Religion in Society

Presbyterians Gear-Up for Battle Over Definition of Marriage

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WASHINGTON -- Presbyterians gathering next week will choose between two divergent paths. The first seeks to change the church's definition of marriage to a relationship between any "two people," while the second seeks to preserve the church's teachings that marriage is between a man and a woman.

The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) will take up a series of items, among them proposed constitutional amendments to change the definition of marriage in the PCUSA Book of Order. The effect would be to allow churches to host and ministers to officiate at same-sex marriages. Other proposals would interpret the PCUSA constitution as allowing any state-recognized same-sex marriage to be celebrated as a Christian marriage.

The Final Report of the Special Committee on Civil Union and Christian Marriage asserts that "members of the PC(USA) cannot agree" on "the place of covenanted same-gender partnerships in the Christian community" and must therefore show "mutual forbearance." Traditionalists have instead encouraged the adoption of a minority report that upholds "the church's biblical, historic, and confessional position that, among all varieties of sexual relationships, only marriage between a man and a woman is ordained by God and blessed by our Lord Jesus Christ."

Alan Wisdom, IRD's Vice President for Research and Programs and Director of its Presbyterian Action committee, commented:

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"The Scriptures and all parts of the PCUSA constitution consistently teach that marriage is instituted by God as a gift to all humankind, and that we are to honor that gift.

"If the PCUSA embraces sexual revisionism, it would deliberately sideline itself. It would exalt western liberal notions of individual moral autonomy above shared understandings of the Bible. It would follow the United Church of Christ and the Episcopal Church on the road to theological marginalization, internal division, accelerating membership loss, and cultural irrelevance.

"Shall we assert the right to redefine marriage to suit our own contemporary notions of justice? Shall we treat marriage as if it were no different from other sexual relationships? Or shall we reaffirm the biblical vision of an exclusive, lifelong, one-flesh union of the two complementary sexes created by God?"

Alan Wisdom's paper "Is Marriage Worth Defending?" and articles on the PCUSA Special Committee on Civil Union and Christian Marriage are viewable on the IRD website. Wisdom will be on site in Minneapolis available for media interviews.

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