Presbyterian Church (USA) Votes NO on Marriage Equality

For many, it’s been a bit of a frustrating General Assembly these past few days. It seems as though the Assembly has had multiple opportunities to take the step forward in prophetic action, and has decided to settle for the status quo, many decisions apparently based in fear of what others might think of us. Always a good way to make important justice decisions.

This afternoon, the definition of Christian marriage was debated, while many hoped we might change the definition from marriage being between a man and a woman, to “two persons.” Of course, this is a hotly-debated issue in the church right now, and not just in our denomination. However, watching the live-stream of the debate was incredibly frustrating at parts, especially when people equated homosexuality and bestiality. At first, it was a YAAD (Young Adult Advisory Delegate). To say that I found it highly inappropriate is probably an understatement:


I have no respect or patience for fellow Presbyterians who use the bestiality argument. It’s fucking ridiculous and un-Christian. #GA220
@adamwc
Adam WC

Some said that I should go easier on the person because they were a Young Adult (I didn’t actually know it was a YAAD when I first tweeted that response). Then there was a comparison of homosexuality to pedophilia. Again – completely inappropriate.


Cruel and hurtful to bring up pedophilia as a reason not to honor marriage for same gender couples. Stop the cycle of harm! #GA220
@ScottClark01
Scott Clark

But then it continued. And later in the debate, a Teaching Elder (Presbyterian speak for “pastor”) from the Inland Northwest Presbytery, compared people who had sex with their children, with animals, and with those of the same gender. She also stated that these were all deserving of death. And no one – NO ONE – cut her off or stopped her from speaking. However, the responses on Twitter by those there and by those watching the live-stream give you an idea of some of the responses that must have been in the room:


Marcia Taylor, Teaching Elder: standards for sex: no sex with animals, children, parents, in laws, same gender–deserve death #ga220
@katiesmulligan
katiesmulligan


I cannot begin to describe how painful it is to hear someone liken my marriage to bestiality.And then to say that it deserves death. #GA220
@ScottClark01
Scott Clark


A minister says people who have sex with people of same gender–or animals–deserve death. #notthechurchIthoughtIjoined #ga220
@Ptsbrian
Brian Ellison

I can’t believe there are still folks who will make the comparison of homosexuality and pedophilia and bestiality. As I mentioned on Twitter, I know there are folks who have different theological positions on this issue, based on their reading of Scripture. Some of my good friends, and family members, have different views than I do. And if you want to have a civil conversation about different biblical interpretations, fine. We can do that. I won’t be changing my opinion, and we’ll probably agree to disagree, but we can have that conversation.

But when you use rhetoric that compares homosexuality and the loving relationships that many of my friends have, with people having sex with animals…then no, we are not going to have a conversation. I don’t have respect for you or for your opinion. Does that make me a bad minister? Does that mean that I need to work on my pastoral care? Some may think so. But if that’s the starting point for you on this issue, we aren’t going to be talking.

The Assembly eventually took the vote, and by a margin of 30 votes (338-308), they decided to defeat the motion to change the definition of marriage. However, when the advisory delegates voted, the YAADs voted 75% in favor of changing the definition of marriage to two persons, and the TSADs (Theological Student Advisory Delegates) voted 82% in favor of the motion.

Immediately after the vote, someone tweeted this:


#ga220 When your church members ask where the young people are remember this vote.
@PresbyEmily
Emily Hope Morgan

You want to know why young people are leaving the church? Because they are tired of us. They are tired of us continuing to do things the ways they’ve always been done. They’re tired of us being too afraid to step out in justice. They’re tired of us not following in the footsteps of our radical prophet/savior Jesus the Christ. They’re tired of a polity and theology that denies marriage equality to fellow brothers and sisters in Christ that are members of our churches.

So, like the tweet said, when your church’s Session asks “Where are all the young people?” or “How do we get the young people to come back to our churches?” – perhaps we should encourage the greater church to LISTEN to our young people.

If we’re lucky, and if the YAADs have more stamina and faith and hope in the denomination than I do, and if they decide to stay a part of the PC(USA), then you see the direction the church is going. We will have marriage equality. We will allow our pastors to officiate same-sex marriage ceremonies without the fear of being taken to church court. We will be a different church. But not now.

