DETROIT — The 1.8 million-member Presbyterian Church (USA) voted Thursday (June 19) to allow homosexual ‘weddings,’ making it among one of the largest religious groups to take an embracing step toward openly supporting homosexuality.
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.
Christian News Network contributed to this report.