What same-sex marriage means to Presbyterians

Amid shouts of joy and cries of lament, some Presbyterians stop to take stock of the newest amendment to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Constitution

March 20, 2015

Observers at the Authoritative Interpretation vote during plenary at 221st General Assembly.

Observers at the Authoritative Interpretation vote during plenary at 221st General Assembly. —Michael Whitman

LOUISVILLE

As reports began to leak Tuesday evening that gender would no longer be a barrier to marriage in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), social media began to light up. Soon Facebook and Twitter were filled with press releases, blogs, and secular news articles. Cell phones beamed with a New York Times alert, saying, “Largest Presbyterian denomination gives final approval for same-sex marriage.” Then came the phone calls, pastors’ letters to their congregations, and the hum of Presbyterians—anxiously, joyously, painfully—whispering, sometimes shouting, that a monumental day had arrived for the church. 

The church, they all said, would never be the same. On that at least all could agree. 

Earlier that day, the Presbytery of the Palisades had cast its vote in favor of an amendment to the PC(USA) Constitution that would change the description of marriage from being between “a man and a woman” to being between “two people.” In doing so, it had become the 86th presbytery to cast an affirmative vote, providing the majority needed among 171 presbyteries to approve the change. (Read more about the passage of the marriage amendment here.)

 

LEARN MORE

For resources and more information about the marriage amendment, check out the Office of the General Assembly website

For more stories of Presbyterians and congregations wrestling with these changes and for resources related to dialogue and conflict management, see the December 2014 issue of Presbyterians Today, “The enduring church.” A few of the articles are available for free online (search for “Leaving or staying,” “Our Emmaus Road,” and “Coming home”).

Mixed responses

In Chicago, the news came sporadically. Gathered at the NEXT Church National Gathering, hundreds of Presbyterian leaders sat crammed into the pews of Fourth Presbyterian Church, listening to author Diana Butler Bass. She was speaking of a spiritual awakening, of a movement beyond fear and walls, when a few began to notice the violent jar of cell phones beeping and beaming. As more and more participants began feverishly texting and tweeting, one of them stood up and asked if they could acknowledge what was happening. 

At first, there was silence. It was, Alex Patchin McNeill says, a “very Presbyterian” moment. Many of the gathered leaders, after a pause, rose from their pews and began to applaud, some cheering, their faces visible with celebration as well as a deep consciousness of those for whom this may be either a hello or a goodbye

“It was hard not to be swept up in that moment,” says Daniel Vigilante, pastor of Grace-Trinity Community Church in Minneapolis. “Here we were at the NEXT Church conference, envisioning the next church, and then suddenly we realized . . . this is it.”

Meanwhile, on Twitter, the Religion News Service announced that with the PC(USA) change “mainline Protestants have solidified their support for gay marriage.” The tweet masked deeper divisions, however. While some tweeted, using a rainbow-bedazzled PC(USA) seal, “I love my denomination” or “It’s official—love wins!,” others (some of whom admittedly were not from the denomination) had more disparaging comments to make: “Exodus will continue from PCUSA,” “PCUSA demonstrates what happens when the church does not get right the question of Christ and culture,” and “For some reason, the church thinks it has the authority to overrule the Bible.” Celebrants were quick to respond in equal numbers and vehemence. 

One tweeter responded, “There are always disagreements on issues but we can all rally around an unequivocal faith in Christ.” Another message included an image, saying: 

 

Not a redefinition, but a celebration

In October, Daniel Vigilante, a Presbyterian pastor, will marry the love of his life, a man. 

“I love the church. I have grown up in the church. And I want the church to be with me in all aspects of my life. Ordination was a huge part of that. And now that I am on the journey toward being married, the church’s support means the world to me,” Vigilante says, choking back tears. 

The authors of the amendment to the PC(USA) Constitution that will make it possible for Vigilante to covenant in marriage with his soon-to-be husband were very intentional in avoiding the phrase “redefinition of marriage.” 

“I think that’s what makes this ruling so remarkable—that my wedding and marriage won’t be different than anyone else’s,” Vigilante says. “What makes it so special is that it’s so ordinary. It’s a service of Christian marriage just like everyone else’s.” 

The amendment is not a redefinition but a celebration of marriage, says Brian Ellison, executive director of Covenant Network. “It celebrates what marriage has been all along—the love, the sacrifice, the mutuality, the respect, the faithfulness. What has not changed is the definition of marriage. What has changed is who is invited to participate.” 

For Vigilante, this means he can bring his whole self to the church once again. “Here’s someone who loves the church, waited a long time to be ordained in it, and is now in a relationship where he wants to demonstrate faithfulness and love for the rest of his life,” Ellison says. “Why would the church not honor that?”

This denomination has strong global infrastructure for missionary coworkers, disaster relief, and self-development programs for afflicted people internationally and domestically. And there is a tremendous and effective witness for our Lord entrained in this vital work! . . . Stay at your post. Serve your missions and communities for Christ. Don’t be a quitter. 

