In another example of Christian discord over gay inclusion, Presbyterian churches in Brazil and Peru have ended their partnerships with the Presbyterian Church (USA) after the U.S. denomination changed its constitution in March to allow clergy to celebrate same-sex marriages.
The loss of the South American partnerships comes on top of the 50 U.S. congregations that formally split from the 1.8 million-member denomination since the church policy changed, PCUSA officials say.
Mexico stopped partnering with the denomination after it allowed the ordination of sexually active gays and lesbians in 2011.
BY CHANGING THE definition of marriage in its constitution from “between a man and a woman” to “between two people, traditionally a man and a woman,” the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has joined a number of other religious groups in the U.S. in allowing same-sex marriage.
In so doing, the 1.75 million-member denomination completed a dramatic turnaround on marriage equality. In 2012—at a time when same-sex marriage was legal in only a handful of states—the 220th PC(USA) General Assembly was so deeply divided on the issue that it merely called for two years of “serious study and discernment” of Christian marriage.
The 2014 General Assembly—with nearly two dozen states by then having legalized same-sex marriage—voted 429-175 to recommend the constitutional change. By March of this year, the requisite majority of the PC(USA)’s 172 presbyteries (regional governing bodies) had ratified the proposal.
Reaction to the change was immediate, and predictable.
“The change aligns the church’s constitution with a reality that has long been true: Both same-gender and opposite-gender couples have been living in relationships that demonstrate covenant faithfulness, shared discipleship, and mutual love,” said the Covenant Network of Presbyterians, a group that since its founding in 1997 has been working for the full inclusion of LGBTQ Presbyterians in the church. “We rejoice that all couples can now see those relationships solemnized before God and the Christian community in marriage, at the discretion of ministers and sessions.”
The new constitutional language grants full discretion to ministers to decide whether they will perform same-sex marriages and to church sessions (congregational governing bodies) to authorize the use of church property for such ceremonies.
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The Presbyterian Church (USA) has removed from its website a booklet that many Jewish groups have criticized as hostile to Israel and denigrating to Judaism.
“Zionism Unsettled,” published in January by the church-chartered Israel/Palestine Mission Network, is a history and commentary on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that paints Israel as the aggressor and describes Zionism as inherently racist and theologically flawed.
The booklet played a role last month in the denomination’s debate on divesting from three American companies that, divestment proponents say, profit from Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories.
Today is Religious Freedom Day — a day to celebrate the adoption of Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia Statute for Establishing Religious Freedom. Why celebrate it?
Celebrate because our government does not use our tax dollars to propagate religion, something Jefferson found “sinful and tyrannical.” This does not mean that you have a right to stop any government action that you happen to think violates your religious beliefs — a ridiculous claim repeated during last year’s battle over insurance coverage for contraceptives.
The question now is whether these breakaway groups signal a seismic shift in American Protestantism, or just a few fissures in the theological terrain.
In some ways, the rifts are nothing new. American Protestants have been splintering since Roger Williams left Plymouth Colony in the 1630s, said Nancy Ammerman, a sociologist of religion at Boston University.
Yet the schisms counter a 20th-century trend in which ethnic and regional Protestant groups merged to form big-tent denominations such as the ELCA and PC(USA).
"What we may be experiencing at this point is the limit of that movement to draw a lot of diversity under one umbrella," said Ammerman, author of Pillars of Faith: American Congregations and Their Partners.