Presbyterians: Two More Years of "Talking" about Same Sex Marriage

Presbyterians: Two More Years of "Talking" about Same Sex Marriage July 9, 2010

The StarTribune reports:

Hours after giving their blessing to ordaining noncelibate gays and lesbians, leaders of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) declined late Thursday to change the church’s definition of marriage, in effect refusing to allow same-sex marriages within their denomination.

If the proposal had been approved, the church’s definition of marriage would have changed from a commitment between “a woman and a man” to “two people” and allowed church weddings in states that have legalized gay marriage.

The late-night decision to table the proposal and subject it to two more years of study caught many delegates at the denomination’s gathering at the Minneapolis Convention Center by surprise, and there was a stunned silence as delegates absorbed the action.

What I don’t understand is how that body can approve gays and lesbians to serve as ordained clergy, but not allow them to get married.  Yes, I understand that they will require celibacy — that’s their answer.  But it’s not an answer that makes much sense.

UPDATE: This makes even less sense.  Also from the article:

Hours before the surprise shelving of the marriage measure, the assembly approved changing the denomination’s ordination policy to make noncelibate gays and lesbians eligible to become clergy. The vote was 373 to 323.

Get that?  I don’t.

"Have you considered professional online editing services like ?"

The Writing Life
"I'm not missing out on anything - it's rather condescending for you to assume that ..."

Is It Time for Christians to ..."
"I really don't understand what you want to say.Your"

Would John Piper Excommunicate His Son?

Browse Our Archives

TRENDING AT PATHEOS Progressive Christian
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Pingback: Tweets that mention Presbyterians: Two More Years of “Talking” about Same Sex Marriage | Tony Jones --

  • Documents written by committees contain self contradictory statements all the time. Look at the UMC (my denomination)’s claims about the “sacred worth of all individuals” and then look how we treat GLBTQ folks. File this under your long list of arguments about how denominations have outlived their use.

  • I dunno … seems radically liberal to me, to allow noncelibate but nonmarried individuals to be ordained!

    Silliness aside, being in the midst of a two-year intentional conversation within my own denomination (Church of the Brethren) to decide whether our existing denominational statement denouncing same-sex relationships will continue to stand, I can sympathize with this situation. I have a feeling we have a long road ahead of us, filled with more long “conversations” on each facet of this issue over the coming years, such as ordination, marriage, etc.

    May God continue to provide us with strength and guidance as we try and live into God’s new reign of justice, peace, and extravagant love that Christ proclaimed.

  • carla jo

    I said the same thing to a friend tonight. I would expect a denomination–especially the Presbyterians with their endless obstacle course to ordination–to be far more conservative on issues of ordination than on marriage.

  • Greg Gorham

    The only explanation that I can think of is that the same people who voted for Alvin Green in South Carolina all became delegates to this convention.

  • tom c.

    As a confused Presbyterian, this actually makes a lot of sense to me. (sorry, feeble joke.) Closely divided votes at GA over policies concerning homosexuality or abortion are well-established tradition.

    As a mere parishioner and no specialist on church polity/politics, I can only speculate that the issue of gay and lesbian clergy would largely affect those congregations, and presbyteries, that are already liberal or liberal-leaning; whereas same sex marriage would potentially affect all PCUSA congregations. In effect, what I am wondering is if this split vote may reflect a “not in my backyard” sentiment with respect to tolerance of homosexuality among some moderates. I’m neither a conservative nor a moderate, so I can only speculate, but that would be my suspicion on the split.

  • I’ve been at the last two PC(USA) General Assemblies and served as a commissioner to this one in Minneapolis. I was one of the people sitting in stunned silence when the assembly voted to not even discuss two important issues related to same gender marriage and civil unions.

    Based on my experience at both of these assemblies, I would say that marriage is the last (or close to last) sexual taboo for progressive heterosexual Christians. I agree that it makes no logical sense to endorse LGBT ordination but flake out on marriage. But this isn’t about logic. I think that even some progressives maintain some kind of gut level revulsion to homosexuality when it comes to marriage. For most of these progressives, marriage hits closer to home than ordination. Folks just aren’t connecting the dots and I think some suppressed homophobia rears its head when it comes to marriage.

  • Jason

    I’m a recently ordained presbyterian pastor and follow this stuff pretty closely. The same thing happened two years ago. The GA (general assembly) voted to change the ordination standards (the “fidelity and chastity clause” to be exact) to allow for anyone in any kind of relationship to be ordained but did not change the marriage definition over fear of splitting the denomination. And that is the main issue, many moderates who are fine with ordaining LGBT folk are not fans of causing a major rift in the denomination. So they do what seems to be contradictory, condone ordination while at the same time restricting the marriage definition in order to try and keep our denomination hanging on by a thread. However, it is important to note that the last time they did this the changes did not get accepted by the presbyteries and there is a very good chance that these changes will not pass the presbyteries again. GA changes to our “constitution” must be ratified by the presbyteries and my guess is there aren’t enough presbyteries who will pass these changes, just like last go-round.

