US Presbyterian pastors free to marry same sex couples

By Savi Hensman
June 21, 2014

Pastors can, if they wish, marry same-sex couples in areas where this is legal, the Presbyterian Church (USA) has decided. The general assembly also called for a change in how marriage is defined, if a majority of presbyteries agree.

Many are delighted by this decision though some object strongly. It reflects a shift in many denominations internationally in which the theology of partnership has been freely discussed. Growing numbers of worshippers have come to believe that celebrating same-sex partnerships is right, though views differ. (

Increasingly such churches are allowing some freedom to ministers or elders and congregations, a middle ground which allows people with varying views to remain in fellowship.

“Worship is a central element of the pastoral care of the people of God,” the assembly resolved, and “freedom of conscience in the interpretation of Scripture” has “deep roots in our Reformed tradition and theology.” Where the civil authorities allow same-sex couples to marry, teaching elders may – but do not have to – “participate in any such marriage they believe the Holy Spirit calls them to perform.”

The Assembly also recommended a change of language in the Book of Order to indicate that “marriage involves a unique commitment between two people, traditionally a man and a woman.”

“The Church affirmed all its faithful members today. This vote is an answer to many prayers for the Church to recognise love between committed same-sex couples,” said Alex McNeill, executive director of More Light Presbyterians, which has campaigned for change.

In time, Christians may hope that the Holy Spirit, who is believed to guide followers of Christ into all truth (John 16.13), will bring about consensus on this issue. Until then, recognising diverse perspectives while upholding the dignity and safety of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people offers a wise way forward.

* Church view on sexuality: recovering the middle ground


© Savitri Hensman is a widely published Christian commentator on politics, welfare, religion and more. An Ekklesia associate, she works in the equalities and care sector

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