goes, Jesus did say (4 times in the Gospels) that remarriage after a divorce is adultery, yet the church today blesses those remarriages. In fact, Jesus changed many traditional and theological concepts (“You have heard it said. . .”) which actually led to his death at the hands of the clergy, because they refused to listen and love. Homosexuality and same sex marriage is the area which is changing today and requires prayerful consideration. Following the example of Jesus, we seek to love those on whom society and the church have turn there backs.

    by Larry

    June 21, 2012

  12. These are the signs of end time, Oh lord save your church, cos the salt had lost it taste

    by kenny

    June 21, 2012

  13. Book of Jude

    by Jim

    June 20, 2012

  14. In a denomination as theologically-literate and Scripturally-educated as the Presbyterian Church (USA), I am utterly surprised that A) there would be even the thought of changing of the defintion of marriage and B) that such a change would be worded so poorly to be just between 'two people.' We have done lost our minds. Two people? Two people??????? This is what various, highly-educated ministers and elders have come up with and are seriously proposing at the General Assembly??????? I'm glad I'm part of a church that stands on a foundation that allows me to finally marry my first cousin. Whew!

    by Brycen Samuel

    June 20, 2012

  15. As a pastor I was saddened when the ordination standard changed but I knew I was in the minority in my previous presbytery of call. If the definition of marriage is changed...the fallout will be much greater than the current one taking place in our denomination. If you are commissioner to GA this year I strongly urge you to think about the far reaching ramifications of this extreme action which mirrors culture more than Holy Scripture our confessions or the current Book of Worship.

    by Rev. Nathan J Loudon

    June 20, 2012

  16. I meant that the Bible represents a variety of marriages. Saying that creating them male and female is the reason a man would leave his family isn't marriage is it? It is what we say marriage is, but the word is not there. We have examples of families in the scriptures to help us define marriage. Selling your daughter for a dowery, marrying your widowed sister-in-law even if you are already married, taking a second wife or concubine are all valid living arrangements according to scripture. Is the Genesis passage really the only definition of marriage to be found in scriptures?

    by Ken Lynch

    June 20, 2012

  17. It's issues like this and reactions like those posted here (and far less tolerant sentiments/attitudes circulating around my church regarding the recent change in the 'fidelity and chastity' section of the BoO and their "unrelated" move to leave PCUSA) that drive people like myself away from organized religion and Christianity. You folks can have it...... Does anyone REALLY wonder why membership in churches is withering?

    by Chris

    June 19, 2012

  18. Ken ... you mean to say that you've never seen marriage defined in the Bible. Christ Himself spoke of marriage in Matthew 19: 4 “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’[a] 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’[b]? 6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” Now .. as God, Christ knew exactly what he had done .. and what he had planned for humanity.

    by Reformed Catholic

    June 19, 2012

  19. There is no way to win in this debate for either side. Anyone who speaks out in opposition to the change will be called a bigot, prejudice, etc. My concern is that we change ANYthing in centuries-old language in order to fit the current culture. So, homosexuality aside, people seem to forget that the change in ordination standards eliminated any requirement of sexual purity in our ministers. Theoretically, now our ordained persons are free to have extramarital affairs, premarital sex, father children outside of marriage, etc. I am a person whom both of these issues are close to home, VERY close to home. The last thing I would like to say is, don't discourage folks from leaving who don't support the new PCUSA. Trust me, it is the best thing. If you believe in your heart that the church is turning from God, then don't walk, RUN. There is no middle of the road. Jesus said, you are either for Him, or against Him. I never actually joined the PCUSA but attended regularly. Sadly, my own convictions will preclude my attendance if they change more of the wording in July that is related to centuries-old language regarding any moral issues. And one final note, contrary to what was said in one of the comments, this issue is not going "back in the closet". I am closing with a passage from The Message. It's one of countless messages just like it found in both the old and New Testaments. Open your eyes.....and your common sense----this is for us TODAY! "But there were also lying prophets among the people then, just as there will be lying religious teachers among you. They'll smuggle in destructive divisions, pitting you against each other—biting the hand of the One who gave them a chance to have their lives back! They've put themselves on a fast downhill slide to destruction, but not before they recruit a crowd of mixed-up followers who can't tell right from wrong. II Peter 2:1-2 (The Message)

