The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has emerged from decades of being tossed to and fro on the issue of homosexuality and will move forward in amending the denomination's constitution to include acceptance of same-sex weddings.
Within the PCUSA are 171 regional presbyteries - local leadership - who have been voting on whether or not to change the words on marriage in the church's "Book of Order." Yesterday, the PCUSA reached the majority needed when 85 presbyteries voted in favor of changing the constitution's wording to "between two people, traditionally a man and a woman."
"I'm saddened by the passing of the amendment," said Paul Detterman, national director of The Fellowship Community - a network of Presbyterian churches and leaders seeking to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ. "I think we are listening to each other rather than listening to Scripture and the voice of God through Scripture . . . We've eroded some of our ability to stand on the teachings of Scripture by this vote."
For now, the change protects clergy who do not wish to perform same-sex ceremonies, but the decision is weighty as it would be very difficult to reverse.
"Changing the constitutional language regarding the definition of Christian marriage would take the approval both of an assembly and a majority vote by the presbyteries," wrote Leslie Scanlon in The Presbyterian Outlook. "It also matters to many Presbyterians that their denomination is willing to put language affirming marriage equality directly in the denomination's constitution."
Many in the PCUSA are thrilled about the change.
"Some of us are calling it liberation day," said Rev. William Blake Spencer, pastor of Ocean Heights Presbyterian Church in Egg Harbor Township, N.J. Spencer is homosexual and voted with his presbytery on Tuesday. "It will be the last L.G.B.T.Q. issue that we debate and fight about, and finally our welcome comes without a 'but' or an 'if.'"
But Paul Young, who voted with the East Tennessee congregation in Chattanooga last week, doesn't agree.
"The authority of scripture is supposed to be our leading guide, especially in times when we have to make difficult decisions," he said.
Alex McNeill, an openly transgender man and executive director of More Light Presbyterians, believes that this change will make same-sex couples feel affirmed.
"Our Book of Order is a grounding of what our values are," McNeill said. "It's the Presbyterian Church's public commitment of affirming those who are called to marriage. Before, there was a caveat . . . We are affirming as a denomination that we've talked about this, we've prayed about it, we've listened to the Spirit, and 51 percent of us at least are in a place where we need to update our standards."
As McNeill said, the Book of Order is written by man - leaders throughout the PCUSA. But true followers and disciplers of Christ are called to obey His word - not those of their fellow believers.
The caveat McNeill refers to is also a warning from the creator against leaning on one's own understanding.
God's word says in II Timothy 3 that all scriptures is "...given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly equipped for all good works."
What God's word does not say - in any book - is that it must be accompanied by a Book of Order or the like for a congregation to determine its values.
Currently the PCUSA's Book of Confessions includes the Heidelberg Catechism, which answers the question, "Can those who do not turn to God from their ungrateful, impenitent life be saved?" The response in the catechism comes from I Corinthians 6, and says "Surely you know that the unjust will never come into possession of the kingdom of God. Make no mistake: no fornicator or idolater, none who are guilty either of adultery or of homosexual perversion, no thieves or grabbers or drunkards or slanderers or swindlers, will possess the kingdom of God."
The latest amendment to the PCUSA's constitution, 14-F, opens with, "Marriage involves a unique commitment between two people, traditionally a man and a woman, to love and support each other for the rest of their lives."
As Scanlon said, the decision to accept a new definition of marriage - one that openly abandons God's design - will be nearly impossible to reverse.
In updating its standards, as McNeill called it, the PCUSA joins the growing number of other alleged God-fearing groups of believers who chose to cave to mainstream ideas and interpretations of scripture, and instead order from an a la carte menu for Bible intake.
And even in such a detrimental decision, God gives a stern warning in Proverbs 14:12:
"There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death."