Not now. Because we are afraid.

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Comments

  1. says

    Thanks for your post here. I’ve been interested to see how GA was going to turn out for the PCUSA. I feel like those who compare homosexuality with the extreme sexual perversions you mentioned above are ignorant biblically, theologically, and scientifically. It is sad that these folks chose to speak up and let their unintelligence be known.

    I am happy for the decision that was made in the vote today. I am an outsider to the denomination, but believe that marriage between a man and woman is the way God has planned and desired it to be. But I do not equate homosexuality as a sexual orientation to these perversions and I am sorry and saddened that there are those in the Church who believe this way.

  2. says

    Hey Adam. Good post. Read the whole thing. The only point I disagree with is how people think this might be the reason young people are leaving the pcusa. The reality as I see it is young people are leaving because they think our practice and theology is whack. Many non denom and Bible churches are growing with young people.

    My opinion is that young people are over our arguments. And let’s be honest too. I can’t think of a single young person I know who would actually want to spend 5 days at GA. Those there are a select few.

    • Wayne says

      Agreed and lots of those churches say homosexuality deserves hell. No fear here which is the song of those seeking change about those who resist. I personally embrace change just not all of it.

  3. says

    Beautifully passionate and powerful summary of the conversation, your fears and concerns. I share your concern and deep disappointment in the narrow-mindedness, ignorance, bigotry and lack of civil rights being expressed by some of the clergy in the denomination. Thank you for standing up and speaking up.

    • Jeff says

      Laura, i have read several of your books and have listened to your presentations. What is your understanding of homosexuality based upon your interpretation of the Word of God. Is homosexual expression a sin or is it not?

  4. Jeremy Bias says

    I’m curious why you quoted no scripture to buttress your view. What passages do you hold up as affirming of same-sex unions?

    • says

      Why is it that some Christians require scriptural quotation to justify every position that a person takes? While there are good scriptural/theological arguments for the sanctity of LGBTQ* relationships, is it not enough to say that as Christians we should be fundamentally opposed to ideology and legislation that dehumanizes people and strips them of their dignity?

      • Jeremy says

        Zachary,
        Truthfully I do feel the need to have scripture form my worldview where it speaks plainly. I know my own heart well enough to know that I can’t trust it to help me think like Christ. My heart, apart from Christ and his Word, is only and always self serving. Paul makes this same point in Romans 7. Surely if Paul felt this way, you agree it affects all of us. I’m not trying to be difficult, but how do you personally form opinions about subjects like poverty, the environment, divorce, family roles, church, etc without looking to scripture?

      • says

        Those who oppose gay marriage often say (as several did at GA220) that God ordains marriage between a man and woman and Jesus says marriage is between a man and a woman. Yes, God/Jesus approve of marriage between a man and woman but doesn’t mean they don’t approve of same-gender marriage. There is not a single chapter and verse that says verbatim “God (or Jesus) does not ordain marriage between a man and a man (or a woman and a woman). Give me the chapter and verse where it says exactly that …instead of taking verses about “sex” between same genders out of context and then misinterpreting that to mean that two lesbians or two gay men in a loving, healthy, committed relationship for 50 years is considered a sin before God or that God considers them a disgrace. Relationship and marriage is not solely about people having sex.

      • Jeremy says

        Prespreacher,
        Since you’ve forbidden any scriptural reference to homosexuality as sin, presumably because you view them as speaking only of gay-sex outside of a committed relationship, I would ask instead for chapter and verse in which same-sex marriage can even be inferred. Where in scripture do we have an example of such a relationship?

      • says

        Ummm….I haven’t forbidden any scripture and there are no scripture verses or references that say a committed relationship or marriage between two people of the same gender is ok nor are there any that say the opposite. You got me. It’s a mystery. I choose to go with the over-arching theme of the Bible which is God is love and I can’t justify condemning two lesbians or two gay men for being in a loving marriage with one another nor can I wrap my head around a God who would do such a thing.
        If that is your choice, cool. Agree to disagree. Peace.