In Moncks Corner, South Carolina, however, Timothy Scoonover, a young pastor, talked with an 80-year-old member about a different kind of quitting. As they sat together, over lunch, she told him that she felt like it was the denomination that had quit her. Trembling, she said that when she had read the headline, she had cried. “She felt betrayed by the denomination,” Scoonover says. “She felt like she knows her Bible and how she was taught to read the Bible and couldn't imagine how the PC(USA) could make this decision.” 

Tensions

The experiences in Chicago and Moncks Corner and across the Twitter-sphere exemplify tensions felt across the denomination. 

What is perceived by one to be a shining example of democracy at work, for instance, is to another the tyranny of an out-of-touch leadership. “Even though many knew this was coming, reaching this number was cathartic for a lot of people,” says Brian Ellison, executive director of Covenant Network of Presbyterians. “There is a difference between General Assembly making a decision and a vote that involves every teaching elder and ruling elders from every congregation across the country. It feels very significant.” The picture, though, looks very different to the members of Scoonover’s congregation, First Presbyterian. “I think they feel like the clergy have become more progressive and left behind the lay people. In many churches, there’s a chasm between the views in the pulpit and the views in the pew.” 

To some, these disagreements seem insurmountable. “I feel like I’ve lost my home. No matter how hard we try to keep the tent as big as possible, this is a wedge that is going to drive the church apart,” says Scoonover. “I think the divisions we’ve found in the denomination are deeper than sexuality. It’s how we read Scripture and how we understand who Christ is. Will we need to look across the table and say, ‘I love you, and it’s better for our mission if we go our separate ways’?” 

“It’s a sad day,” says Carmen Fowler LaBerge, president of the Presbyterian Lay Committee, which, she says, is going to continue to call for repentance and reform. “How is it that God has to become the one to change, not us? This is a gospel issue—the question of whether or not we stand in need of salvation, whether there are things we can fix ourselves or [which] are irredeemable without Christ.”

Though the new language added to the PC(USA) Constitution clearly states that no pastor or congregation can be forced to officiate a same-sex marriage, fear of that eventuality weighs heavily on pastors like Scoonover. “If progressives believe this is a justice issue, I fear for the future of pastors like me being welcomed in the PC(USA).” 

Paul Detterman, executive director of the Fellowship Community, shares this concern. “The tragedy will come if there is ever a move to mandate this. Coercion has no place.” 

Many advocates for marriage equality are conscious of these concerns. “I am deeply aware of the Presbyterians who feel differently about this position and am very conscious of the work we need to do toward reconciliation,” says Ellison. “No minister has ever been compelled to perform a wedding he or she didn’t think appropriate. This is merely permission.” 

Others are quick to explain that cultural bias works both ways. “Some will say that we have turned our back on the ‘clear teaching of Scripture,’ ” says Todd Freeman, pastor of College Hill Presbyterian Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma. “It appears that many Presbyterians now consider that this is not the case. We recognize that our cultural biases and prejudices were woven throughout the biblical witness. This recognition has helped lead the Presbyterian Church to change its traditional stance on a number of issues, including slavery, racial equality, and the right of women to be ordained into positions of church leadership. Many of us also recognize that the biblical passages that condemn same-gender sexual acts are not in reference to couples in a loving mutual relationship, but rather address relationships that are controlling, abusive, and exploitative.” 

 

A mother’s love 

When 89-year-old Faith McCallum picked up the Spokane, Washington, newspaper Wednesday morning and read the headline about the PC(USA)’s embrace of same-sex marriage, she couldn’t help but think of her son. 

“I remember Chris wrote us,” she says, sharing the story of how her son came out to her as gay. “It was kind of a funny feeling in the pit of my stomach. It came out of left field.” After spending a long time thinking it over, McCallum wrote her son a letter. “I told him it was not something I had expected but that he was still my son and that we all loved him as much as we had before.” 

McCallum remembers visiting her son’s apartment where he was leading a Bible study for gay men. She had never condemned homosexuality as against God’s will, but truth be told, she had been uneasy with it. That all began to change when she saw the Bible study. “I had a chance to learn from them, get to know them,” she says. “They were studying the Word of God like everyone else.” 

“When you get to know people, you get a different view of things,” she adds. 

McCallum says that the change sounds “all right” to her. “It’s been a beautiful life,” she says. “I turn 90 in October. And I was thinking about that today. Maybe when people get to be this old, we don’t take things so seriously.”

Many Presbyterians, however, want to be clear that this is a time for celebration, not explanation, for all those who have felt shut out by the church. “Celebrating this moment is important,” says Vigilante, who wants to emphasize reconciliation and compassion but not at the expense of this cathartic, elated moment. “Living into this joyful news is first.” 

These sentiments of hope extend into places that might surprise, including evangelical communities in Scoonover’s state of South Carolina.    

