The Largest Presbyterian Denomination in the U.S. Just Redefined Marriage To Be More LGBT-Inclusive March 18, 2015

The Largest Presbyterian Denomination in the U.S. Just Redefined Marriage To Be More LGBT-Inclusive

Officials from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), that church’s largest denomination in the country, have changed their constitution to be more inclusive of same-sex marriages.

A majority of the church’s regional bodies approved a change recommended by the General Assembly last year: the church’s constitution now defines marriage as “between two people” rather than between a man and a woman.

“Finally, the church in its constitutional documents fully recognizes that the love of gays and lesbian couples is worth celebrating in the faith community,” said the Rev. Brian D. Ellison, executive director of the Covenant Network of Presbyterians, which advocates gay inclusion in the church. “There is still disagreement, and I don’t mean to minimize that, but I think we are learning that we can disagree and still be church together.” […]

“Some of us are calling it liberation day,” said the Rev. William Blake Spencer, pastor of Ocean Heights Presbyterian Church in Egg Harbor Township, N.J., who is gay and voted with his presbytery on Tuesday. “It will be the last L.G.B.T.Q. issue that we debate and fight about, and finally our welcome comes without a ‘but’ or an ‘if.’”

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s increasing acceptance of LGBT people has been cause for a significant number of churches to leave the denomination — at least 900 between 2005 and 2013, according to PC (USA)’s General Assembly. The church decided in 2011 to ratify gays and lesbians as pastors, elders and deacons, and pastors have been allowed to marry same-sex couples in states where it’s legal since last year.

The constitutional change, however, will not require Presbyterian pastors and the like to officiate same-sex weddings if they prefer not to, and some churches are sticking around for the sole purpose of expressing their discontent with new standards of inclusivity.

Paul Detterman, national director of The Fellowship Community, a group of conservatives who have stayed in the church, said: “Our objection to the passage of the marriage amendment is in no way, shape or form anti-gay. It is in no way intended as anything but concern that the church is capitulating to the culture and is misrepresenting the message of Scripture.”

He added, “We definitely will see another wave, a sizable wave, of conservative folks leaving,” but said he and others were staying because “this conversation is dreadfully important to be a part of.”

The Presbyterian denomination is only the latest in a string of churches choosing to embrace rather than reject the reality of same-sex relationships and families. According to the New York Times, other denominations include “the Episcopal Church, the United Church of Christ, the Quakers, the Unitarian Universalist Association of Churches and, in Judaism, the Reform and Conservative movements.”

Some scholars, though, think this may be the end of the line for the LGBT rights movement in churches:

“I don’t see any further large mainline denominations making the same move,” said Alan Wisdom, a Presbyterian and the interim editor of Theology Matters, a journal for conservative Protestants.

The United Methodist Church, with about 5.5 million members, has been debating same-sex marriage for years, but it includes a growing membership in Africa, where there is little acceptance of gay relationships.

This is what the future should and will look like if churches care at all to maintain relationships with their LGBT congregants. If an individual pastor doesn’t want to get on board, they maintain the right to their individual beliefs and choices, but those discriminatory practices will not govern the church as a whole. Now, let’s hope this trend continues.

(Image via Digital Media Pro / Shutterstock.com)

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