        And to Adele, I often wonder the same thing…I just try to move one foot forward in God’s love as much as possible. But it’s by no means easy. Blessings on your journey.

  5. says

    Thanks for explaining this to an outsider looking in and someone who is queer and legally married. i was a Presbyterian as a kid but when my mom left when i was 10, i had no more connection to it til i met some progressives like you as an adult. i just wonder how long people like you and other progressives are to stay and fight, and when to say enough and move on. i don’t know the answer but i often wonder.

  6. Erin says

    Just let people do what they want! As long as they aren’t harming others people should be free to do as they please! If a man wants to marry a man then let them! Same for the ladies! Everyone is so concerned with what other people are doing these days…myob and work together to create a better world. We have many more issues to contend with than worry about if Tom is kissing Bill. Or Sarah kissing Jane.

    • Jeff says

      Erin, two people getting “married” harms me and my family. My grandchildren are growing up in a sexually confused world. Allowing for same sex marriage and in time polygamous marriages is going to confuse the hell out of them. You are hurting me.

      • Michelle says

        Jeff, your spirit of fear in light of a having a savior that redeems confuses me. God bless you sir… your family included.

  7. says

    I think you’re using a few bigoted people to justify your so-called justice of marriage. I believe people of homosexual orientation and personality can be safe in the church and minister in the church as well. However, Scripture prohibits the practice of homosexual sex (both new and old testament, both Paul and Jesus agree on this). Because of that, that is the line where the church should not pass. Like the topic of hell, I know how to make certain texts seem like it’s out of context, and how meaning of certain words are too vague and unknown to define, and how to explain the text away using various exegetical methods. But, it just doesn’t work that well with this topic. The biblical consensus is no to homosexual sex. You believe you’re fighting against human injustice, but you’re really fighting against Scripture. You fear pop culture more than a long history of men who wrote under divine inspiration, tradition, and experience.

    Jesus said at one point, “and some were born as eunuchs”. We can re-translate it into our (post)modern culture and so in the words of Lady Gaga, “born this way”. But, this statement was in no way about promoting homosexual sex. Jesus was only acknowledging the fact that some people are born with certain sexual orientations. The church should become a safe place for the LGBT community, of where both love and truth can be received. Embracing with love over all sinners is the mission of the church, as well as renewing their souls with truth. Churches who cast out anyone of a different sexual orientation should also cast out their leaders, for they both struggle in some way. Again, one’s sexual orientation should be acknowledged and accepted. Legitimizing and instituting homosexual sex should be rejected. So, I conclude, let the state promote gay marriage if it chooses to do so. As for the church, let it promote the sacred words it is to establish and build itself on.

  8. Mike says

    Regardless of how this ended up, people were going to be devastated. I think the notion that young people are all leaving over this is incorrect, however. A lot of our evangelical congregations have lots of young folks. Non-denom churches, often still more conservative, are often bursting at the seams with young folks.

    Part of me does wonder if a clean, gracious split might be best–then we can just get on with it rather than having the same fight every two years.

  9. says

    Here is some data I compiled about young adults and the church in my past job at Second Pres in Indy that may be of interest to the conversation- if anyone is interested in the sources (I have that too, but it wouldn’t copy)

    Fastest growing religion:
    • Is now the non-affiliated at 16.1%

    Among older adults- non-affiliated
    • 65 and older: 8%

    Among 21-45 year olds in 1970- non-affiliation
    • 7%

    Among 18-29 years- non-affiliated
    • 31%

    Number one and two reasons that adults leave religion:
    71% gradually just drift away
    65% stop believing in religion’s teaching

    What about young adults who do attend church? What’s their likely profile?
    • Married women at 39%
    • Married men at 29%
    • This is about the same percentage as 40 years ago
    • Yet, now there are less married people in their 20/30’s

    Married men in their twenties :
    • 1970: 59%
    • 2006: 25.5%

    Married women in their twenties
    • 1970: 69%
    • 2006: 31.5%

    The most likely group of 20/30’s to attend church (marrieds with children) has shrunk as a percentage of the young adult population. The least likely group to attend church (young singles) has increased as a percentage of the young adult population.

