Archive for March, 2015

A New Day in the PCUSA

March 18, 2015

Yesterday came a watershed moment in the history of the Presbyterian Church (USA).

The history of the PCUSA, like any organization, like any Christian denomination, has its share of good moments and bad ones. Fundamentalism divided the church in the early 20th century. We were too long coming to the party during the Civil Rights era. And we were dragged our feet in opening leadership positions– and ordination– to women. To be honest, we still struggle with these issues (and they aren’t the only things we struggle with.)

In recent years we’ve been struggling with the issue of homosexuality in the church– how do we incorporate the LGBT community into our ministries, do we reach out to them, do we allow them to be ordained, do we allow them to marry. The General Assembly, followed by a majority of presbyteries, in 2010 changed the language of our Book of Order– part 2 of our Form of Government– to allow for ordination LGBT people. The 2012 GA wrestled with a change in our church government’s language around marriage; and at the 2014 GA voted to make the change. Since it was a change in the Book of Order, each presbytery has to vote on the change; and yesterday the number of presbyteries approving the change reached the total number needed to pass.

The General Assembly had already passed an Authoritative Interpretation allowing teaching elders (ministers) to follow their conscience regarding the marriage of same-gender couples in states where it is legal to do so. However, changing the Book of Order is similar to amending the constitution– it make the change more permanent and more broad. It’s important to know that no minister can be compelled to perform a same-gender ceremony any more than a minister can be compelled to perform a ceremony for any couple that they do not feel should be married; and sessions still have jurisdiction over the building and property and may deny any couple the opportunity to use church property for weddings as they see fit.

This change has been a long time coming to the PCUSA, as it has in the larger society. And as in the larger society there are those who are jubilant at the change and those who are disappointed. As a human being I believe that this is a good thing, a step forward for the PCUSA and society in general. As a minister I will happily perform ceremonies for anyone asking to be married, as long as they seem to be sincere (and once my state allows it.) However, as a minister I also realize that there are probably people in my congregation who will be upset and who will disagree, and IĀ am calledĀ minister to them as well.

And this, I believe, is where we must redouble our efforts to rely on the leading of the Holy Spirit, and to reaffirm our need to “walk humbly with God.” For it is to the glory of God, and not ourselves, that we do what we do.

For more information, see the Presbyterian Outlook.