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Institute on Religion and Democracy
“Leaders of the PCUSA are still confused about the biblical teaching on marriage and sexuality. But we can take comfort that people in local Presbyterian churches do uphold the teaching.” — Alan Wisdom, IRD Vice President for Research and Programs, Director of Presbyterian Action
The 2010 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) took two actions late yesterday that pointed in opposite directions regarding the denomination’s decades-long debate over human sexuality. On the one hand, the PCUSA commissioners meeting in Minneapolis voted to send out for ratification in local presbyteries another constitutional amendment to delete the denomination’s standard requiring church officers to exercise “fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman, or chastity in singleness.” On the other hand, the assembly turned aside attempts to convey the PCUSA’s blessing upon same-sex marriages.
The votes were close, reflecting the divided state of the denomination. The deletion of “fidelity and chastity” passed by a 53 to 46 percent margin. The proposals to redefine marriage were sidelined in a 51 to 49 percent vote. The assembly voted instead to send out for study around the denomination two documents on civil union and Christian marriage, one upholding the church’s confessional teaching on the marriage of man and woman and the other putting all views of marriage on a level and urging “mutual forbearance.”
The “fidelity and chastity” standard has been the subject of 4 nationwide presbytery votes in the last 14 years. It has been affirmed in all those votes.
Alan Wisdom, IRD’s Vice President for Research and Programs and Director of its Presbyterian Action committee, commented:
“These votes are not a cause for rejoicing. Leaders of the PCUSA are still confused about the biblical teaching that channels sexual expression through the marriage of man and woman. But we can take comfort that people in local Presbyterian churches do uphold the teaching. They have proven that in 4 votes over the past 14 years to confirm the ‘fidelity and chastity’ standard for church officers. It is unfortunate that we will have to summon them again to defend that biblical standard in another set of presbytery votes over the coming year. But defend it they will.
“The decision to shelve attempts to redefine marriage was a relief. The sexual revisionists had seemed to have a solid majority to enact their agenda at this assembly. They had taken down ‘fidelity and chastity’ and they were gunning for marriage last night. But somehow, by God’s grace, they came up short. The commissioners took a second look and decided that they weren’t ready to tinker with this sacred institution established by God in creation and blessed by Jesus himself. We give thanks for that reprieve, but know that we have much work to do in helping Presbyterians and others to reappropriate the beautiful heritage of biblical teaching about how God brings together man and woman in marriage.”