  • Marusha

    First of all, the fact that they ordain gay and lesbian people in the first place is a stunning contradiction to Scripture. Second of all, to allow gay marriage is to destroy a fundamental institution designed by God.

  • See, this is something on which I agree with Tony. I too don’t see how this decision makes any sense. Either stay true to Scripture or go fully into apostasy and damnation, don’t keep one foot in each field.

  • Keith

    Scripture: “They must be put to death.” Lev. 20:13 (NIV)
    I sure hope they’re in “contradiction to Scripture” on this issue!

  • Why Keith? You disagree with God’s judgment? Not saying that I’m calling for that today, just that I would affirm what God affirmed.

  • Keith

    So, when are you calling for it?

  • Marusha

    I wasn’t suggesting that we follow the Levitical law and kill homosexuals. It is difficult for me to explain why we shouldn’t do that any more. Smarter people than me can explain it. I think it has something to do with the Old Testament people being in the previous covenant and having to be a holy people and that although we must still adhere to the OT principles it was what some call ‘types and shadows’ and in the NT we see the fulfillment of the OT in Christ. God is still the same. There is plenty of NT Scripture that is being contradicted by the ordaining of gays and lesbians.

  • Marusha

    Please forgivve me. I know I already said alot. I want to make it clear that I am in no way wanting to discount the OT. All Scripture is the inspired Word of God.

  • It makes perfect sense. This is not the work of a single-minded group. This is the messy work of Christians tying to stay united and working within a representative system. There are votes and sometimes, things get passed. I think the Presbyterians have a long history of affirming flawed Pastors. So for those who consider homosexuality a sin, there is still an affirmation of their ability to minister. That is why you could get a majority to change the ordination standards. The marriage issue is not about whether we want to affirm same-sex relationships or not. It is about redefining a long held, and deeply meaningful covenant relationship. Since Presbos look for their clues from the Bible, it is hard to make a case for that change, even while still desiring to validate those relationships.

  • Marusha

    There are many things that disqualify someone from being in leadership in the church and homosexuality is one of them. Instead of ‘Presbos’ looking for clues in the Bible, they must get their entire direction from the Bible.

  • Greg Gorham

    I think in 50 years or so, Christians will look back at this issue the same way we look back at the debate over slavery – wondering how we ever could have considered homosexuality sinful. And the Presbyterians will have the distinction of being one of the first to see this clearly and move in the right direction.

  • Dan

    Stoning, no. Endorsement of sexual sin, no.

    Jesus to the woman at the well – “Go and sin no more”.

    Progressive Christians to GLBT – “Come and be ordained and receive our blessing”.

    But then, what would we expect on a blog from a guy who proclaimed at Wheaton that there is no such thing as Orthodoxy and whose epistemology says it ain’t a strike until the ump calls it?

  • Marusha

    Ordaining homosexuals is going in the wrong direction. When we endorse sin, we are standing in the way of true salvation and healing.

  • Keith

    When we endorse people, we are promoting the way of true salvation and healing.

  • I really don’t feel like ordaining homosexuals is the same as endorsing sin. Assuming for a moment that homosexuality is a sin according to the Bible (which is a big assumption in this day and age of Biblical interpretation), I still would consider this to be appropriate. Every pastor has a sin that they commit regularly. Greed, anger, lewd joking, whatever. We ordain all sorts of pastors with sin. Why are you singling out homosexuality as a dealbreaker, and not, say, laziness, or selfishness, greed, being remarried, eating pork, etc..?

  • Chad, you’re being illogical. Do any of those pastors claim that “laziness, or selfishness, or greed, etc.” are not sin? That’s the difference. No pastors are being ordained if they teach that greed is fine. Homosexuality isn’t the dealbreaker except that apostates like Tony and these denominations make it the dealbreaker. It’s just another sin, but apparently one that certain people want to claim is okay. God said woe to those who call evil good.

  • lol. Apostates. didn’t paul say something about unity? Should probably be careful about casting stones like that. Jesus spoke more about that than he did about homosexuality or ordination.

  • jeff

    Good thoughts Chad thank you for that.

    I think that plenty of pastors are ordained that think greed is fine, and that promote some sort of consumeristic Christian lifestyle. Many think war is great too. Many are arrogant and self absorbed folks that care too much about attendance numbers and building projects, often with the encouragement of their denominations. It seems that all denominations ordain people with questionable beliefs and practices, although I think many of us are blind to our own denominations problems and inconsistencies, and hypercritical of other denominations. I am guilty of this.

