The Presbyterian Church (USA)’s long and boring shuffle out of Christendom
The Presbyterian Church (USA) is the Radio Shack of church denominations. It’s been in free fall for so long that it’s sometimes difficult to believe the church is still around. It makes news only when it makes bad news.
This is a church that has long embraced a culture of death by accepting abortion on demand. Indeed, church materials have declared that abortion can even be “an act of faithfulness before God,” and church policy states: “The considered decision of a woman to terminate a pregnancy can be a morally acceptable, though certainly not the only or required, decision.”
Indeed, the PCUSA has been on board with the sexual revolution from the beginning, with the church an early adopter of no-fault divorce and remarriage. Its embrace goes all the way back to 1952.
It has covered itself in shame with an anti-Semitic boycott of “Israeli settlement products” and with its divestment from Caterpillar, Motorola, and Hewlett-Packard for allegedly “promoting violence” in the West Bank and Gaza. (In reality, of course, these companies supply technology that helps Israel defend itself against Palestinian terrorism.)
The drift from biblical orthodoxy to spiritualized leftism has profound real-world consequences. The church isn’t just shuffling out of Christianity, it’s shuffling out of existence. The church has lost 37 percent of its members since 1992, and the trend is accelerating. According to Christianity Today, “in 2013, membership declined by 5 percent as 148 congregations left for other denominations — the largest annual membership loss in nearly 50 years.”
So it should surprise exactly no one that the PCUSA has continued its slow-motion suicide by voting to change the definition of marriage to include same-sex couples. The new definition now reads:
Marriage is a gift God has given to all humankind for the well-being 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.
I’m trying not to stifle a yawn. It’s all so predictable and familiar.
Moreover, it’s difficult to discern how the PCUSA sees marriage as a “unique commitment” given that its acceptance of no-fault divorce means that a marriage covenant is less binding than a refrigerator warranty. Yet this “commitment” now includes same-sex couples.
To read the church’s justifications for its embrace of same-sex marriage is to see the reason for its decline. Here’s the Presbytery of the Cascades:
We believe that God created each of us with many differences, including sexual preferences, and that those differences are to be celebrated as part of the creative plan of God.
And my favorite quote, from the Presbytery of Maumee Valley:
We must continually be open to hearing the new things God is saying to us through the Word. It was this ever-renewed, ever-revealing light that led us away from the scriptural interpretations once used to keep slavery in place, to justify anti-Semitism, to limit the role of women in society and in our denomination, to justify the despoilment of the environment, to authorize physical punishment of children at home and school, and to rationalize homophobia.
These are not scriptural arguments. Instead, the church is offering little more than the spiritualized rhetoric of a university gender-studies department. In fact, universities spiritualized their rhetoric first. Here was the University of Michigan, opining in 2006 about biblical truth:
Some texts of the Old Testament are used to condemn homosexuality. Taken literally and out of context, Biblical passages can be used to justify slavery, prohibit the wearing of red dresses, and eating of shrimp and shellfish, and to reinforce the inferiority of women.
Not to be outdone, before its training program was struck down as violating the Establishment Clause, Georgia Tech featured its own brand of PCUSA theology:
Many religious traditions have taught, and some continue to teach, that homosexuality is immoral. These condemnations are based primarily on a few isolated passages from the Bible. Historically, Biblical passages taken out of context have been used to justify such things as slavery, the inferior status of women, and the persecution of religious minorities.
Spiritualized leftism is little more than standard leftism with the disadvantage of asking you to get up early on Sunday morning. Is it any wonder that people abandon churches that give them little more wisdom than they can get from Starbucks?
The current issue of the PCUSA publication Presbyterians Today features a picture of a person standing at a fork in the road, compass in hand. But the church isn’t choosing a new path. It’s walking the same path it has for years — the “broad road” that leads straight out of Christianity.
This article first appeared here on National Review.