What did the PCUSA do?


Leave it to the Presbyterians to make matters confusing.

The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) has been meeting this week in Detroit. This afternoon was the fated series of votes on amending the Book of Order to allow for the “marriage” of homosexual couples. I watched the whole thing, and this is what happened.

The first proposal was for a two-year study committee, which was voted down. Everyone wanted to move on with the the two significant proposals:

(1) Issue an Authoritative Interpretation (AI) for the Book of Order, which would retain the current definition of marriage in the BOO while allowing for the discretion of individual ministers to decide whether or not to perform same-sex marriages. It passed. This, of course, results in an AI that is in contradiction to the BOO, as some delegates rightly complained. Nonetheless, it passed. An AI does not require the approval of the presbyteries.

(2) Amend the BOO to redefine marriage as between “two persons.” This also passed, which would make the aforementioned AI meaningless. The difference is that an amendment to the BOO requires the approval of the presbyteries. This will happen over the course of the next several months. I assume that the presbyteries will approve the amendment. Interestingly, there was a motion to amend the amendment by adding that marriage is “traditionally defined as man and woman,” which was approved. But this was just a gesture to the conservatives, so that the BOO will effectively have two definitions of marriage: (1) two persons, or (2) specifically man and woman.

The AI was smart politicking by the liberals. If the amendment does not pass by the presbyteries, they will still have the AI. And in the meantime — until all the presbyteries have voted — the AI is in force. So, gay marriage passed at this year’s GA.

As was to be expected, the evangelical voice at this year’s GA was noticeably weak — very weak. Since the last GA in 2012, the PCUSA has seen 300 or so churches leave for evangelical denominations. My church, Westminster in Charlotte, is among those who joined ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians. The evangelicals who have remained (for now) are exhausted. They gave up before this GA even started, and I cannot blame them. The course is fixed for the PCUSA. They will join the UCC, mainline Lutherans, and Episcopalians. Good luck with that.

Oh, and at the “ecumenical worship service” yesterday morning, Katharine Jefferts Schori (the presiding bishop of The Episcopal Church and super-liberal radical feminist, with a penchant for suing departing congregations) was presiding at the service. The decision to have Schori preside was effectively a middle finger to the evangelicals.

At this service, they also prayed the “world religions” prayer, celebrating the “diverse faith” around the world — Muslims, Buddhists, and spiritual seekers of all sorts.



  1. Well, this certainly comes as no surprise. I know there are some who think they should remain to provide a witness to their denomination. At some point I have to agree with those separate out. You spend all your energy on political maneuvering, fighting takeovers of your local church, etc.

    From a financial standpoint you also walk away from all the physical institutions, maybe your own church building as well. Although I’ve wondered if a church could just continue their support of headquarters with a one dollar a year donation, if there is some legal requirement for that.

    I grew up in a denomination that, during the 50s and 60s, had church splits and divisions all the time, the breakoff groups would splinter, and those splinters would fracture some more. So I’m aware of that. But on the other hand, there comes a point when you need to gather with like minded people so that your efforts complement each other and the gospel of Christ can be proclaimed in word and deed.

    • Yes, there does indeed come a point, and the churches that are now leaving are those who have battled and held-out the longest. They are the churches who are least likely to desire schism. But the constant fighting helps no-one — and it certainly does not help our witness or mission, even if schism also hurts our witness to the world.

      Also, on a practical level, I think those who are remaining (for now) will soon realize that there is no third-way — no compromise. Any conscience clause is just a temporary measure to keep the denomination from hemorrhaging members and local churches, more than is already the case. Once GLBT became a social justice issue in the PCUSA, as in the culture, the tolerance for “bigots” is soon to dissipate. All of the presbyteries will — in the near future — not ordain those who dissent from the new “orthodoxy.” Moreover, the pressure to conform (even when hard power is not utilized) is immense, as will especially be the case at mainline seminaries. When a “married” gay couple, celebrated and affirmed by the institution, is in the same class with someone who disagrees, he or she will feel the full pressure of “bigot,” “stupid,” “backwards,” “unloving,” “un-Christlike,” etc., aimed in his or her direction. Perhaps, the PCUSA will not even need to enforce conformity — because there will no longer be any evangelicals in the denomination needing “correction.”

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