While the Office of the General Assembly is still awaiting official tallies, it appears that a majority of the 171 presbyteries of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) have approved a change to the current description of marriage in the PC(USA)’s Constitution.
At its meeting on Tuesday, March 17, 2015, Palisades Presbytery became the 86th presbytery to approve an amendment to the PC(USA)’s Book of Order.
The new language reads:
Marriage is a gift God has given to all humankind for the wellbeing of the entire human family. Marriage involves a unique commitment between two people, traditionally a man and a woman, to love and support each other for the rest of their lives. The sacrificial love that unites the couple sustains them as faithful and responsible members of the church and the wider community.
In civil law, marriage is a contract that recognizes the rights and obligations of the married couple in society. In the Reformed tradition, marriage is also a covenant in which God has an active part, and which the community of faith publicly witnesses and acknowledges.
The 221st General Assembly (2014) of the PC(USA) approved Amendment 14-F last summer, but required a majority of presbyteries to ratify the provision for it to become part of the church’s Constitution. (To learn more about how decisions are made, watch the video “Presbyterian Governance Comes to Life.”)
Voting began last fall in the wake of decades of discernment and marriage studies. Since then, pastors (“teaching elders” in Presby-speak) and members of congregations elected to serve as ruling elders have come together to pray, discuss, and try to discern the mind of Christ. In their efforts, they have looked to Scripture, the PC(USA) Book of Confessions, and the stories of everyday Presbyterians with whom they minister.
PC(USA) ministers already can perform same-sex marriages in states where such marriages are legal. By a vote of 371–238, the 221st General Assembly (2014) approved an authoritative interpretation permitting ministers and sessions in these states to use their own discernment in conducting same-sex marriages, effective June 2014.
The General Assembly also included in those changes clear language that no teaching elder or session can be forced to conduct a same-sex marriage ceremony if they do not believe it is appropriate. As of March 16, 42 presbyteries had voted against the amendment, demonstrating ongoing disagreement within the church.
The change to the wording on marriage will take effect June 21, 2015, one year after the adjournment of last summer’s assembly.
Additional resources are available at the Office of the General Assembly website and include a “frequently asked questions” document, liturgical resources, and a video podcast by Gradye Parsons, stated clerk of the General Assembly.
“These decisions have been welcomed by some and a disappointment to others,” Parsons said in a statement after the decisions of the 221st General Assembly (2014). “Let us pray that we can allow the Spirit to continue to create in us a common call to follow Christ while respecting each other’s convictions.”