It’s in the air: the possibility that on March 17, a proposed amendment to change the definition of marriage in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s constitution will win enough votes to pass. That change, if approved – and it appears it will be and that March 17 may be the day – would change the definition of Christian marriage in the PC(USA)’s constitution to say that marriage involves “two people, traditionally a man and a woman.”
That would be a huge, much-contested and much-noticed shift in policy – putting the PC(USA), which already allows non-celibate gays and lesbians to be ordained as ministers and elders, firmly on the side of same-sex marriage equality as well.
Three presbyteries are to vote on March 17 on a proposed amendment to adopt that new language – a change from the current language in the Directory for Worship, which describes Christian marriage as being between “a man and a woman.”
Three presbyteries will vote Tuesday – and only two more “yes” votes are needed for the amendment to pass.
For the amendment to pass, a majority of the denomination’s 171 presbyteries need to vote in approval of it. That means 86 “yes” votes are needed. The unofficial but careful count being kept by the Covenant Network of Presbyterians currently shows 84 presbyteries voting yes, 41 voting no, with one tie. Tuesday, three more presbyteries are scheduled to vote: Donegal (in Pennsylvania), Palisades (in New Jersey) and West Jersey.
At the NEXT Church national gathering, where more than 600 have come this week to Fourth Presbyterian Church in downtown Chicago to discuss creativity and innovation in the PC(USA), the reality that the decision may come on Tuesday has been shimmering in the air. Joy Douglas Strome, the pastor of Lake View Presbyterian Church in Chicago, referred directly to the possibility while preaching during afternoon worship March 16.
“The current work we do matters,” Strome said to a gathering consisting mostly of PC(USA) ministers. It matters to same-sex couples who can legally be married in many states, and it will matter if the denomination changes the constitution, Strome said.
“I hope that happens before we even go back to our places,” she said Monday afternoon. “I hope it happens tomorrow.”
PC(USA) ministers already can perform same-sex marriages in jurisdictions where such marriages are legal. By a vote of 371-238, the 2014 General Assembly approved an authoritative interpretation giving that permission, which has been in effect since June 2014. But changing the constitution – a change that would not take effect until June 21, 2015 – would mean a majority of the presbyteries affirmed that change in direction as well.