Seeking the life of the Spirit

Colin Kerr worships with an evangelical Presbyterian congregation and is director of the Journey, a campus ministry for the College of Charleston. Among the evangelical young adults he works with, Kerr discerns very different priorities. “For them, it’s almost a nonissue or at least a secondary issue best compared to older debates about the ordination of women,” he says. “As long as they don’t see overt prejudice, students who are for same-sex marriage have no problem attending a church that doesn’t allow same-sex marriage. In the same token, students from more conservative backgrounds have no problem participating in a community that is openly inclusive. What they are looking for is a church that has life in it, a church where the Spirit is moving, and where they can wrestle with Scripture openly.” 

That doesn’t mean, Kerr explains, that these young adults don’t want to have robust conversations. “They just don’t have as much rancor,” he says. “They believe that we can still stand united under the banner of the gospel even while disagreeing.” 

For Kerr, this is a very evangelical stance. “In my new worshiping community, there are people who hold different views, and no one is excommunicating the other. I think that’s because we’re so evangelical. We are focused on wanting people to know Jesus.” 

Caitlyn is a graduate student and has been a mentor for the Journey. She attends a PC(USA) congregation and believes that same-sex marriage is inconsistent with Scripture but agrees with its legality in the eyes of the state. While she disagrees with the denomination’s new policy, she doesn’t think that the issue of sexual orientation is as big a threat to the gospel as some make it out to be. One threat to the gospel she does see is the temptation to treat people in an un-Christlike way. That mandate cuts both ways, she says, sharing that she has sometimes felt silenced out of fear of being labeled hateful simply because she holds different views. “Look, we’re not talking about Christ’s divinity. The gospel element of this debate has to do with an ability or failure to love people of all backgrounds. That’s when it becomes a gospel issue—when we’re not treating people the way Jesus told us to and are keeping people away from the church of Christ.” 

A way forward

Across the country, Presbyterians, inspired by the vision of a refocused church, are mapping next steps. 

For McNeill, executive director of More Light Presbyterians, next steps come down to two things: remembering that marriage was just a piece of a much longer arc toward welcome and inclusion and creating space for those with whom we disagree. “What we must do now is keep the chair open,” he says. “When you’re ready to have the conversation, we’re here. Not to teach, but to share.” 

Ellison echoes these sentiments, emphasizing the importance of listening and working on our relationships. “We should, as our ordination vows say, be friends with our colleagues in ministry. When we give attention to those friendships, the result will be greater openness to seeing how God is doing something even in those with whom we disagree.” 

For many, those friendships have been in the works for a long time now. “I have to believe that the people proposing change are working in the best interests of the church and Jesus Christ,” says Detterman, whose Fellowship opposed the amendment. “That’s why Brian Ellison and I have gone to presbyteries together with different understandings of the gospel. How this plays out for all of us, wherever we land on the theological spectrum, is resisting the pull of culture and representing our savior, Jesus Christ.” 

Detterman is adamant that this is an opportunity to move the church in a new direction. “We are finished with the internal squabbling and can now focus on the external questions,” he says. “I don’t want to diminish in any way, shape, or form that I think the presbyteries’ decision is profoundly wrong. But I’m willing to accept that it didn’t go [our way] and not walk away from the conversation. Because we need to have the conversation about human sexuality, both the ways we abuse it and the gift that it is.” 

Our stories

Kyle Combs posts his hopes on his laptop at the 221st General Assembly.

Kyle Combs posts his hopes on his laptop at the 221st General Assembly. —Michael Whitman

To have that conversation, many Presbyterians have been trying to pull the church away from the abstraction and polarity of the debates and toward a Christlike telling of stories that complicate, nuance, and beatify the issues before us. We have to talk about people and their relationship with Christ, they say. 

When he awoke Tuesday morning, McNeill had some of those lives on his mind. “I woke up remembering the people who have been working for this for decades, people who didn’t live to see this day, people who have stuck with the denomination despite so many years of hurt and disappointment.” 

One of the people who have been waiting, McNeill says, is Nathan Sobers. After the authoritative interpretation passed the 221st General Assembly (2014) last summer, allowing pastors and congregations to marry same-sex couples in states where it was legal, Sobers married his partner of 28 years in his home church. He had thought that after two civil ceremonies (first in Canada, then in Washington when it became legal), the third time wouldn't be that big a deal. “He says to me, ‘I expected to be as cool as a cucumber, thinking third time’s the charm,’ ” McNeill says. “But standing there at the front of the church with his pastor, hearing the organ play, and seeing his partner of 28 years walk down the aisle, he started to weep. Never before had he felt so seen by his faith community. It was profound in ways he had not fully expected—the sheer joy of being able to share this with the congregation he loves and the man he loves.” 

As our reporters talked with more and more Presbyterians, it became clear that on all sides of the issue, people believe they are representing Scripture, the identity of Christ, and compassion for these stories. All sides (and there are more than two) have stories to tell, and all want to avoid capitulating to culture and sacrificing the gospel; they just sometimes have different understandings of what’s “culture” and what’s “gospel.” 