    What about Presbyterians?
    • less than 4 percent of church members are between the ages of 20 and 29
    • The US population distribution for this age range is 16 percent

    Some data from Robert Wuthnow, Sociologist of Religion at Princeton University :
    “Young adults between ages 21-45 attend church regularly about 25% of the time. Forty years ago 31% of young adults attended. The six percentage difference represents about 6.3 million young adults who no longer attend. (an average of 21 more young adults for every church in the country)”

    Over the past 20 years the relatively past stable rate of non-affiliated young adults went from about 5-7% to about 27-31%. What’s amazing is the non-affiliated rates were stable in the words of Robert Putnam, author of American Grace, “for a very long time” and that it’s increased almost five fold in about 20 years. When asked in a recent interview of the likelihood of attracting the almost 1/3 of young adults who are non-affiliated to mainline churches he replied that, “…somebody is going to reach that group.”

  10. says

    Adam, thank you for your post, your convictions. I watched parts of the live feed but missed many of the cruel parts, very sad. Makes my stomach turn. These type of comments should never be tolerated. I am given hope by the words of others at GA like Piper Madison and Deb Avery among others as well as the Advisory delegate vote. In the words of Sam Cooke, “a change is gonna come”

    My specific thoughts on the marriage issue: After watching the video Neal and Aimee created following the debate– http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cQhKAy-csss&feature=player_embedded, I think that discussion and discernment about marriage and civil unions will be helpful for moving forward.

    I’ve previously leaned more toward “let’s move on and not let people continue to wait and suffer injustice.” I still think that we can’t take another 5-10 years to talk or kick the can. But the video, the comments at GA and the responses on this post, prove that there is much education to be done and conversation to be had about marriage, sex and sexuality, committed relationships, etc.

    For instance, one of the responses on this post echoes a common view among those against gay marriage which is that the Bible prohibits sex between two people of the same gender.

    That line of thinking assumes that marriage is all about sex…but it’s not. Marriage is more than just the actual act of sex. A healthy, loving, faithful relationship between two people requires a lot more to sustain itself than fooling around in the bedroom, i.e. trust, unconditional love, a listening heart, humor, passion to serve humanity and be hard working contributing citizens, common interests (movies, books, hikes, sports, arts, hobbies, cooking), owning pets, raising children, laughter, struggling with personal hardship and health issues (individual and family), etc.

    I read somewhere recently on another blog post written by a gay minister about a response given to him by a friend and progressive who said “Why should anyone care about what you do in your bedroom.” The gay minister was taken aback by this comment because even in the minds of heterosexuals who have gay friends/support gay equality, marriage=sex. A lot of heterosexuals believe that to be true about marriage and dating relationships regardless of someone’s sexual orientation.

    All of that is to say we as the Church need to have more conversations about what a marriage looks like; what constitutes a healthy, committed, loving relationship between human beings, heterosexual, homosexual, transgendered; sexuality.

    We as a society and as a Church are still afraid in the 21st century to have more public conversations about sex and sexuality among heterosexuals much less homosexuals. There is so much misinformation and taboo and fear…and unfortunately there remain some hard felt views that a woman’s place is in the kitchen and has less rights than a man in a marriage. In addition, women are struggling to keep the rights and dignity they’ve worked hard to achieve, the sex slave trade is at an all time high, and divorce rates among heterosexuals continues to rise.

    These issues rise out of misconceptions and lack of conversations about marriage and God’s desire for us to treat our significant others as beautifully created human beings with love and mercy.

    For The Bible Tells Me so documentary; Rob Bell’s Sex God; Jack Rogers’ book; http://revemilycheath.com/; (and I’m sure other resources) are a good place to start so we can engage each other and the scriptures openly, honestly and with discernment and grace.

    • Matt says

      “But the video, the comments at GA and the responses on this post, prove that there is much education to be done and conversation to be had about marriage, sex and sexuality, committed relationships, etc.”

