Presbyterian assembly : Gay marriage is Christian
Updated: 8:10 p.m. Thursday, June 19, 2014 | Posted: 8:10 p.m. Thursday, June 19, 2014
By JEFF KAROUB
The Associated Press
The amendment approved by the Presbyterian General Assembly requires approval from a majority of the 172 regional presbyteries, which will vote on the change over the next year. But in a separate policy change that takes effect at the end of this week's meeting, delegates voted to allow ministers to preside at gay weddings in states where the unions are legal and local congregational leaders approve. Nineteen states and the District of Columbia recognize same-sex marriage.
The votes, during a national meeting in Detroit, were a sweeping victory for Presbyterian gay-rights advocates. The denomination in 2011 eliminated barriers to ordaining clergy with same-sex partners, but ministers were still barred from celebrating gay marriages and risked church penalties for doing so. Alex McNeill, executive director of More Light Presbyterians, a gay advocacy group, said the decisions Thursday were "an answer to many prayers."
The Rev. Krystin Granberg of the New York Presbytery, where the state recognizes gay marriage, said she receives requests "all the time" from friends and parishioners to preside at their weddings.
"They want to be married in the church they love and they want me to do it," Granberg said during the debate. "I want pastoral relief."
But Bill Norton, of the Presbytery de Cristo, which covers parts of Arizona and New Mexico, urged the assembly to delay any changes. "We are laying hands on something that is holy, that God has given us, so we need to be sure any changes we make are in accord with God's will revealed in Scripture," Norton said.
Since the 2011 gay ordination vote, 428 of the denomination's more than 10,000 churches have left for other more conservative denominations or have dissolved, though some theological conservatives have remained within the denomination as they decide how to move forward. The church now has about 1.8 million members.
The conservative Presbyterian Lay Committee decried the votes in Detroit as an "abomination." The assembly voted 371-238 to allow ministers to celebrate same-sex marriages, and 429-175 in favor of amending the definition of marriage in the constitution.
"The General Assembly has committed an express repudiation of the Bible, the mutually agreed upon Confessions of the PCUSA, thousands of years of faithfulness to God's clear commands and the denominational ordination vows of each concurring commissioner," the Presbyterian Lay Committee said in a statement.
Of the mainline Protestant denominations, only the United Church of Christ supports gay marriage outright. The Episcopal Church has approved a prayer service for blessing same-sex unions. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has eliminated barriers for gay clergy but allows regional and local church officials to decide their own policies on ordination and blessings for same-sex couples.
The largest mainline group, the United Methodist Church, with about 7.8 million U.S. members, bars ordaining people in same-sex relationships. However, church members have been debating whether to split over their different views of the Bible and marriage. Gay marriage supporters have been recruiting clergy to openly officiate at same-sex ceremonies in protest of church policy.
Apostate Presbyterians Vote to Allow Homosexual ‘Marriages’ by 3-1 Ratio
By a 76-24 percent vote, the General Assembly of the PCUSA voted to allow their pastors to perform homosexual “marriages” in states where they are considered legal. Delegates, meeting in Detroit this week, also approved new language about marriage in the PCUSA Book of Order, or constitution, altering references to “a man and woman” to “two persons.”
This change will not become church law until a majority of the 172 regional presbyteries vote to ratify the new language. But given the lopsided 3-1 ratio of the vote, approval is expected.
Homosexual activists within the PCUSA rejoiced at their victory, which was remarkable for its margin of victory after multiple years of razor-thin defeats.
“This vote is an answer to many prayers for the church to recognize love between committed same-sex couples,” said Alex McNeill, executive director of More Light Presbyterians, a group that has led the fight within the PCUSA.
The vote came after an emotional but polite debate in which opponents of the motion said it conflicted with Scripture and would cause Presbyterian churches abroad to break relations with the PCUSA.
The Presbyterian Lay Committee, which opposes homosexuality, 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, “and those who substitute their own felt desires for God’s unchangeable Truth will not be found guiltless before a holy God.”
Under the new rules, pastors who do not want to preside over such ceremonies are not obligated to, and the change applies only in the 19 states and the District of Columbia where same-sex civil marriage is considered legal.
