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Presbyterians allowing marriage equality
by Chuck Colbert
2014-06-25

This article shared 3203 times since Wed Jun 25, 2014
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On the same day as marriage-equality detractors marched on the nation's capital to defend traditional marriage, the Presbyterian Church ( USA ) took a more inclusive stand.

Meeting in Detroit, Michigan, commissioners to the mainline Protestant denomination's General Assembly approved, on June 19, to change the Book of Order's definition of marriage from a "man and woman" to "two people."

The Book of Order is, in effect, the denomination's constitution or governing document.

However, the language-change approval—by a lopsided 71 percent to 29 percent margin—came after an amendment that added after the words two people, the phrase "traditionally a man and woman."

The additional phraseology was a nod to conservatives and to long-standing church tradition, a move Presbyterian pro-LGBT equality advocates supported.

And yet the change to the Book of Order will not become church law until a majority of presbyteries, or regional governing bodies, vote to ratify new language. Altogether, there are 172 presbyteries. Ratification is a yearlong process.

In separate but related action, Presbyterian commissioners in Detroit also approved a measure allowing Presbyterian ministers to officiate at same-sex weddings in states where marriage equality is legal. This takes effect immediately and does not require ratification.

The voting margin in the General Assembly to allow pastors to perform same-sex marriages was also lopsided ( 76 percent to 24 percent ).

Both measures are a departure from church policy that in 1991 and 2008 banned ministers from officiating at same-sex weddings and held trials for pastors who violated the ban. The reversals this year, moreover, build on decisions made at General Assembly in 2010, and ratified in 2011,that removed barriers to ordaining openly gay candidates for ministry.

With an estimated 1.8 million members, the Presbyterian Church ( U.S.A ) is among the largest Christian denominations moving forward fully to embrace marriage equality.

Denomination advocates for LGBT equality could not have been happier with the outcomes at General Assembly.

Reached by phone in Detroit, Alex McNeill—a candidate for ordination and executive director of More Light Presbyterians who identifies as a transgender man—said that the vote was "an answer to many prayers by many Presbyterians throughout the years to finally have same-gender relationships recognized as marriages and to have the ability for ministers to bless those commitments of marriage."

More Light Presbyterians advocates LGBT equality within the church.

Better yet, discussion about marriage equality, during the General Assembly's plenary session, McNeill added, "unfolded with such grace. It was clear the Holy Spirit was at work because even as folks disagreed, they were not disagreeing with each other about people, but about the issue, really keeping a respectful tone throughout the debate."

But some church members voiced displeasure. For instance, the Presbyterian Lay Committee, which opposes equal marriage for gays, urged congregations to launch a financial boycott out of protest.

"The Presbyterian Lay Committee mourns these actions and calls on all Presbyterians to resist and protest them," the group said in a statement." You should refuse to fund the General Assembly, your synod, your presbytery and even your local church if those bodies have not explicitly and publicly repudiated these unbiblical actions."

"God will not be mocked," the statement continued, "those who substitute their own felt desires for God's unchangeable Truth will not be found guiltless before a holy God."

Meanwhile, a Chicago-based minister who is openly gay also welcomed the pro-LGBT progress that came from the Detroit gathering.

"We're very excited about it, and I am personally excited about it," said the Rev. Michael Kirby, pastor of Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church, located a short distance from Midway Airport in Chicago's Garfield Ridge neighborhood.

Reached by phone in Detroit, Kirby said that his church, among others in the presbytery, co-sponsored the marriage overtures, including Fourth Presbyterian, Lake View Presbyterian, Friendship Presbyterian, Western Springs Presbyterian, First United of Oak Park, Lincoln Park Presbyterian, Southminster Presbyterian [in Evanston] and St. Luke's Presbyterian.

"While we recognize there are many people how will have a hard time with" the vote outcomes, we want to remain in dialogue with them," he said.

For Kirby, permission to marry same-sex couples is part and parcel "to the pastoral care that we believe we are called to provide," he said.

The marriage overtures, Kirby explained, "creates freedom for the clergy in Illinois without having to face judicial action in Presbyterian courts just for marrying people who come to us."

The call to pastoral care, he added, "in our system is how we view worship and marriage and pre-marital counseling—and all of that."

"That's pastoral care, Kirby said. "It lets us be the pastors we are called to be."

Nathan Sobers, a Presbyterian Church ( USA ) ruling elder, living in Seattle, Wash., voiced his happiness with General Assembly's pro-LGBT progressivity.

"For the folks in my congregation, the actions of the assembly have been greeted with great joy and relief," he said. "We have long been a congregation that believes in Martin Luther King's call to seek the beloved community and to work for social justice. As a result of what has happened here, our pastor will now be able to minister to all of the members of our church equally and fairly, without having to worry about losing his job.

"I have dreamed about the day when my husband and I could get married in the church that has welcomed and supported us for so many years. Now that day has arrived and I can't wait to celebrate with our church family. I am proud to be a Presbyterian and so grateful to be part of a church that recognizes that love is love."

Co-moderator and spokesperson for More Light Presbyterians, Sobers and his husband have been together for 27 years. He is a member of a church, said Sobers that is an inner city, multi-racial, multi-ethnic congregation of about 80 members.

The Rev. Robin White, who is honorably retired, having served in Maryland and Delaware, is also co-moderator of the board of More Light Presbyterians, voiced her gratitude.

"As an out lesbian, ordained minister of the Presbyterian Church ( USA ) I am overjoyed that the church I have served for nearly 30 years, will finally recognize, celebrate and bless my marriage," said White.

Echoing Kirby and Sobers, she added, "As a pastor, I finally have the freedom to officiate same sex marriages without the possibility of church trial. I feel both honored and proud to be a member of a church that recognizes that love is love and that God blesses the marriage covenant all loving couples make."

For her part, said Sharon Groves, director of the Human Rights Campaign's Religion and Faith Program, "This is a giant step forward for the Presbyterian Church ( USA ) and for people of faith everywhere. Presbyterian LGBT couples are now one step closer to being able to get married in the church of their choice."

She added in a press release, "Perhaps even more significantly, young people and their families can go into a Presbyterian church and know that their denomination has not turned a blind eye to them but has instead taken a giant step toward becoming a more loving and more welcoming place for all people to worship."

The Human Rights Campaign is the largest LGBT civil-rights advocacy group and political lobbying organization in the United States.

The Presbyterian Church ( USA ) joins other mainline churches in sanctioning same-sex marriage.

In a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center in February, 62 percent of mainline Protestants said they favor of marriage equality.

And the Presbyterians, with their actions in Detroit, follow other religious groups that sanction same-sex marriages, including the United Church of Christ, Unitarian Universalists Association of Congregations, Reform and Conservative movements in Judaism, the Society of Friends ( Quakers ), and Evangelical Lutherans, which allow each congregations minister to determine whether or not to marry same-sex couples.

Nationwide, polling of all U.S. residents shows increasing support of equal-marriage rights for gays, with a recent Washington Post/ABC survey of voters marking a record 59 percent who favor the freedom to marry.

©Copyright. Chuck Colbert. All rights reserved.


This article shared 3203 times since Wed Jun 25, 2014
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