    I have met too many conservative evangelical pastors that seem to resemble something other than Jesus. So it seems a bit hypocritical for someone to say that the denominations that ordain homosexuals are the only ones that are condoning sin. Just a thought.

  • Jeff, PLEASE stop and think for just a second. Do you honestly believe that if you asked any pastors to preach a sermon on greed that some of them would say greed is good? Sure, they may personally have blind spots regarding that or other sins (as you said, don’t we all?). For example, many Christians are quite materialistic while publicly wanting other people to take care of the poor. The difference is that we usually don’t go the extra step and encourage others to embrace our blind spots as morally good. That is the problem here. They don’t just have the problem like Ted Haggard who failed to live out what he preached. They don’t even bother to have moral standards to begin with (at least, not Biblical ones). It’s not a case of them merely failing to live out their own principles; rather, it’s a case of them not having the right principles (or certain ones, at least) at all.

    God says homosexuality (like greed, gossip, slander, envy, and the whole gamut of sins) is evil. These churches are saying it is not. They are calling God a liar. Good luck with that.

  • Darius, I think a point that needs to be said here is that potential homosexual ministers do not think they are embracing their blind spots and touting them as good. They are reading scripture in a responsible, historically contextual way, and coming up with a different interpretation than you. Surely one would be hard pressed to argue for a pro-war position from the new testament, but lots of well meaning Christians do. You won’t find me calling them sinners. They just view things differently. There is room for you AND I to be wrong. That is what unity is about.

  • jeff

    No I have not heard any sermons with a main subject of greed. But if sermons are all a pastor is good for then we should only ordain motivational speakers. I have seen pastors in my own denomination that affirm greed as a good thing with their lifestyles. The way a particular person lives his or her life seems to be what this debate is ultimately about right?

    I guess I was trying to make the point that we should take the plank out our own eyes before we remove the speck from others, which I realize I often do the opposite of with these comments. From an outside vantage point most denominations could point out something another denomination affirms that the first denomination would consider sin or apostacy or unorthodox or heretical or unbiblical.

  • Unity at the sake of overlooking or not dealing with sin is not advocated in the Scripture. You can not make a biblical argument for that. Unity through addressing sin and people submitting to God through forgivness and searching for holiness is. Just a thought…..

  • jeff

    That is a great thought! It speaks to the unity we find as new creations who are all following our Lord. We are constantly trying to encourage one another to be more Christlike. But I think that sometimes we have to agree to disagree and let each other make mistakes knowing that in the end our hope is in Jesus and not in making sure everyone around has the same perspective on sin as we do. It can be very uncomfortable. And I think that by demanding that others think the way we do and appealing to the bible as if our way of reading it is correct and others are totally ignoring passages we create disunity. In other words when we expect people to conform to our views we are the ones creating the rift.

  • Marusha

    We have excellent tools to properly interpret the Bible and there are also very plain, and clear things in the Bible. We need to find out what God is saying, not what it is saying to us or try and fit it to how we think. We cannot sacrifice the Word of God on the alter of ‘unity’ because without the Bible and the proper interpretation of it, there is nothing and unity is a moot point. How can we know the God of Scripture and what He wants without the Bible? We need to stop blindly following our own ways and groping around in the dark.

  • Marusha

    I meant altar, not alter. Sorry.

  • jeff

    So Marusha, are you saying that the Bible has already been figured out and those of us who have questions just need to give it up and fall in line? Is it wrong to consider the authors intent or wonder if some passages change the meaning of other passages? As an example, it seems like Jesus telling us to love our enemies would trump God telling Israel to destroy theirs when we consider how to treat our enemies.

    “How can we know the God of Scripture and what He wants without the Bible?”

    I would say the Holy Spirit. Many people throughout history have had authentic relationships with Jesus without the bible. The bible is a wonderful gift but we can know our Savior and He can know us without it.

  • “I would say the Holy Spirit. Many people throughout history have had authentic relationships with Jesus without the bible. The bible is a wonderful gift but we can know our Savior and He can know us without it.”

    Jeff, to a certain extent I understand and agree with this. However, the Holy Spirit cannot contradict Scripture. If it does, that means one of two things. Either it isn’t the Holy Spirit, or you have a warped view of Scripture on a particular point.

    Regarding the first half of your comment in reply to Marusha’s, I would say a healthy understanding of orthodox hermeneutics will take you a long way to comprehending the Bible. That doesn’t mean that everyone just has to stop asking questions… trust me, I doubt either Marusha or myself don’t ask questions of the text. It does mean, however, that we submit OUR will to God’s when we read it. The culture’s will and the will of apostate teachers is that the stuff that God calls sin in the Bible isn’t actually sin. Rather, real sin is what the culture tells us it is. Homosexuality=good. Littering=bad. Destroying minorities with welfare=good. Burning fossil fuels=bad. Emergents and postmoderns say they hate doctrine. They don’t. They just hate orthodox doctrine. They have their own set of doctrinal beliefs. As Tony has shown, the purity of homo sex is now part of them.