 

Dangers of generalizing 

If Facebook’s good for one thing, it’s generalizing. 

One group that’s often generalized are evangelicals. As Colin Kerr’s campus ministry, the Journey in Charleston, South Carolina, makes clear (see main article), there are evangelicals who oppose same-sex marriage, and there are evangelicals who embrace same-sex marriage. 

Another group often generalized are young adults. 

John Sowers, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Spokane, Washington, says that he often hears that this “broader blessing of sexuality” will be attractive to millennials and gen Xers. “My experience here,” he says, “was just the opposite.” 

After PC(USA) presbyteries approved the ordination of LGBTQ persons, Sowers’s church lost about 80 members. “Most of them,” Sowers says, “were in their 30s and 40s. They were singles, couples, and young families. They said they loved First Pres Spokane, appreciated our mission, and had relationships with others in the church, but as a matter of principle could not be affiliated with a denomination that blessed the ordination of LGBTQ persons.”

Sowers has also found that the changes have diverted energy from some of the ministry that drew these young people in the first place. “My sense is that it took some of the wind out of our sails,” he says.

In some cases, it’s the older members who are more in favor of the changes—the people who grew up in the Presbyterian Church and remain committed to its theology, church governance, and embrace of ambiguity and disagreement. It’s the younger members in these cases who leave—the “church-shopping” people who did not grow up Presbyterian, may be unfamiliar with its theology, and are less invested in the life of the denomination and its historic witness. This at least was the experience for some of the older members of Graystone Presbyterian Church in Indiana, Pennsylvania, when the congregation voted to leave the PC(USA) for the Evangelical Presbyterian Church—members who voted against the withdrawal and transferred to neighboring Calvary Presbyterian Church.

“A lot of times when I read stories about sexuality and the church, authors made it out like it was the older people who opposed the PC(USA) and LGBTQ equality,” member Rudy Steffish says. “In my case, it was the exact opposite. The younger people wanted to leave, and the older people who had been through all the mergers and different forms, been through it all, were ready to stay. We knew what it meant to be Presbyterian, to accept others, and to have freedom of conscience.”

Statistics explain some of the generalizations that Steffish and Sowers are hearing. Support for same-sex marriage is greatest among younger adults. Nearly eight in 10 young adults (18–29) in the United States favor same-sex marriage, according to a 2014 Gallup poll. And more than half of young adults in the PC(USA) are also supportive, according to a 2012 survey conducted by Presbyterian Research Services. Even these statistics are a reminder, however, of the danger of generalizations. You’re likely better off if you take the time to get to know someone.  

Ellison, though, would like to see us focus on how much we have in common. “The best days of the church are yet to come,” he says. “Even as we continue to work on our relationships and points of disagreement, we have now freed up a lot of energy for mission, worship, and service. I am excited to see what’s next.” 

Ellison isn’t the only one who’s excited. “I’m glad to be part of a church where we can continue to have conversations, where both sides of discussion are equally welcome,” says Detterman, who looks forward to a refocus on mission. 

That conversation is spilling into unexpected places. Within an hour of hearing the news about the marriage amendment, Vigilante struck up a conversation with a barista at Starbucks. Unable to contain his elation, he exclaimed, “The PC(USA) has just voted to accept same-sex marriage!” He will never forget her response: “I had no idea that Presbyterians were so cool!”

Patrick D. Heery is the editor of Presbyterians Today. Paul Seebeck is a Mission Communications strategist for the Presbyterian Mission Agency. Both are ordained teaching elders in the PC(USA).

Testimonials

We invited Presbyterians to share their responses to the marriage amendment. Here are a few. 

“The question we resolved yesterday has been a piece of nearly my entire ministry since 1970. When an associate pastor said to me, ‘I have a gay brother, and he doesn’t have any more time for you to study the matter,’ I made a decision. I needed to raise my voice and add my effort to the work of inclusion. Along the way, I’ve done my best; others have done their best and more. For freedom and welcome, some have paid a terrible price, and the scars remain. Yesterday’s resolution lifted a burden from my shoulders and those of the church. A great injustice has been corrected.” —Tom Eggebeen 

“Not everyone or every church is cheering right now. I am glad that a pastor is not forced to officiate at any marriage, heterosexual or homosexual, if they don’t feel it is wise. If this vote brings unity to the church, I applaud it. Time will tell.” —Michele Faith Gaskill 

“I hope your work around the ratification of 14F will include some reference to how Young Adult Advisory Delegates at General Assembly have urged us to move faster than commissioners have been willing to send this to the presbyteries. If we really paid attention to how our youth are leading us, we would have been here six years ago. How many of those youth got fed up and walked away instead of waiting?” —Barbara Kellam-Scott 

“The expansion or broadening of the understanding of marriage beyond the binary of gender includes everyone in the sacred conversation and experience of faithfulness in relationships. No one is left out now of God’s call to companionship, to love and be loved, and to being part of a family.” —Michael J. Adee 

