. . . because commentary would be superfluous.
DETROIT — Ministers in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) can preside at same-sex marriages in states where they are legal following a vote this afternoon at the denomination‘s top legislative body.
And in the coming year, the denomination’s regional presbyteries will vote on whether to change its marriage definition church-wide to include two people regardless of gender.
Strong applause broke out after the overwhelming votes, which came after debate of more than two hours at the denomination‘s General Assembly here at the Detroit Cobo Center. But the decisions also came with plenty of anxious words about the looming possibility that more conservatives will join an exodus of estimated 350 congregations that have left for more conservative denominations in recent years as the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) shifts to increasingly liberal stances on sexuality. In 2011, the denomination voted to authorize the ordination of gays and lesbians in non-celibate relationships.
The General Assembly today voted 371-238 in favor of an official “authoritative interpretation” of its constitution, honoring the freedom of conscience of any pastor who chooses to preside at a legal same-sex wedding and of any church that chooses to host one.
The measure only applies in jurisdictions such as Pennsylvania, 18 other states and the District of Columbia, where gay marriage has been legalized by legislation or court order.
The measure takes effect Saturday upon conclusion of the assembly. Unlike an amendment to the church constitution, it does not require approval from regional presbyteries.
The authoritative interpretation says that a minister’s “discernment of the leading of the Holy Spirit is indispensable” and ministers have the freedom of conscience to decide whether to solemnize any legal marriage.
Separately, the assembly also voted 429-175 to change its constitutional definition of marriage from a covenant between “a man and a woman” to that of a “unique commitment between two people.”
The measure goes to the church‘s regional presbyteries for ratification in the coming year.
The church has 1.76 million members and is particularly concentrated in Western Pennsylvania. The denomination has lost about 10 percent of its members in the past two years, driven in large part to the exiting congregations.
The assembly overwhelmingly approved a motion directing the top leadership of the Louisville, Ky.-based denomination to “establish a way to bring reconciliation to the church that would involve visiting each presbytery.” The denomination’s stated clerk, the Rev. Gradye Parsons, said that while he couldn‘t immediately estimate the travel cost of such an effort, “the cost of not doing this is higher.”