America’s largest Presbyterian body voted last week to change its definition of Christian marriage and permit individual churches to perform same-sex marriages.
The new “authoritative interpretation” of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s Book of Order gives individual pastors discretion to perform same-sex ceremonies where the practice is legal. The addition, which passed a general assembly vote 317–238, states:
teaching elders may conduct a marriage service for any such couple in the place where the community gathers for worship, so long as it is approved by the session; or in such other place as may be suitable for a service of Christian worship. In no case shall any teaching elder’s conscience be bound to conduct any marriage service for any couple except by his or her understanding of the Word, and the leading of the Holy Spirit.
The assembly also voted to change the definition of marriage in the Book of Order, the denomination’s governing constitution. The proposal changes language referring to marriage as a “civil contract between a man and a woman” to marriage as “a unique commitment between two people.”
The new definition, which must be approved by the PC(USA)’s 172 prebysteries, says in part:
Marriage is a gift God has given to all humankind for the well-being of the entire human family. Marriage involves a unique commitment between two people, traditionally a man and a woman, to love and support each other for the rest of their lives. The sacrificial love that unites the couple sustains them as faithful and responsible members of the church and the wider community.
The same paragraph in the old definition reads:
Marriage is a gift God has given to all humankind for the well-being of the entire human family. Marriage is a civil contract between a woman and a man. For Christian marriage is a covenant through which a man and a woman are called to live out together before God their lives of discipleship. In a service of Christian marriage a lifelong commitment is made by a woman and a man to each other, publicly witnessed and acknowledged by the community of faith.
That motion, which passed 429–175, must be approved by 87 of the denomination’s 172 presbyteries in order to be incorporated into the Book of Order in 2015.