The PCUSA has long grappled with the issue, which came to a head at the last General Assembly, in 2012, when a similar resolution allowing for homosexual marriage lost 338-308. Since then, the church’s decades-long decline in membership — it has lost 37 percent of its membership since 1992 — has continued. These losses have been led by conservative-leaning congregations that defected over what they lamented as the PCUSA’s embrace of more unbiblical teachings.
Those defections — many to smaller and more conservative Presbyterian denominations — made it more likely that the General Assembly would approve a homosexual marriage resolution this year.
Some who voted in favor of the resolution said they hoped it would draw people in.
“I fear that our church brand is in jeopardy,” said PCUSA member and public relations professional Margaret Blankers to the General Assembly. “Some question the relevance of a church they see is not living up to its reputation for fairness. Do we really want to be known for not accepting and embracing our LGBT brothers and sisters?”
The General Assembly’s vote reflects change in the nation, where in rapid succession during the past year, judges have struck down laws prohibiting marriage between members of the same-sex.
Apostate Pastor Who Officiated Son’s Same-Sex ‘Marriage’ Reinstated
Frank Schaefer learned Tuesday (June 24) his ministerial credentials will be restored after the United Methodist’s Northeastern Jurisdictional Committee on Appeals voted 8-1 in his favor.
The committee, which held a hearing June 20 near Baltimore, found that “errors of Church law” had been used in imposing the penalty against Schaefer.
“I was wrongfully punished for standing with those who are discriminated against,” Schaefer said in a statement. “Today’s decision is a sign that the church is starting to listen.”
Schaefer said he and his family will move to California as early as next week to accept an invitation to be a part of the United Methodist’s California-Pacific Conference.
That conference recently passed a resolution calling for an end to trials in cases of clergy violating policy connected with so-called “gay rights”.
“I will not refuse ministry to anyone,” he said. “I will never be silent again. I will always speak for my LGBTQ brothers and sisters.”
The decision to reinstate Schaefer comes as the world’s 12 million United Methodists appear headed toward a split over the denomination’s rules on prohibiting homosexual behavior.
“The events over the last nine months make the division in our church much more clear,” said Tom Lambrecht, vice president and general manager of Good News, a conservative group within the United Methodist Church. “I have not seen a realistic option that will allow us to live together in one church.”
More than 80 pastors recently signed a statement saying the United Methodists have irreconcilable differences on the issue of homosexuality and a split is imminent. More than 2,500 United Methodist leaders have signed “A Way Forward,” a proposal calling for local decisions on openly homosexual clergy and so-called “same-sex marriage”.
Several other United Methodist clergy, including a retired bishop, are awaiting news of formal church complaints or trials for defying Methodist policy banning homosexuality. A group of 10 retired clergy said earlier this month they would preside at “same-sex marriages”.
Schaefer, formerly pastor of Zion United Methodist Church in Iona, was found guilty of violating the church’s Book of Discipline in a November 2013 trial. A church jury suspended him for 30 days, during which he was told to decide whether he could comply with church law. If he could not, the jury said he was to surrender his clergy credentials.
The United Methodist Church’s Book of Discipline calls the practice of homosexuality “incompatible with Christian teaching” and bars clergy from performing the so-called same-sex unions.
But the appeals committee ruled that the penalty was beyond those outlined in church law. It also said the penalty “could not be predicated on a future possibility.”
The committee also ruled that the Eastern Pennsylvania Annual Conference must compensate Schaefer for all lost salary and benefits from the date he lost his credentials, Dec. 19, 2013.
The committee’s decision could be appealed to the Judicial Council, the church’s highest court.
RNS / Christian News Network contributed to this report.
Un-’United Methodist Church’ Faces Split Over Embracing of Homosexuality
A group of 80 pastors is suggesting that the nation’s second-largest Protestant denomination is facing an imminent split over its inability to resolve long-standing theological disputes about sexuality and church doctrine.
But more than lamenting the current divisions, the pastors indicated there is little reason to think reconciliation — or even peaceful coexistence — could be found. Like a couple heading to divorce court, the pastors cited “irreconcilable differences” that can’t be mended.