      Why is it that you (progressives) feel that education is needed? Why don’t you just say, “I will keep beating you over the head with this until you agree with me. Then you will be educated.” Could it be that I HAVE studied scripture, prayed, discerned the Spirit and believe in my heart of hearts that I am “educated” on this issue – believing that homosexuality is wrong. What education do you suggest? And no, I’m not afraid of public conversations, I just agree with Adam when he said you can talk all day but I’m not going to change my opinion and neither are you. We are clearly at loggerheads with each other. I am also trying to find this misinformation you speak of. Scripture either calls homosexuality a sin (repeatedly) or never speaks of homosexuality in a positive way. What misinformation is there? I guess it’s fitting that my appeal to this argument is scripture and yours is Rob Bell, Jack Rogers, etc. There is no common ground…

      • says

        I think there is misinformation when people equate homosexuality to bestiality or pedophilia or automatically assume that marriage (straight or gay) is all about sex. And I think the Church could do a better job of talking about marriage, relationships, sex and sexuality in general. The Church tends to shy away from the subject, particularly more mainline Protestants.

        And the “Scripture either calls homosexuality a sin…” is up to interpretation. That’s why the debate exists. Actually there is no word in the Hebrew or Greek texts for “homosexuality” The word is not used and is also not understood in the same since during biblical times as it is today. When scripture speaks of a man shall not lie with a man is not the same as talking about two males in their 80s who have been in a loving, committed relationship for 50 years and who have more depth and nuance to their “marriage” than the act of sex.

        There’s a lot more going on in the texts and times of the Bible so history and context is always an important consideration; a strictly black and white view of scripture is not helpful.

        If the scriptures that say “a man lying with a man is a sin” are to be taken literally as a condemnation of homosexuality as it’s known in the 21st century, then we all need to be more consistent and follow Leviticus to a tee by not eating shrimp, mixing fabrics OR adhere Paul’s words in the New Testament about making sure our wives remain submissive and know that the man is in charge of the spiritual household. Anyone care to follow those exactly as written or should we pay attention to context? Sorry for the small snark…I’m just sayin :-)

        I do sense some hostility in your response and not sure why you are so angry or feel the need to make personal attacks. I’m an ordained minister in the PCUSA and also look at scripture as my guide and I find that the resources I mentioned also are faithful to scripture and adhere to theology of the Reformed tradition. In no way is that to say that your views or appeals to scripture are wrong. I do believe that at the end of the day, I can or hope I can consider you a beloved child and creation of God even despite whatever differences or disagreements we have.

        I’m sure you are a fine person and faithful Christian who doesn’t need any further education, but conversations and healthy debates never hurt anyone. Thank you again for your thoughts. Peace.

      • Matt says

        I just want to point out that this Matt is not me, Matt Schramm, as I’ve responded to a couple of Adam’s posts recently as “Matt” too. Anyway… just thought I’d say that.

  11. says

    Here’s some data on young adults that I compiled while I was working at Second Pres in Indy as it concerns young adults and the church. I can send references if anyone wishes as they didn’t cut and paste nicely.

    Fastest growing religion:
    • Is now the non-affiliated at 16.1%
    Among older adults- non-affiliated
    • 65 and older: 8%
    Among 21-45 year olds in 1970- non-affiliation
    • 7%
    Among 18-29 years- non-affiliated 2010
    • 31%

    Number one and two reasons that adults leave religion:
    1. 71% just gradually drifted away from the religion
    2. 65% stopped believing in the religion’s teachings

    What about young adults who do attend church? What’s their likely profile?
    • Married women at 39%
    • Married men at 29%
    • This is about the same percentage as 40 years ago
    • Yet, now there are less married people in their 20/30’s

    Married men in their twenties :
    • 1970: 59%
    • 2006: 25.5%

    Married women in their twenties
    • 1970: 69%
    • 2006: 31.5%

    The most likely group of 20/30’s to attend church (marrieds with children) has shrunk as a percentage of the young adult population. The least likely group to attend church (young singles) has increased as a percentage of the young adult population.

