The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) voted on Thursday, June 19, to allow clergy to perform same-sex wedding ceremonies.
Pastors who do not wish to perform same-sex marriages would not be required to, but those who live in states where gay marriage is already legal are now permitted to officiate them.
In a similar move, the General Assembly also passed a constitutional amendment which would redefine marriage from between “a man and a woman” to “marriage involves a unique commitment between two people, traditionally a man and woman.”
This amendment still has to be voted on and approved by a majority of the church’s presbyteries before it becomes official, but given the percentage by which it passed the assembly, approval by the presbyteries seems likely.
According to news reports, the pastor resolution permitting same-sex weddings passed by a vote of 371 to 238 and the marriage amendment passed by a vote of 429 to 175.
This is a significant change from previous years where the measures failed by fairly close margins. Many speculate that the difference this year was the departure of so many traditionalist congregations since the last General Assembly.
As a United Methodist, I see this and can’t help but wonder: Is this the future of the United Methodist Church?
On the one hand, the pastor resolution permitting same-sex weddings seems very similar to what Adam Hamilton has proposed in A Way Forward.
This certainly looks like a “local option” legislation. Pastors who feel compelled to officiate same-sex weddings are permitted to do so, while those who would prefer not to are not required to do so. Each pastor and church would have to make its own local decision as to what they would do.
On the other hand, I can’t help but note what it took to get there: All the conservatives had to leave.
One cannot help but see the steady stream of traditionalist pastors and churches leaving the denomination. The Presbyterian Church (USA) is in a precipitous decline. Their numbers are plummeting.
Perhaps these legislative moves will change that, but I’m not so sure. It hasn’t for the Episcopal Church. It hasn’t for the United Church of Christ. And it hasn’t for several others. Why should it be different here?
So, is this what the United Methodist Church has to look forward to?
If so, I am not encouraged. Perhaps amicable separation wouldn’t be so bad, after all.