It’s been interesting, and sad, to track developments in the mainstream Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) during its recent General Assembly in Pittsburg. Conservative elders and ministers may have been encouraged by the relatively narrow majority vote on same-sex marriage, but they must have been depressed by the much larger vote against restoring the traditional ordination standard for its ministers and elders. It seems that when it comes to sexual ethics, PC(USA) is divided and confused, especially on what constitutes Christian marriage, and that it needs two years to think about it.
One of my former students at Westminster Seminary, Justin Marple, made good use of his 60 seconds at the microphone.
After several hours of debate on Friday, the Assembly defeated a motion from its Assembly Committee on Civil Union and Marriage Issues to propose an amendment to the Book of Order that would change the definition of marriage from “a man and a woman” to “two people.” The vote was 308-338. Along the way the Assembly declined to issue an authoritative interpretation that would have allowed ministers at their own discretion to perform same-gender marriages in states where those marriages are legal.
And by a vote of 489-152, the Assembly “in a desire to promote the peace, unity and purity of the church” voted to “move the whole Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) into a season of serious study and discernment concerning its meaning of Christian marriage between now and the General Assembly in 2014. The Office of Theology and Worship was asked to prepare educational materials for the effort that include “the relevant Scriptures, key methods of biblical interpretation, current understandings of our Constitution, and some suggested guidance for prayerful and reconnecting ways of listening to one another.”
The Assembly also debated its ordination standards and by a vote of 437-169, the Assembly refused to restore “fidelity in marriage or chastity in singleness” to the Book of Order. That language was removed a year ago in voting by the presbyteries. The defeated language would have added the clause “the commitment to live a chaste and disciplined life, whether in holy marriage between a man and a woman or in single life.”
By a vote of 329-275 the Assembly voted to propose an amendment to the ordination standard that the manner of life of church officers should “include repentance of sin and diligent use of the means of grace.” The Assembly also adopted a statement that “acknowledges that faithful Presbyterians earnestly seeking to follow Jesus Christ hold different views about what the Scriptures teach concerning the morality of committed, same-gender relationships” and that “the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) does not have one interpretation of Scripture in this matter”.