In 2005 reverend Janet Edwards performed a marriage between two women in a Presbyterian (USA) church in Pittsburgh. The move violated the denomination’s Book of Order and sparked a debate over homosexuality in the church. While the debate over gay marriage within the denomination is far from over, a major milestone in how the church sees homosexuals was crossed last night in Minneapolis.
The Twin Cities Area Presbytery voted last night to change the Book of Order, which serves as the church’s constitution, to no longer prohibit the ordination of sexually active gays and lesbians. The vote among pastors in that presbytery was the 149th vote taken in the 173 presbyteries of the Presbyterian Church (USA). The vote now stands at 87-62, giving the change a guaranteed majority.
The Pittsburgh Presbytery voted against the change last fall, which is a vote to leave in place language reading,“Those who are called to office in the church are to lead a life in obedience to Scripture and in conformity to the historic confessional standards of the church. Among these standards is the requirement to live either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman, or chastity in singleness.”
Edwards said the vote affirms to her that “God loves us all” but she admits it does not change the rules defining marriage as being between a man and a woman.
“The conversation around marriage will continue,” said Edwards. “What this will do is have in the Presbyterian Church, gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, and transgender members feel more at easy, as the bible says, take the basket off of there light.” Edwards believes that will allow other members to see the deep and loving commitment between those members, “which we all recognize as marriage.”
The debate over the last few years has brought about amazing change in the denomination said Edwards. Despite the fact that at least a third of the presbyteries across the country voted no, she believes the move will not split the church. “Our present moment invites us to have deep conversations… there is the real gift form God out there of our church being more unified than it has in a real long time,” said Edwards.
Individual presbyteries will still have the power to accept or deny anyone looking to be ordain. A ruling to deny could be appealed through the church's court system. That same court system could be used to appeal the ordination of an openly gay pastor. Further, a homosexual pastor ordain in one presbytery could be denied a transfer to another presbytery.