“My prayer is that the peace we have achieved by going through a good process will not be threatened by the latest legislative actions of the denomination. One of the things that concerns me is that as a denomination, we are still captured by a legislative process that I think actually diminishes the relational process. The best kind of summer I have is a summer without General Assembly!” — John Sowers 

“I believe the best rationale behind this change can be found in rethinking the biblical passages attached to this debate. Just as the church changed her stance on slavery and women’s role in the church, some of us have come to understand these biblical prohibitions of homosexual behavior to refer instead to violent sexual acts against anyone, with specific reference to sexual acts between men and children. History points to the latter as a common practice in the ancient world. I believe we need to shift our focus to promoting fidelity and respect in marriage between two people.” —Linda Jaberg 

“If we are in error before God, I believe we have erred on the side of love. After all, ‘now we know only in part.’ ” —Bebb Stone 

“I think for evangelicals the mystifying question is how then does the church speak prophetically about anything, how do we call anyone to repentance, if we’re simply conforming to the culture? You can observe the dynamic and astounding evangelical fruit God is producing through [some] new denominations, and I have great hope that an evangelical Presbyterian movement is going to happen. I regret that’s going to happen outside the PC(USA). I do think, though, there is a potential for hope and benefit. Let’s start talking about definitions of goodness, holiness, beauty, and truth, and stop talking about sex. Start talking about what it means to be in Jesus Christ, in His goodness, holiness, beauty, and truth. And then ask whether we individually and corporately as a denomination are going to conform to these realities.” —Carmen Fowler LaBerge 

“When I went before presbytery on February 28 to be approved for ordination, I knew I went to the microphone through which my presbytery had just voted yes for 14F. When I found out that 14F had officially passed, I was speechless. I can’t describe what it feels like to know that I am going to be ordained by a denomination that is truly living out Christ’s teachings and loving all people and opening the door for all people to love!” —Jordan Davis 

“While my heart rejoices for the healing that can come to those who have been excluded, I recognize that others believe the church has been wounded. I pray for God’s healing to prevail, for unity in God’s Spirit, for wholeness and true shalom. I am proud to be a member of the PC(USA)!” —Ruth E. Syre 

“When you start to mess with marriage, it can have Christological implications. God chose the image of marriage to communicate God’s love. God is the author of marriage. If we start to tamper with it, we’re crossing over into a world we don’t have a right to tamper with.” —Timothy Scoonover 

“I fail to see the controversy. Two folks love each other. That love should be sanctified and celebrated.” —Bill Wright 

“Marriage is between a man and a woman—it’s in the Book.” —Donna Hawkins Combs 

“My first thought was that a member of my extended family will now be able to marry someone in my church because my denomination chose not to further the hate and to love. My church is very dear to my heart as is this family member. What am I witnessing in my church? Acceptance, encouragement, concern, inclusion, and LOVE.” —Janet Martin 

“I was afraid I would not see it in my lifetime.” —Patricia Anderson 

“Many folks I know have questions, some asking, ‘What the (explicative) happened?’ The key then is to the change the tone and transform the conversation into a genuine inquiry, which addresses the fear underlying all confrontations. In answering what happened, I try to frame the conversation in terms of what this means for us, all of us together. I am teaching, sharing information, and praying to model respect, compassion, and love.” —Andrew Taylor-Troutman 

“God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them (1 John 4:16). As the first church in New York City to have performed same-gender marriages in name for over 35 years, we celebrate the church’s decision to honor the courage of two people to commit to each other in love. As we give thanks for the church’s courage, let us give thanks for the courageous witness of all those who took the risk of living into a new reality as a sign of the beloved community that is always coming even before it has not yet come into being.” —Robert L. Brashear

  1. Jesus is the same yesterday,today and forever.People will change but Gods stand will never change.

    by stephen

    December 15, 2015

  2. Roger asks this: "If homosexuality is such a big deal, why can I not find any quotes attributable to Jesus about it?" Christ is quoted at one point saying that God created people “in the beginning” as male and female, and that marriage is the union of one man and one woman joined together as “one flesh.” (Matthew 19:4-6 and Mark 10:6-9) Nothing is said about any other type of union. Read your Bible.

    by Glenn Sikes

    August 19, 2015

  3. It's time for the so-called conservatives, the ones who take Bible verses out of context, and re-read the Book. Marriage between one man and one woman? Really? Polygamy existed, even with "heros" of the Old Testament. Did you skip the part where David murdered for lust? Read and you will find gays and lesbians, even though the terms didn't exist back then. You even twist the New Testament to suit your own twisted interpretations. I'm a gay man, born this way and not by choice. Am I not also in the image of God? Would you deny men and women like me the right to a life-long commitment of real love? Bravo to the Presbyterian church to see the light.

    by William Plante

    August 12, 2015

  4. I did leave the PCUSA. There are many other Presbyterian denominations. The marriage thing is just one of the directions PCUSA is going. You cannot change a bureaucracy once it decides our culture is more important than Biblical scholarship and honesty.

