The 2 million member Presbyterian
Church (USA) for the first time on Sunday began welcoming
non-celibate gay clergy.
Church delegates meeting in Minneapolis
for their biennial convention last year agreed to allow the
ordination of non-celibate gay clergy, but narrowly rejected altering
the definition of marriage to include gay and lesbian couples. The
change needed to be ratified by a majority of the church's 173 U.S.
presbyteries before coming into force.
The deciding vote came in May, when the
liberal Minneapolis-St. Paul presbytery overwhelmingly approved the
measure, and the change took effect on Sunday.
“This Sunday, Presbyterians from
Seattle to Nashville are praising God and celebrating. Our church
has moved another step closer to fully embracing the love and
inclusion taught by Jesus Christ,” said the Rev. Janet Edwards of
More Light Presbyterians in a statement. “We know God is at work
when almost all presbyteries voted more strongly for the welcome and
inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender members than ever
before, in the history of the Presbyterian Church.”
Previously, the church required that
officers either be in a monogamous heterosexual marriage or remain
celibate. The new language removes any mention of sexuality.
“They're making this change amid a
larger cultural change. General public opinion on gay rights is
trending pretty dramatically in the liberal direction,” Mark
Chaves, a professor of sociology, religion and divinity at Duke
University told Reuters in May.
Other mainline Protestant denominations
in the United States have approved the ordination of gay clergy in
recent years, including the Episcopal Church, the Evangelical
Lutheran Church in America and the United Church of Christ.
The ordination of two gay bishops
prompted conservatives to split from the Episcopal Church and form
their own church.