“We can no longer talk about schism as something that might happen in the future. Schism has already taken place in our connection,” said the Maxie Dunnam, a retired president of evangelical Asbury Theological Seminary in Kentucky, who joined the statement.
It’s a marked shift in tone from 10 years ago, when conservatives rejected a proposal for an “amicable separation” as premature. “I don’t want us to talk about separation,” Dunnam said after the church’s 2004 assembly, before the same-sex marriage issue swept the nation. “That’s not a game where our energy needs to be focused.”
As 19 states and the District of Columbia now allow same-sex civil ‘marriage,’ the debate has consumed America’s mainline denominations, with the outcome ranging from bitter divisions to agree-to-disagree compromises.
The issue is especially heightened within Methodism, where holiness — the beliefs and practices toward Christian purity — is foundational in its theology. And as Methodist membership plateaus at home and grows in parts of Africa, overseas delegates have helped hold the line against growing pressure to give the church over to homosexual clergy and same-sex marriage.
Amid a wave of open defiance over rules that prevent pastors from presiding at same-sex marriages, and a host of high-profile church trials that have largely upheld church policy, some UMC pastors say the 11.8 million-member church has reached an impasse. Many feel that the sexuality debates simply touch on larger issues of how Methodists understand Scripture and how leaders uphold church teaching.
Frank Schaefer, a former Pennsylvania United Methodist pastor, was found guilty of violating church law when he officiated at his son’s 2007 ‘wedding,’ though his appeal will be heard on June 20. Schaefer was told he could keep his clergy credentials if he recanted his support of homosexual marriage, but he refused.
The tipping point for many striving to uphold Scriptural teaching on homosexuality came after UMC Bishop Martin D. McLee of New York announced in March he would drop a case against a retired seminary dean who officiated at his homosexual son’s 2012 ‘wedding’ and called for an end to church trials for clergy who violate the denomination’s law against affirming and supporting homosexual behavior.
The pastors saw McLee’s move as failing to uphold agreed-upon church teaching. He should have gone through proper means of changing the church’s stance on sexuality, they say, rather than declining to uphold the church’s Book of Discipline, or constitution.
“Tensions are reaching a point where it’s become a destructive scenario,” stated Larry Baird, pastor of Trinity United Methodist Church in Grand Island, N.Y., in an interview. He noted that leaving the denomination is not the group’s first option. “We’re hoping there’s a win-win way out for those in profound disagreement.”
Hailing from the UMC’s five jurisdictions, the group of 80 pastors and theologians released a statement Thursday (May 22) outlining the crisis they see emerging within the UMC. They pointed to pastors who violated the Book of Discipline, a lack of subsequent punishment, a crisis over the authority of Scripture and differences in how leaders are teaching the practice of holiness.
Most recently, the UMC decided to expand benefits of its agencies’ employees to include same-sex spouses who live in states that allow same-sex marriage, even though same-sex partners can’t get married within the UMC.
“Talk of a ‘middle-way’ or of ‘agreeing to disagree’ is comforting and sounds Christ-like,” the statement states. “However, such language only denies the reality we need to admit. Neither side will find ‘agreeing to disagree’ acceptable.”
Other mainline denominations have already gone through many variations on same-sex ordination and marriage, moving more quickly on the issue than the UMC, which has a global, more conservative membership; about one-third of the church’s members are found in Africa, Asia or Europe.
“Can we not learn from the pain that other mainline denominations have experienced and find a way forward that honors (Methodism founder John) Wesley’s rule that we do no harm?” the statement says. “A way where there are no winners and losers, but simply brothers and sisters who part ways amicably, able to wish each other well?”
Delegates to the Methodists’ quadrennial General Conferences have resisted one option embraced by the Presbyterian Church (USA) that essentially allows regional bodies to set their own ordination standards.
The UMC declined to provide an official response.
The United Methodist Church began in the mid-18th century within the Church of England when a small group of students, including John Wesley, Charles Wesley and George Whitefield, met on the Oxford University campus. They focused on Bible study, methodical study of scripture and living a holy life.
Today, members include everyone from former President George W. Bush to Hillary Clinton.
Christian News Network contributed to this report.