GA News: Assembly leaves definition of marriage unchanged,Approves civil rights for same-sex couples, gracious

SAN JOSE -- After much docket delay, the Church Polity Committee gave its report to the 218thGeneral Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) late Friday afternoon (June 27).

It included a lively discussion on the definition of marriage, civil rights for same-sex couples and a gracious response to congregations wishing to leave the denomination.

Definition of marriage

Item 04-08, which generated the most discussion of the evening, was an overture to change the definition of marriage in W-4.9000 of the Directory for Worship to include same-sex couples. The committee recommended disapproval of this overture, and the Assembly agreed after defeating a substitute motion.
 Minister commissioner the Rev. William Myers of Great Rivers Presbytery offered the substitute motion that proposed the Assembly approve the original overture with the addition that the Office of Theology Worship and Education, in consultation with Presbyterians for Renewal and the Covenant Network of Presbyterians, study the issue of the definition of marriage.
 Extensive discussion on the matter followed. Minister commissioner the Rev. Duncan McColl of Los Ranchos Presbytery suggested that, in light of the Assembly’s decisions earlier in the day regarding ordination standards, “to introduce this to the church at this time would not be a wise thing.”
 Youth Advisory Delegate Elizabeth Miller of Maumee Valley Presbytery said, “One question that must be addressed is whether homosexuality is a biological condition or a social construct? Denying homosexuals the rights given to all other members of the church would be to deny them the rights of God’s people.”
 The most passionate plea of the evening came from former moderator of the General Assembly Marj Carpenter: “If you want to completely shatter the denomination, then vote for this substitute motion. But if you want to give (the issue) the time it needs for us to learn from each other, listen to each other, then, please God, vote no.”
 The substitute motion was defeated and the motion to disapprove the overture to change the definition of marriage passed with a vote of 540-161-3. The definition of marriage in the Directory for Worship will remain the same.

Civil rights for same-sex couples

The committee brought a recommendation to the Assembly to approve urging civil rights for same-sex couples and the appointment of a special committee to study the issue. This overture was approved 516-151-13.

Gracious response to churches leaving

The Assembly also considered a Commissioner Resolution that urges a gracious, pastoral response to churches wanting to leave the PC(USA). In commenting on the resolution, minister commissioner the Rev. Robert Austell of Charlotte Presbytery observed that the resolution intends to underscore that “we are more interested in shepherding the ship with grace than with litigation.” Item 04-28 was approved with a vote of 519-157-8.