    by Lance

    June 19, 2012

  20. Deanna, Your question reminds me of what Mordecai said to Esther, "Perhaps you are here for such a time as this." Is it possible that you are the one called to remind your pastor of the word of the LORD through the prophet Ezekiel, "For this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food,and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy." ? (16.49) Something has called you to this particular congregation. Before you decide to leave, let me encourage you to speak what you know to be God's truth. If what you have to say is dis-respected, you're certainly free to brush the dust off your feet, but doesn't it make sense to speak a word regarding radical equality for all before leaving? Blessings, Ginger

    by Ginger

    June 19, 2012

  21. I support marriage equality and the change of wording to "between two people." I was surprised to see that the current definition of Christian marriage is connected to a 'civil' contract. I would like to see civil marriage separated from religious marriage.

    by Paula

    June 19, 2012

  22. Bob - I also share your sentiment that homosexuality a sin. I believe our savior also sees it this way; it is much akin to adultery (in that it has everything to do with misplaced love). I suggest you do not give up on being Presbyterian as that would be akin to throwing out the baby with the bathwater. We all sin and it is a shame that some within our church want to be more blatant about their sin, to the point to where they want it to be condoned by the church. I pray the ones behind this movement have not a clue as to why it is a sin. We must try to stand our ground and hate this sin, but love the ones who refuse to listen to the obvious. Adulterers also rationalize their behavior, often to their own demise. I believe with time, this movement too will pass and get back into the closet with adultery. Until that happens, I fear there will be no inclination for those promoting homosexual behavior to repent. It is up to people like you and me to stay with this church and fight against this wrong with as much compassion as we can muster, and not put our tail between our legs and split (leave). I believe when people leave the church they love, they hurt the church they leave. They are sinning just as the sinners with whom they have a disagreement. We do not need any more divides within this church.

    by Joel

    June 19, 2012

  23. I'm confused as to where the Bible defines marriage? Is it a plural marriage like David's and Solomon's? Is it a brokered marriage? A loving marriage? The Bible seems to be all over the place when it comes to marriage. Marriage equality is coming and to remain relevant to Christians today we need to celebrate all civil marriages.

    by Ken Lynch

    June 19, 2012

  24. I am extremely saddened by this idea that we need to change the wording and even more uphappy that my own Presbytery of East Iowa would be one of the 4 that encourages this.

    by Karen Trotman

    June 19, 2012

  25. It saddens me that the Presbyterian Church USA is trying to be "politically correct" and forgetting to stand on the Word of God! We as a body need to take a stand for God!

    by Lynn McCoy

    June 19, 2012

  26. The Scriptures in various parts manifest clearly what is a sinful behavior and what's a marriage. We cannot call the definitions of the Bible outdated just because some are eager to make happy the pop culture. If we follow this path soon we will try to bring down many other definitions that are part of the Christianity as definied by the Bible and our church will become a social club. The Word of the Lord remains forever and its not subject to any amendments not even by a supermajority of presbyteries.

    by Juan

    June 19, 2012

  27. My wife and I painfully left a congregation where we were very involved when its pastors led a move to disavow the new rules concerning who may be ordained. Rather than continue the bickering for years longer I hope our denomination has the integrity to now say that all may join, all may be called to serve and all may be married in their church and by their pastors.

    by J. Heckerman

    June 19, 2012

  28. Stick around Deanna. You can have PCUSA. It's people like me who are giving up and leaving. I've been Presbyterian for 50 years, but I've had enough. You folks can continue to drive the church on the path to extinction and non-relevence with this obsession to accommodate and advocate everything liberal (not just the gay issues), but I no longer care to ride that train. Have a good life.

    by Bob

    June 19, 2012

  29. Thank you PCUSA. Finally some sanity is coming to the church! It is past time that the definition for marriage be changed to say between "two people". Unfortunaely, my pastor is highly opposed to the change and has alluded to his disagreement with the larger church in his sermons. While he does not say anything specific, it is obvious that he is referring to the issue of gay marriage and his bias that in the eyes of God it is a "sin" . I am becoming increasingly frustrated with this outdated and unloving opinion couched in the guise of Christianity. I wish he would just keep it to himself. I almost walked out on a sermon yesterday! Ready to leave my dear church. :( Please advise...

    by Deanna Fine

    June 18, 2012

Leave a comment