    by Samuel L. Keifer

    July 24, 2015

  5. This new SCOTUS ruling will separate Gods sheep from the goats.

    by Mark Thomas

    July 1, 2015

  6. There are a number of points that I don't feel have been addressed here that I'd like to point out. First, as far as Scripture goes: the Scripture quoted most often against homosexuality has come from Leviticus. Leviticus also bans the eating of shrimp, lobster, and pork - yet I have yet to see anyone protesting outside a BBQ stand or a Red Lobster. I have yet to see a Southern denomination deny themselves southern pork BBQ, quite possibly the best food on the planet. I've been to BBQ stands with Catholics, Presbyterians, Methodists, Baptists, Church of Christ - no one fails to chow down. Same thing for low country boils with shrimp. Or a good plate of lobster or crab. And oh my goodness, Cajun food. This tells us two things. First, that in the face of new scientific knowledge - how to cook, prepare, and preserve those foods properly - we may set aside restrictions that were meant originally for our protection. Second, frankly, it means that just about anyone in any Christian denomination you can name picks and chooses which parts of rules laid out in Scripture that he or she will follow. Additionally, PCUSA has had little problem with ordination of and leadership positions by women, setting aside Paul's words. That has come from a reconsideration of societal rules. We no longer tolerate slavery, much less abjure slaves to obey their masters. We no longer tell women that they must obey their husbands. We allow for divorce and remarriage. All of these contravene Scripture, because we know that we are living in different times. Here is where I speak as someone with multiple degrees in biology. Homosexual and bisexual behaviors are well-cataloged in species other than humans. There are genes that can be turned on and off in some model organisms that will cause them to exhibit homosexual behavior. Given this, it becomes clear that one's sexual preferences are a matter of biology, not of choice. This has implications. The first is that prejudice against LGBTQ individuals is no more justifiable than other biological components such as racism or sexism. It's also why more conservative elements of Christianity argue so ferociously that it is a choice. The second implication is that if we do not discriminate based on biology, we therefore extend the covenant of marriage to others who biologically experience love differently than "mainstream." PCUSA has accepted advances both in scientific knowledge and in cultural advancement that justify treating the Bible as a living document. While we add nothing, we may interpret or decline to emphasize. Marriage equality involves both new scientific knowledge and cultural advancement (and if you think equal treatment for LGBTQ isn't advancement, take a look at how ISIS treats them). I could not be more proud of the Presbyterian Church (USA) for taking the leadership role that it has in this matter.

    by Sam

    July 1, 2015

  7. I am torn on the church redefinition of marriage. I believe in civil unions, but I feel the church has bowed to politics. I was born and raised in the Presbyterian Church and I just turned 60. I am seriously considering leaving the man made religion of my ancestors and become a humanist.

    by Margaret Cecilia Benoy

    June 30, 2015

  8. As a gay Christian, I was pleased that my church finally accepted all persons created by God. I knew that I was different when I was in junior high. I thought that feeling attracted to another girl was just something that would go away and that I was the only one in the world who felt this way. Through many years of seeing this was how I was made, no matter how I tried to love my boy friends, I came to accept myself and know that a God of love had created me as I am, and as I found out later, many others as well. The Bible says many things, like "women shall not speak in church" in Corrinthians, and Jesus is quoted several places in the Bible about divorce being wrong, yet these verses are explained away. Worship God, not just the Bible!

    by Sherry Hope

    June 11, 2015

  9. To me it does not matter weather homosexuality is a sin or not. Who among us is without sin. Christ said that only those of you who are sinless should cast the first stone. That leaves me out. I am not opposed to gay marriage because it is not about the sin of gay people but my sin. Being a woeful sinner myself I could never deny another Christian access to a Christian church or any of the sacramental rights of the church. If I did I could not in good conscience enter another church myself. Lets not forget that Christ said precious little about homosexuality but said a whole lot about divorce. He said anyone who marries a divorced woman causes that woman to commit adultery. The protestant church routinely marries divorced women and should. This does not mean that the church approves of divorce.

    by Bill Smith

    May 21, 2015

  10. There is no way that the church can avoid the designed conflict between the Bible and the culture controlled by willful men and women of free will. The design of this conflict is to destroy Gods church and replace it with mans church that glorifies the created not the creator. No matter to me how deep and intellectual the argument or justification is to codify and enshrine this obviously sinful behavior may be, It does not change the word of God, only condemns the sinners to hell rather than loving them through to repentance. Also this will not save the PCUSA from its eventual destruction as all denominations will be erased as love of self becomes the only state sponsored "worship" allowed to prosper. At least you all don't have to worry about the Building Fund in future budgets, because you have surrendered the Church's special place in building society I expect that the Church will become no more important to a community than a Church's chicken location or a new Wal-mart

    by rae yearnd

    May 7, 2015

  11. This is a big to the leaders of the church in U S A

    by Philip Ballow

    March 29, 2015

  12. This is the beginning of the end for this denomination. I am praying for the church that I have loved and served for over 30 years but now must leave. I will not follow the way of the world. We are to be "in the world but not of the world". In the last days "right will be wrong and wrong will be right" and the Church will be deceived.

    by Irene White

    March 25, 2015

  13. May I refute someone's statement with a question? How can love break God's heart?

    by Joyce D.

