Presbyterians in the D.C. area have for the most part welcomed their church’s decision to officially recognize same-sex marriages.
Rev. Jeffrey Krehbiel of Church of the Pilgrims near Dupont Circle said Monday he is “very pleased with the result” of the Presbyterian Church (USA) Office of the General Assembly’s March 17 approval of a change to language within the denomination’s constitution to describe marriage as what the Associated Press described as a “commitment between two people.”
The Presbyterian General Assembly, the church’s top legislative body, last year approved the redefinition of marriage within its constitution. The majority of the denominations’ 171 presbyteries, however, needed to ratify the proposal.
It will take effect on June 21.
“It’s been something we’ve been working on for several years,” Krehbiel says.
Alex McNeill, a transgender man who is president of More Light Presbyterians, a group for LGBT people in the church, also welcomed the recognition of same-sex marriages.
“We greeted the news on Tuesday joyfully,” McNeill, who lives in Hyattsville, Md.., says. “There are so many folks within our denominations who have been waiting decades for the church to recognize their marriages and their families.”
Rev. G. Wilson Gunn, Jr., general presbyter of the National Capital Presbytery, which oversees 108 churches in the D.C. metropolitan area, says there are “several pastors and elders who both supported the change in our church constitution to allow same-gender marriage and those who opposed the issue.”
“We include in our presbytery significant leaders on both sides of this issue,” he says.
A newspaper in Upstate New York on March 23 reported that a local church has begun to formally separate itself from the Presbyterian Church (USA) in response to the decision to accept same-sex marriages. The Associated Press noted that 428 churches either dissolved or entered more conservative denominations in the two years after the Presbyterians allowed gays and lesbians to become pastors.
Franklin Graham, son of Rev. Billy Graham, is among those who have criticized the church for redefining marriage.
“In his word, the Bible, God has already defined marriage, as well as sin, and we should obey that rather than looking for ways to redefine it according to the desires of our culture,” wrote the younger Graham on his Facebook page. “Marriage is defined as between a man and a woman — end of discussion. Anything else is a sin against God, and He will judge all sin one day.”
Jim Moseley, executive presbyter of the New Castle Presbytery, which includes congregations in Delaware and Maryland’s Eastern Shore, says members of his presbytery earlier this month met and voted to support the redefinition of marriage.
Moseley, like Gunn, nevertheless acknowledged some within his presbytery — or regional district — do not support the decision to accept gay unions. The executive presbyter of the New Castle Presbytery told the Blade there are some within his jurisdiction who would possibly refuse to officiate same-sex weddings.
“Some sessions if pressed would stand on the ground that they are in opposition and would probably stand in opposition to having a same-sex marriage in their church,” Moseley says. “That would be their prerogative. No one has reported a case to me though.”
Craig N. Palmer, transitional general presbyter of the Presbytery of Baltimore, says the history of his group has been “generally in support” of changes to the church’s constitution with regard to marriage, ordination and other issues.
“We’re trying to stay engaged with everyone around this issue,” Palmer says. “I’m hopeful that as we move forward in our own journey as disciples of our Lord, that we can stay in conversation around these issues.”
Krehbiel said some members of his church have questioned what he calls “the hetero-normativity of the model of marriage.”
“There are some who are unsure whether marriage equality is the most important issue facing the LGBTQ community,” he says.
Decision to redefine marriage ‘joyous’ for LGBT Presbyterians
The Presbyterian Church (USA) since 2011 has allowed openly LGBT people to hold leadership positions within the denomination. The church last June effectively lifted its ban on pastors performing marriages in jurisdictions where it is legal.
The amendment to the denomination’s constitution contains a provision that states no clergy will be compelled to officiate a same-sex marriage.
Krehbiel was a commissioner of the church’s 2012 General Assembly that took place in Pittsburgh.
He says he was somewhat “surprised” the church moved so quickly on marriage, considering the reaction the issue received during the Pittsburgh meeting.
“The church was so afraid of taking this step,” Krehbiel says. “They were barely willing to have a full debate.”
Others with whom the Blade spoke said they were far less surprised.
“I imagine most people saw this decision coming,” Palmer says.
The Presbyterian Church is now the largest Protestant denomination in the world to recognize same-sex marriages and officially allow their clergy to perform them.
Presbyterian leaders with whom the Blade spoke say the decision is a reflection of broader societal changes around the issue that have taken place over the last decade.
Gays and lesbians in Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina and more than a dozen other states have received marriage rights since the General Assembly last year endorsed the redefinition of marriage.
McNeill told the Blade that some Presbyterian clergy who decided to officiate civil unions and marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples “put their ordinations on the line.” He says the decision to acknowledge gay nuptials no longer puts them in that situation.
“For some of those clergy who put their ordinations on the line it really is a significant day,” McNeill says.
The Pittsburgh Presbytery charged Rev. Janet Edwards with violating Biblical teachings and the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church after she officiated the wedding of two women in 2005.
Edwards was acquitted of the charges in 2008, and she has subsequently lobbied the denomination to acknowledge same-sex marriage.
“Today, the words of Matthew 19:26 ring true for me: with You, all things are possible. Hallelujah,” wrote Edwards in a blog post for More Light Presbyterians after the church voted to acknowledge same-sex marriages. “What a privilege to be one of the cloud of witnesses rejoicing in this new day! Thank you for this awesome opportunity to participate in a moment of true reformation.”
Palmer says he thinks there are broader impacts of the church’s decision as well.
“My sense is that this a pretty joyous thing to have had happen,” he says. “As we’ve seen in other denominations, this has been a pretty challenging conversation for people of faith and for our denomination to make that shift. I would think that folks in our community of faith who are gay and lesbian would see as a welcome action.”
“At least within gay-friendly congregations, it means the end of being the subject of debate,” he says. “I think that era is over.”