On Thursday the Presbyterian Church adopted marriage equality, changing their definition of marriage from “between a man and a woman” to “between two people” and allowing their ministers to marry same-sex couples. (More)

Presbyterian Church Adopts Marriage Equality (Non-Cynical Saturday)

Sometimes change comes quickly. The New York TimesLaurie Goodstein reports that the Presbyterian Church refused to recognize marriage equality as recently as 2008, and has held ecclesiastical trials for pastors who publicly blessed same-sex couples. But on Thursday the PCUSA’s General Assembly voted to change their definition of marriage and allow their ministers to marry same sex couples:

The church also voted, by an overwhelming majority, to change the language about marriage in the church constitution to “two persons” from a “man and a woman,” according to More Light Presbyterians, a group that supports gay rights.

To take effect, that change would need to be approved by a majority of 172 local presbyteries, which have a year to vote, the church said in a statement.

However, starting Saturday, pastors can go ahead and begin marrying same-sex couples in the states that allow it, according to Toya Richards Jackson, a church spokeswoman.

That qualifier “in the states that allow it” is relevant, as several churches in North Carolina have sued to overturn the state’s ban on marriage equality:

[In April], the United Church of Christ brought a federal lawsuit against North Carolina’s marriage laws, which were amended in 2012 to ban gay unions. What interest does the United Church of Christ have in toppling the state’s homophobic ban? Under North Carolina law, a minister who officiates a marriage ceremony between a couple with no valid marriage license is guilty of a Class A misdemeanor and can be thrown in jail for 45 days. And since gay marriage is illegal in North Carolina, that means any minister who dares celebrate a gay union in his church may face jail time.

Given that conservatives claim “religious persecution” when the law forbids them from discriminating against LGBTs, you’d think they would howl in outrage at the mere possibility that pastors could be jailed for conducting a marriage recognized by their religion. But Tony Perkins says that’s not what religious freedom means:

They’re playing games here, trying to turn the effort that so many Americans are now faced with of preserving religious freedom, they’re now trying to do a jujitsu move and say, ‘We’re going to use religious freedom to say we have a right to do same-sex marriage.’ Well, there is no foundation for that, there is no orthodox Christian holding that has ever said marriage is between people of the same sex.

I couldn’t find the phrase “orthodox Christian holdings” in the First Amendment’s Establishment or Free Exercise Clauses. Maybe it’s in the teacher’s edition.

Regardless, the Washington Monthly’s Ed Kilgore reports that the Presbyterian Church has now joined the list of churches with ‘unorthodox’ Christian holdings:

Other mainline denominations are in various states of flux on this subject, though the direction—with one big exception—is generally the same. Episcopalians now conduct “blessings” of same-sex unions, and ordain gay clergy and bishops. Their denominational first cousins, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) is already devising a same-sex marriage rite. The United Church of Christ and the Unitarian-Universalist Association have been there for quite some time. My own traditionally decentralized Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) allows individual congregations (and in the case of ordination, the regions) to decide on all matters related to human sexuality (the Northern California/Nevada region in which I live has been ordaining non-celibate gay clergy for a good while), but the denomination did pass a resolution last year encouraging acceptance of LGBT folk in all aspects of church life.

The big mainline holdouts are the United Methodists, where a series of international assemblies have voted down any change in the traditional rules on clergy or marriage, along with the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME).

In January, several Presbyterian congregations left the PCUSA to form the Evangelical Covenant Order, in large part because the PCUSA voted in 2011 to allow LGBT clergy, and Christianity Today’s headline “PC(USA) Permits Pastors To Perform Same-Sex Marriages, Thanks to Conservative Exodus” implies that’s why the marriage equality provision passed. And the conservative Presbyterian Lay Committee, Inc. are not happy:

The 221st General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) has approved both an Authoritative Interpretation of the Constitution and an amendment to redefine marriage. In the name of 1.8 million Presbyterians nationwide, 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. This is an abomination.

The Presbyterian Lay Committee mourns these actions and calls on all Presbyterians to resist and protest them. You should tell your pastor and the members of your session that you disapprove of these actions. 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 and those who substitute their own felt desires for God’s unchangeable Truth will not be found guiltless before a holy God. The Presbyterian Lay Committee will continue to call for repentance and reform: repentance of those who have clearly erred at this General Assembly and reform of the PCUSA according to the Word of God.

I guess those are Perkins’ “orthodox Christian holdings,” the only ones protected by the teacher’s edition of the First Amendment. For the rest of us, the Presbyterian Church took a step forward into the 21st Century.

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Happy Saturday!