  • jeff

    Darius, this is an honest question I am in no way trying to be sarcastic.

    Who gets to define orthodox hermeneutics? The Catholics, Eastern orthodox, Calvin, Luther, any modern day theologians, me or you?

  • Speaking of ordaining sin, did God call David “a man after God’s own heart” before or after his polygamy? Was Jacob not ordained by God? Was this before or after he married two sisters and slept with thier maids?

    The new testament does not forbid married homosexual sex, btw. That didn’t exist then. The old testament lumps homoerotic behavior inthe same category as eating shrimp. Paul says quite clearly that women should not wear jewelry or braid thier hair. How far do we take this?

  • Chad, all of your questions have long ago been answered (like, hundreds of years ago). Check out a good Christian doctrine or Biblical hermeneutics book for how one is to approach the shrimp vs. homo sex question. I hate to reinvent the wheel merely for those who clearly are out of their depth (no disrespect to you, but you are astoundingly simplistic in your questions).

    “The new testament does not forbid married homosexual sex, btw. That didn’t exist then.”

    Really? Internet porn didn’t exist either back then, but I’m guessing you’re not implying that the Bible is cool with that. Married homo sex didn’t exist because not even the most debauched civilizations of that day were willing to go that far. The thought hadn’t crossed their minds.

  • Darius, I appreciate you taking it easy on me. Can you recomend a good biblical doctrine book or (hermeneutics? book)? I apologize if my questions are simplistic. I didn’t mean to offend.

  • Jeff, largely I would point to the Reformers: Calvin, Zwingli, Luther, and so on. They significantly corrected the ship of orthodoxy from the heresy into which the Catholic church had lead Christianity. They weren’t without their faults, but they at least brought people back to the text to really look at what is there rather than just trust the word of priests and popes.

  • Sure Chad! I’m sorry that I was a bit blunt and perhaps sarcastic… it’s just that I’ve heard the same exact line of argument as yours a hundred times if I’ve heard it once, and it is so easily answered. It’s like someone coming into an calculus class and asking “But how do we know that 2x – 12=0 gives us x=6?” It’s been asked and answered long ago.

    I’d recommend hermeneutic books by Kevin Vanhoozer (like Is There A Meaning in This Text?) and Grant Osborne (The Hermeneutical Spiral). I’ve heard both spoken of highly and learned a lot from Bible study lessons prepared in part from their writing. Doctrinally, Grudem’s Bible Doctrine is a great place to start. I’ve also heard good things about Mark Driscoll’s new book Doctrine.

    I think it is critical that we recognize that Christians who believe in the orthodox view that homo sex is wrong are not (usually) making it a bigger sin than others. It’s merely the squeaky wheel. If heretical “theologians” like Tony Jones were not attacking the Biblical view of sex but instead spending their time on, say, claiming that envy is a good thing, Christians would quickly change their battle fronts to that issue. Homo sex is a sin just like so many other things. In a sense, it is no worse (or better) than other sins… even though God does seem to say in the New Testament that homo sex is the pinnacle of a whole bunch of other sinful desires (Romans 1). People are just as enslaved to homo sex as they are to illicit hetero sex… or gossip, or greed, or envy, or hatred, or racism. And, just as they need the freedom offered in Christ for all of those other sins, those caught up in the homo lifestyle need to know there is freedom to be had for them as well. The shackles can be removed. Christ has the key.

  • jeff

    Well Darius I have to say that I am not willing to base my faith on the backs of the reformers. We do owe them much but I can’t see how they are the final word or final reformation or final revelation if some want to go that far. While I am sure you will not find this at all helpful, the reformers were given the same labels that you give emergents: heretical, unorthodox, etc.

    We will have to agree to disagree on this. I feel like choosing the reformers over the early church fathers or any other group just highlights the problem instead of solving it.

  • Thank you for your suggestions, Darius. But if you will allow me an ignorant question, like Jeff, I was wondering about the reformers as well. What is it that draws you to them as opposed to say, modern theologians like Tony or the ancient church fathers? Both of them had/have greater access to the cultural context of the Bible and better understanding of the Biblical languages and manuscripts than the reformers did. And of course, I may be speaking out of ignorance, but Jeff said they were called heretics too?

  • Marusha

    May I say that A good source along with the reformers is also the early church fathers? There were guys like Tertullian and Irenaeous and Athanasius. These guys contended for the faith and even put their lives in danger (much like the reformers). They fought for the proper interpretation and application of the Bible. If the reformers and the early church fathers never did this, what a sad state we would be in. Much like today, the Christians of the past have always had to guard the truth and stand up for it, even in the face of danger and public opinion.