Other Christian leaders tell National Review Online they are not eager to follow the nation’s largest Presbyterian denomination in saying yes to same-sex marriage.
At its 221st general assembly in Detroit Friday, the Presbyterian Church (USA) (PCUSA), which represents 1.7 million American Presbyterians, recognized same-sex marriage as Christian, adding constitutional language to reflect that marriage can be the union of “two people,” not just “a man and a woman.”
The passage of this Authoritative Interpretation immediately approves PCUSA clergy to officiate marriages for same-sex couples. PCUSA already sanctioned the blessing of same-sex unions and has ordained non-celibate gays since 2011. Nineteen states and the District of Columbia recognize same-sex marriage.
While this change accords with the liberal tradition of PCUSA, many other denominations, inlcuding another major Presbyterian sect, remain steadfast in opposition to same-sex marriage. Why do some denominations officially hold a traditional position on marriage while other faith communities, along with most Americans (55 percent in May), adopt a more liberal one?
Differing views of humanity and biblical authority help explain why faith communities vary on the morality of homosexuality and same-sex marriage. The Pew Research Center published a report last week showing the breakdown of different religious groups on the issue.
Many denominations with a traditional doctrine of sexuality tend to interpret Scripture in its original context, maintaining the worth and dignity of the human person but including a traditional understanding of gender and marriage as an essential part of that narrative.
The Roman Catholic view of sexuality derives from Scripture but is also supported by natural law and church tradition. Ed Mechmann, deputy director of public policy for the Archdiocese of New York, tells National Review Online, “It’s an anthropology, encompassing our purpose in life and how we relate to each other.”
In the Catholic account of the creation narrative, God designed the sexes to be complementary.
“Because of that, we would view any kind of sexual relationship or act that doesn’t fit into that, not properly ordered toward their proper end,” Mechmann said. For orthodox Catholics, gender is integrated into human personhood, so that it would be “impossible” for scriptural interpretation to evolve on this issue.
Mechmann added, “We’re not Scripture-only; we look at this with a combination faith and reason.”
Southern Baptists agree that the creation narrative holds the key for understanding gender as a product of being made in God’s image, providing the pattern for heterosexual monogamous marriage. They preserve a Scripture-only doctrine, believing that the Bible is the sole authority on human relationships.
Roger Oldham, a spokesman for the Southern Baptist Convention, tells NRO that “the Southern Baptist Convention has been very clear on its view of the role and clarity of the Bible” on the issue of homosexuality and same-sex marriage.
The more conservative Presbyterian Church in America, unlike the liberal Presbyterian Church (USA), also still officially condemns homosexual marriage and homosexuality. The PCA includes about 370,000 members. In its 1999 resolution regarding the gay agenda, it calls homosexuality a “perversion” that is “unnatural” and “degrading.”
Churches that support same-sex marriage often believe Scripture to be divinely inspired but either not fixed in meaning or not authoritative, or neither. PCUSA now believes that a proper interpretation of scripture accommodates the homosexual lifestyle.
Alex McNiell, the transgender executive director of More Light Presbyterians, tells NRO he is pleased that the PCUSA decision favors same-sex marriage.
“What I appreciate about PCUSA is that we value the opportunity to come together and discuss how we’re feeling God’s call,” says McNiell, whose group has worked nearly 40 years for acceptance of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer/questioning (LGBTQ) people and their lifestyles in the church. “Many people who have studied the Scripture in the history of our church have decided that some of the meanings we’ve given haven’t been as faithful an interpretation as it could have been.”
– Celina Durgin is a Franklin Center intern at National Review Online.