The 220th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) voted to neither re-affirm nor change the denomination’s definition of marriage as “a civil contract between a woman and a man.”
Instead, after about four hours of debate, the Assembly approved a proposal generated from within the Assembly Committee on Civil Union and Marriage Issues calling for two years of “serious study and discernment” regarding Christian marriage.
The General Assembly Mission Council’s Office of Theology and Worship will prepare and distribute educational resources to all presbyteries and congregations. Presbyteries are instructed to report their responses to the Office of the General Assembly three months before the 221st Assembly (2014).
Commissioners’ opinions were varied on the season of study.
For the past two years, presbyteries have been wrapped up in discussions about changes to ordination standards and a new Form of Government, both of which were approved by the 219th General Assembly (2010), said Allen Foster, a teaching elder from Glacier Presbytery. They need this time to focus on studying marriage, he said.
But other commissioners saw the study as a way to delay action.
“While we are thrilled with yet another study, it doesn’t give any relief to those of us in states where same-sex marriage is legal,” said Karen Bartel, a ruling elder from the Presbytery of East Iowa.
As in committee, the Assembly did not approve several proposed authoritative interpretations that would allow teaching elders to perform same-gender marriages in states where those marriages are legal.
With a vote of 338-308, the Assembly voted against the committee’s recommendation to approve a change in the Book of Order’s definition of marriage from between a woman and a man to between two people.
Although many opponents to this change feared that congregations would leave the PC(USA) if the definition of marriage changed, Christians are called to be courageous, said Sean Curtis, a young adult advisory delegate from Newton Presbytery.
LGBT people “need justice. They need equality. And they need it now,” Curtis said.
Teaching Elder Cyprian Guchienda (Grace Presbytery) served churches in Kenya before coming to the United States. Presbyterian missionaries taught Kenyans about the Bible, and now the world is waiting to see if the PC(USA) remains obedient to the word of God, he said, speaking against the recommendation.
The Assembly also voted down two minority reports—one proposing a four-year season of study and one affirming the definition of marriage as between a woman and a man.