    March 24, 2015

  14. My grandparents were Presbyterians, as was my father; my mother is and I am. My family has had a continued membership in the same Presbyterian USA church for well over half a century. As an adult, I have never felt that the church I grew up in; for the most part, the only church I've ever known; was were I belonged, though I felt the most comfortable there because it was the most familiar. I had basically stopped attending services years ago because I felt like an outsider around people who have known me for years. Additionally, for months now, there have been battles in my state in regards to same gender marriages and rights and I feel very strongly, that all Americans are equal in the eyes of the law and it is not the right of my government to legislate morality. All of us deserve the right to life, liberty and happiness and no human has any business deciding that one person's rights are less important or heaven forbid illegal. For this reason, I support same gender equality and same gender marriage. It is not what I choose for myself, but I DO NOT have the right to sit in judgement of another. ONLY my God has that right and when the day of judgement comes, he will. It should not matter how this sinner "feels" about it, because ALL Christians are to be judged. I cannot even say if followers of other religions will be judged or not - their beliefs are different than mine and without studying them....To get back on point, I attended church on Sunday and found myself looking at the congregation with fresh eyes wondering if they had heard this astounding news and wondering how they felt about it. I wonder too how the young pastor with his two young children feels about it. Will I soon be looking at him with new eyes as well? He has brought new members into the congregation - my church, grand old dame that she is (building circa 1940's) is being infused with fresh new blood and for the first time since I was in high school, I find myself excited for the future of my church and can't wait to see what happens next!

    by Joyce D.

    March 24, 2015

  15. I grew up in the Presbyterian Church. I nearly died due to the hateful teachings of "my" church. I never thought I would see this growth in my lifetime, so I'm glad my 66 years have been long enough. The words of Jesus on this subject have always been enough for me: "Love God and your neighbor." Not hard to understand.

    by Annis

    March 23, 2015

  16. This is sad......it is easy to know what pleases the lord, Just read his word and pray.......forgive them lord they do not know what they are doing......crossifing you Jesus agian and agian.........I can not be a part of what breaks God's heart.

    by phoebe Girgis

    March 23, 2015

  17. I am a Christian. As such I believe God when he says a marriage is between a man and a women. I told my pastor that my family and I are renouncing our 30 year membership and are moving to a Christ centered church.

    by Anne Cabrera

    March 23, 2015

  18. A reasonable article, but...why should you quote Carmen Laberge?? Her organization seems to have the sole purpose of stirring up trouble and controversy. Her board is filled with people from other denominations and her website actively recruits churches to leave the PCUSA and join those denomiations, while providing a forum for all manner of angry and sometimes hateful rhetoric. Let us hear from Presbyterians interested in the future of their church, and not those committed to bringing it down.

    by ch

    March 23, 2015

  19. Another sad commentary on The Church bowing to cultural relevance! The misplaced weeping going on should rest with those in our midst who have carefully crafted an agenda-driven interpretation of God's Word (under the guise of a big tent for anyone with any belief). So, this now gives the PCUSA the authority to redefine marriage? How very sad. For true believers . . . it actually changes nothing.

    by Randall Dill

    March 23, 2015

  20. God said, "If you love me then keep my commandments", and said, "I am the way, the truth, and the Life...". This is not my opinion, the Bible, is God's Word. Thus, we are to believe all of it and to accept all of it, without trying to change any of God's teachings. But Presbyterian church leaders- What have you done! Christians are called to "refocus" their lives: to learn, to believe, and to live according to God's Word. God has given His Church timeless truths that clearly speak against engaging in behavior that you are now promoting. God's Church is called to love people up, to live by God's Ways. God's church should not condone and enable sinful behaviors because some of the congregation choose to live in sin. There's nothing new under the sun, all manner of sin is still sin and we all sin sometimes and have to repent of it and to grow spiritually. The church is called to love the sinner but not the sin, called to teach people how to not sin, to repent, to pray, forgive and to adopt God's Ways to have a more abundant life and eternal salvation. God says, "My people are destroyed from a lack of knowledge", but also that "the truth will set you free". So, we either don't know what God truly says about this or we refuse to accept the truth and willfully disobey. The Lord God gave us all free will to love and obey Him or not, and we will all reap the consequences or benefits of our choices. So please consider that God's word says, "the blind, leading the blind, both fall into a ditch". Finally, church leaders, I pray you "repent" and return to Godly ways for the sake of your congregations.

    by Wendy

    March 23, 2015

  21. Solid and balanced work, Patrick. Now if people would only read it. Is anyone posting actually reading? Anyone? Beuller? Bueller?

