The New York Times reports today that after three decades of debate over its stance on homosexuality, members of one of the largest Presbyterian denominations in the United States voted on Tuesday to change the definition of marriage in the church’s constitution to include same-sex marriage.
The vote amends the church’s constitution to broaden marriage from being between “a man and a woman” to “two people, traditionally a man and a woman.”
John Henry Newman reflected once on the way in which Churches hold on to – or fail to hold on to – the doctrines which marked out the interpretations of the teaching of Christ on which they made their stand:
Forms, subscriptions, or Articles of religion are indispensable when the principle of life is weakly. Thus Presbyterianism has maintained its original theology in Scotland where legal subscriptions are enforced, while it has run into Arianism or Unitarianism where that protection is away. We have yet to see whether the Free Kirk can keep its present theological ground.
What might he think today with this news from America about that Church’s ‘evolution’?
He identified the Catholic Church as the one Church which had the ‘inherent vigour’ which enabled her to maintain her true identity while at the same time developing her doctrines. This was derived in part from her faithfulnessto the principle of tradition and to her rootedness in the living idea of her foundation. Is she now the only Christian Church left which holds to the teaching on the nature and pupose of human sexuality enshrined in the Judaeo-Christian vision of mankind?
The stronger and more living is an idea, that is, the more powerful hold it exercises on the minds of men, the more able is it to dispense with safeguards, and trust to itself against the danger of corruption. As strong frames exult in their agility, and healthy constitutions throw off ailments, so parties or schools that live can afford to be rash, and will sometimes be betrayed into extravagances, yet are brought right by their inherent vigour.
Sadly, for whatever reason, the Presbyterian Church – in America – has now moved well beyond Arianism and is now re-reading the Decalogue itself in ways which must surely have Jean Calvin and John Knox spinning in their graves.
Correction: The original version of this story incorrectly described the Presbyterian Church (USA). It is the largest Presbyterian denomination in the U.S.