The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)'s official embrace of same-sex marriage at its General Assembly meeting in Detroit, Michigan, Thursday has sparked a wide array of responses. From utter shock and dismay to jubilant rejoicing, observers are divided on the denomination's decision to bless gay unions.
Consider the response from Mark Tooley, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, a conservative Think Tank. Tooley believes the matrimonial amendment, while being touted by some as a progressive step in the right direction, will eventually lead to the denomination's demise.
"By overturning natural marriage the PCUSA is only accelerating its already fast-paced demise. It will become even smaller, whiter and older," he said, according to Charisma News. "Only declining denominations reject historic Christian standards and in nearly every case that rejection reinforces the decline."
Tooley added, "Who respects a church that only echoes the secular world?"
The audience takes part in an opening prayer at the 221st General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church at Cobo Hall, in Detroit, Thursday, June 19, 2014. The top legislative body of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) voted by large margins to recognize same-sex marriage as Christian in the church constitution, adding language that marriage can be the union of "two people," not just "a man and a woman." (AP Photo/The Detroit News, David Guralnick)
And he's not alone. The Fellowship of Presbyterians, a conservative group under the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) umbrella, wrote a letter Friday addressing the denomination's decision to allow clergy to perform gay unions, saying that it is "grieved" by the move.
"We grieve these actions by the General Assembly. We believe we will look back on this day and see the error of these decisions," the letter read. "But an Assembly of our denomination has spoken, and now we must move ahead without compromising compassion or conviction."
Despite intense disagreement, the letter urged Christians not to respond in any way "that would mar the image of Christ."
Others, though, have praised the decision to allow clergy to marry gay couples in states where same-sex unions are legal.
"This is a profound decision that will have a meaningful impact on the lives of thousands of couples and families," Donna Red Wing, executive director of One Iowa, a gay rights group, said in a statement.
"More and more, we are seeing people of faith embrace the freedom to marry. And so, it only makes sense that the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) — one of the largest Christian groups in the nation — makes this important step toward equality."
And Jon Essex, pastor of Memorial Presbyterian Church in Bay City, Michigan, echoed this sentiment. While his state doesn't permit same-sex marriage, he said that his church is prepared to offer gay matrimonies if and when the time comes.
"God loves everybody," he told MLive.com. "There's got to be someone out there that someone can fall in love with, and if they happen to be of the same sex, that's God's will as well."
The proposed amendment passed the General Assembly with 76 percent supporting it and 24 percent standing in opposition.
But it is not yet officially on the books, as the majority of the denomination's 172 regional presbyteries will need to approve it in the next year, USA Today reported.
Presbyteries will also reportedly have the ability to decide for themselves whether marriage should be confined to one man and one woman or simply be defined as a union between two individuals.
Young Adult Advisor Scott Overacker, of Roanoke, VA., front, adds his voice to the debate on whether the church should recognize same-sex marriage at the 221st General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church at Cobo Hall, in Detroit, Thursday, June 19, 2014. (AP Photo/The Detroit News, David Guralnick)
The decision might be a shock to some, though signs that the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) was headed in this direction have been evident for quite some time.
It comes after the denomination's landmark decision in 2011 to ordain openly gay clergy in same-sex relationships. Even before Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) made the latest change, the denomination was suffering losses, with 428 of the denomination's 10,000 churches leaving or folding after the ordination amendment.
Consider Menlo Park Presbyterian Church in Menlo Park, Calif., a California megachurch that recently decided to spend nearly $9 million to leave the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) over central theological disagreements.
Senior Pastor John Ortberg told his congregation during a sermon in February that staffers were prepared to make monumental personal sacrifices, all in the name of upholding their Christian worldview.
“This week I met with [church leaders] Scott Scruggs and Grace Griffin … and we were talking about where the church is, and Scott said to me, ‘I’ll move out of my house if that’ll help,’” Ortberg said. “Grace is in a home her family owns, but she said, ‘I’ll work without a salary if that would help.’”
Gay marriage wasn't at the forefront of the reasons given for the split, though the church cited major scriptural and theological differences with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
Some observers believe that the 428 churches that have left so far only account for the beginning of the denomination's demise. Only time will tell how the gay marriage amendment plays out.
(H/T: USA Today)