East Tenn. leaders divided after Presbyterian Church approves same-sex marriage

KNOXVILLE (WATE) – The Presbyterian Church (USA) is now changing its stance on gay marriage. Leaders in the church have been split on the issue, but a tie breaker vote came in last night and now the majority of the denomination is in favor of allowing same-sex marriage.

Related story: Presbyterians approve gay marriage in church constitution

This means the church is going to change its Book of Order, which is like the church’s constitution. The vote basically redefines the church’s definition of marriage. It used to say marriage was “between a man and a woman,” but now it will say “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.”

The change is something that has church leaders here in East Tennessee divided.

Rev. Dr. William Pender of Knoxville’s First Presbyterian Church
Rev. Dr. William Pender of Knoxville’s First Presbyterian Church

“I don’t think it was a good move for the church. I think it creates a lot of difficulty,” said Rev. Dr. William Pender of Knoxville’s First Presbyterian Church.

Even though he doesn’t agree with the move, he said it shows the church is recognizing where our culture and relationships are today, but he doesn’t personally think that’s reflective of the bible.

“I voted against the amendment. Not because I felt like folks were being un-Christian or un-biblical. I just disagreed with their interpretation of scripture,” he said.

He added that the Bible also has passages supporting slavery and condemning women; he said the church has moved past those, similarly to how it is now moving past condemning same-sex marriage. Pender said the change adopts a more informed, progressive interpretation of scripture, but it’s not a change leaders in East Tennessee see eye to eye on.

East Tennessee’s Presbytery voted 61-57 in favor of the change.

The change won’t affect all Presbyterians, but only the Presbyterian Church of the United States (PCUSA). The Presbyterian Church of America (PCA) split off in the 70s because of differences in theology, which one local pastor said are highlighted in this new stance on marriage – one his church doesn’t support.

“We disagreed on whether or not the Bible has errors or not. We in the Presbyterian Church in America believe that the Bible is without error,” said Seth Hammond, Christ Covenant Presbyterian’s Assistant Pastor.

Seth Hammond, Christ Covenant Presbyterian’s Assistant Pastor
Seth Hammond, Christ Covenant Presbyterian’s Assistant Pastor

He said there are seven passages in the Bible that speak against homosexuality, and because the PCA doesn’t believe the Bible has error, it is against the new stance PCUSA has taken on marriage.

The change to the Book of Order does give the church an out. Same sex marriage within the PCUSA will now be an option, but not a requirement. As it can already do, the church will still be allowed to deny a wedding by “right of conscience.”

Same-sex marriage is still not recognized in Tennessee.

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