    by Colin Kerr

    March 22, 2015

  22. what a sad day for christians

    by Lynn Jansen

    March 22, 2015

  23. Brilliant, Patrick! Thoughtfully and carefully written. Thank you!

    by Anita Coleman

    March 22, 2015

  24. For all those Christians who justify hate and prejudice with the bible, I ask this: if homosexuality is such a big deal, why can I not find any quotes attributable to Jesus about it? If the best "scriptural" evidence is tired quotes from Leviticus, then you have little to stand on. I love people who are all new covenant except when they have an axe to grind.

    by Roger

    March 22, 2015

  25. I grew up being taught to be in the world, but not of the world. The world media exclaimed joy at this decision. So, I must have misunderstood. We should live in the world, as the world would have us live?

    by Scott Barton

    March 22, 2015

  26. I am very glad for the hope-filled direction that my life-long church family is moving toward. Like all families, we have our differences, but we are at our best when we continue to gather at the table and stay in relationship with each other. I am firmly convinced that expanding the diversity and number of people at that table is exactly what our mission should be.

    by Robin Blakeman

    March 21, 2015

  27. What a blessing to have been part of a church that, since the beginning of my ministry in 1976, has democratically sought the will of God. I remember a General Assembly where people cried on one side of the issue, and another where the tears were for the opposite decision, and presbytery meetings as well. Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning. In celebration of the passage of the amendment on St. Patrick's Day, I've adapted "Be Thou My Vision" for the occasion. You can see it at http://lectionarypoems.blogspot.com.

    by Scott L. Barton

    March 21, 2015

  28. I am very saddened to see the church in such a state. What is wrong is considered right and what is right is considered wrong. We are to love everyone but that does not mean that we are to condone sin. Are you reading the same Bible I am reading? I am no longer a Presbyterian but now a follower of Jesus.

    by Heidi

    March 21, 2015

  29. I am extremely proud to be a PCUSA Presbyterian this week. I am elated at with the vote but am mindful that others struggle. But here is the difference, with this vote on 14-F those who oppose same gender marriage or ordination of LGBT pastors can remain wholly PCUSA Presbyterian and wholly firm in their belief by not calling a gay minister, accepting a gay ruling elder or officiating a same gender marriage. But for many of us when the vote went the other way we were not allowed to fully participate in the life of the church we love. Davidovich, Dorothy Virginia (nee Beitler) Age 94; beloved wife of Daniel; loving mother of John (Nancy), Robert (Gerda) and James; dear grandmother of six and great-grandmother of 16, fond aunt of seven and cherished friend to many. Dorothy was a long time resident of Elmhurst and an active member of Elmhurst Presbyterian Church. She passed peacefully at her home following a short illness. Memorial service Saturday, November 15, 2014 at 11:00 AM at Elmhurst Presbyterian Church, visitation at 10:00 am ( 367 Spring Road Elmhurst, 60126) with internment in the church memorial garden following the service. Memorials may be made to Elmhurst Presbyterian Church.The first song I learned in Sunday school was "Jesus loves Me" and the spent decades hurting because my church did not. But I want to point out that thousands of good Presbyterians voted on 14-F at GA and Presbytery assemblies. The vast majority were over 50 years old, white and heterosexual. They discussed, learned, prayed and voted and I believe every single person voted as they believed God wanted them to, and am proud we have diversity of opinion.

    by Jim Davidovich

    March 21, 2015

  30. I think many are assuming that hate lies at the foundation of the opposition to this change, but they would assume incorrectly. Instead, many who oppose this amendment cannot find any scriptural undergirding for its passage, and now ask, What happened to the authority of scripture?"

    by Margaret French

    March 20, 2015

  31. This is a sad day for the church. God will not be mocked. After 30 years as a Presbyterian I am leaving the church. We are suppose to be in the world not of the world. This will be the downfall of the denomination because you are now false teachers. What are you going to decide to change next. God have mercy on you.

    by Irene White

    March 20, 2015

  32. We are leaving the denomination as it is becoming far to liberal leaning in its policy & platform. I truly believe in following the teachings of Jesus & inclusiveness, however there is a moral stand that coincides with belief & conviction.

    by Karen King

    March 20, 2015

  33. Marriage is biblically between a man and a woman (this cannot be denied). Where does one draw the line between what is scriptural and what is cultural? What else will change because culture says it must? What is at risk is the very authority of scripture! May God bless our souls... as many in the PC(USA) now weep!

    by Robert Tolar, Jr.

    March 20, 2015

  34. Like the pounding of a sledge on our foundation it will fracture and splinter the body while the sound of its destruction resonates in our Father's ear.

    by rick foltz

    March 20, 2015

  35. Well done, Patrick. I especially appreciate this observation: "trying to pull the church away from the abstraction and polarity of the debates and toward a Christlike telling of stories that complicate, nuance, and beatify the issues before us."

    by Barbara Kellam-Scott

    March 20, 2015