This is a huge victory. It speaks to the immense progress that the gay rights movement has made.
The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) voted at its General Assembly on Thursday to change its constitution’s definition of marriage from “a man and a woman” to “two people,” and to allow its ministers to perform same-sex marriages where it is legal.
Both measures, passed by large majorities, are a reversal for a church that in 1991 and in 2008 barred its pastors from performing same-sex marriages, and that has held ecclesiastical trials for ministers who violated the ban and blessed gay couples.
I’m very happy about this. For a subject in which virtually all of the opposition emanates from the pulpit, I’m glad to see the pulpit change gears. The Presbyterians will not be the only ones. More churches will follow. They won’t admit they were wrong, most will just say they had a new revelation (how convenient!) just like the Mormons did with black people. Equality will be realized. Sure, the Southern Baptists will never change and it will take the Mormons decades after most other churches have come around, but it’s gonna happen. Our goal will be realized.
But it presents another goal: not letting the churches change the narrative. And they will try. Once the bigot against LGBT people is as reviled as the racist, the churches will say they led the charge for gay rights. They will attempt to turn the last vestiges of discrimination against gays for which they were undoubtedly responsible into a hero narrative – to say that we would never have had LGBT equality without the guidance and wisdom of Jesus. We should not let that happen. The churches, including the Presbyterian Church which decided to keep opposing marriage equality in 1991 and 2008 (and every year in between), caved to societal pressure. The churches will not have changed because of a yearning for equality or for doubting the contents of the bible. They will have opposed marriage equality right up until they decided the cost of being reviled for their discriminatory ways was simply too high.
They didn’t change because they could imagine how much it sucked for gay people living in a society of ostracism and discrimination. No, the church will have only changed when continuing to maintain that world started sucking for them.
The Presbyterian Church deserves credit to be the first to change, but let’s not forget what it took before they did.
I’ve been informed that several Presbyterian churches, such as the one just up the road in Yellville, AR, have elected not to observe the institutional changes. Don’t worry – they will, in time. It’s just that in the South the social price for discrimination isn’t as high yet. It will get there eventually.