The Presbyterian Church (USA) has been holding its General Assembly this past week in Pittsburgh, and one of the overtures on the floor was a motion to redefine the definition of marriage as between “a man and a woman” to “two people.” If passed, it would have required the denomination’s 173 presbyteries to vote to ratify the change or not. Just a year ago, the church ratified changes in ordination standards to allow LGBTQ folks to be ordained, which in itself was a huge step forward.
I sat and watched the live stream of yesterday’s proceedings, hoping to see history in the making, but in the end the motion failed, by a vote of 308 to 338, 30 votes are what separated sending the issue to the full church. A two percent margin. So close, but so far. In the hour after the vote, I followed, and engaged in the twitterverse discussion of the issue. Of those using the #ga220 hash-tag, the vast majority were profoundly disappointed. There were numerous references to the fact that the young adult advisory delegates (YAAD) cast their non-binding advisory votes overwhelmingly in support of the measure. 75% of YAAD supported it. And there was fear that these young adults would leave the church because the motion failed.
I looked at it differently. A mere 30 votes out of some 600 cast separated defeat from victory. The church itself is very much divided on the issue, as the vote pointed out. And as a result, it strikes me that it may be OK that it did not pass just yet. Each year more and more support is growing for marriage equality. With younger Americans almost entirely united behind the issue. While it is profoundly disappointing that all of God’s children are not treated equally by the church, I am confident this is just a matter of time.
And as a relatively new Presbyterian, who spent a lifetime in the Catholic church, I am just completely amazed by the ability of the church itself to engage, deliberate, and debate issues in public. Sure its messy, its frustrating, but it is church democracy. And that is a powerful thing.
In the end, 30 votes separates the past from the future. Presbyterians adhere to the mantra of “Reformed and always reforming.” Reform sometimes takes time. But we’ll get there.