    What about Presbyterians?
    • less than 4 percent of church members are between the ages of 20 and 29
    • The US population distribution for this age range is 16 percent

    According to Robert Wuthnow, Sociologist of Religion at Princeton University :
    “Young adults between ages 21-45 attend church regularly about 25% of the time. Forty years ago 31% of young adults attended. The six percentage difference represents about 6.3 million young adults who no longer attend. (an average of 21 more young adults for every church in the country)”

    Over the past 20 years the relatively past stable rate of non-affiliated young adults went from about 5-7% to about 27-31%. What’s amazing is the non-affiliated rates were stable in the words of Robert Putnam, author of American Grace, “for a very long time” and that it’s increased almost five fold in about 20 years. When asked in a recent interview of the likelihood of attracting the almost 1/3 of young adults who are non-affiliated to mainline churches he replied that, “…somebody is going to reach that group.”

  12. A Medrano says

    Marriage does equal sex. There are two reasons for marriage: 1) procreation and 2) pleasure. If two individuals are not going to do either one, there’s no reason for marriage. We are sexual beings. If two people want to enjoy each others presence for the rest of their life, then let them benefit from a state approved civil union. As for the church, who lives by the scriptures, can only approve marriage between one man and one woman because again, marriage is for sex.

    • says

      So all-day, every day, you and your wife/husband do is have sex to procreate and have pleasure. That’s amazing, seriously. No movies, reading, TV shows, putting a puzzle together, having dinner together, playing sports, raising kids (which by the way there is no sex or pleasure at times), go to the theater, take trips, make decisions on family finances, buy a house or car, make career decisions, talk about how to take care of your parents or in-laws when they are sick, etc. It’s just sex all the time in a marriage. WOW…I had no idea. You lucky guy/gal. I’ve got to let my wife know!

      • A Medrano says

        You totally missed the point. You don’t need marriage for all the other things. As I said, if people desire to spend their life with another person and enjoy each others presence, whether same-sex or hetero, marriage is not necessary. Marriage is for sex. Without sex, marriage is not needed at all.

  13. Brian says

    Not sure if this is the right attitude to have, when you say: “I won’t be changing my opinion”
    If everyone comes to the discussion with that approach we will get nowhere.

  14. Alexis Fuller-Wright says

    Just a few things in response to those who are making a scriptural argument against homosexuality and gay marriage. I really get it, because scripture is core to my life, too. It’s important to first recognize that the bible never addresses gay marriage, and it addresses homosexuality in the same places it tells you not to touch a pig or intermix fabrics. (Polyester, anyone?) Moreover, the biblical model of marriage typically included either polygamy or someone selling their daughter off as property (and often, both). Those approaches made sense in that era, but times have changed and neither are contextually appropriate models for us. Neither Jesus nor Paul ever married, and Paul was sure the world was ending and that people should only marry if their lust was uncontrollable. Jesus never spoke for or against marriage, he only condemned divorce. Do we condemn those who divorce in our congregations? Because we could make a stronger scriptural argument for that as one could against gay marriage.

    More importantly, Jesus was the ultimate model of how to be in relationship with those the Hebrew scriptures would suggest were off limits under the same Deuteronomic codes you’re referring to (such as Eunuchs, prostitutes, hemorrhaging women…the list goes on). Because ultimately, what is biblical is God’s radical love and inclusion of all people. God celebrates when any of us engage in life-giving and life-affirming relationships..

    I would also caution that as followers of Christ to be cognizant of the difference between inclusion and tolerance. Inclusion affirms the humanity of all people, including their right to be in life-giving relationships. Tolerance, is a seemingly hospitable word with a dark underbelly. Tolerance is only done from a place of power and privilege, and Jesus shows us over and over that hierarchies of power have no place among the people of God. In fact, Jesus was killed for living that message over and over and threatening the systems of power that be. As people who wear crosses and profess to live a life dedicated to Jesus’ resurrecting truth, we cannot with integrity, draw distinctions about who gets to be in and who gets to be out. Therein lies the ultimate failure of the PCUSA’s decision at this moment in time.

  15. Jeremy says

    Your statement about where homosexuality is condemned in scripture is incorrect. While it is spoken of in the Old Testament (as you mentioned), it is clearly condemned in the New Testament as well. Also, I agree that many who would fiercely oppose gay-marriage have turned a blind eye to divorce, but have done that to the church’s harm. Divorce on unbiblical grounds should be condemned and cautioned against. Followers of Christ do not have the right to choose which sins we will condone or condemn. Christ alone, through His word, has that authority.

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