September 2012 – Some of America's most influential denominations met this summer to determine whether societal demands or obedience to scriptural authority will dominate their church policy regarding same sex marriage.
Episcopal Church (USA)
During its General Convention July 5-12, the Episcopal Church approved a "Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant" service for same sex unions. The church has recognized same sex unions since 2009, when it voted to permit such rites. However, this is the first time Episcopalians have established a church wide ceremony. The measure does allow bishops to prohibit the liturgy, but such a provision may not withstand homosexual protests.
In addition, the church passed an amendment giving the right of ordination to transgender individuals. Many Episcopal dioceses have already been ordaining homosexuals, but supporters of the amendment felt an explicit statement of anti-discrimination was needed. The Episcopal church is now the largest church body in the Unites States to formally sanction ordination and "marriage" of homosexuals.
United Methodist Church
At the United Methodist Church General Conference April 24 - May 5, the goal of liberals was securing the church's acceptance of homosexuality. However, the statement that homosexuality is "incompatible with Christian teaching" in the UMC's Book of Discipline was upheld by 61% of delegates. Likewise, a motion that the UMC agree to disagree on homosexuality, described as a "seductive substitute" by the Institute on Religion and Democracy, was defeated 53% to 47%.
Despite protests of gay rights activists who disrupted sessions of the conference, the UMC will continue to formally bar gay clergy and the blessing of same sex unions, although many Methodists have broken these rules and likely will continue that trend.
The UMC also rejected divestment of Israel by a two to one vote.
IRD credits this conservatism to the large number of African delegates, saying on its website that the UMC is "no longer a predominantly liberal U.S. denomination but now fully global," a trend that may "frustrate United Methodist liberals who have dominated the denomination for 50 years or more." Thirty percent of delegates were African, and IRD estimates 40% of delegates will be African when they next meet in 2016, "making any inroads into sexual liberalism almost impossible."
Presbyterian Church (USA)
At the 220th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) in July, amendments were introduced to reverse the ordination of openly gay clergy and to change the definition of marriage from between "a man and a woman" to "two people." Neither proposal passed, preserving both ordination of homosexuals and the traditional definition of marriage. The church also refused to allow same sex marriage in states, even where it is legal.
In other matters, PCUSA rejected the highly disputed divestment of Israel. The assembly also hosted an abortion rights luncheon, and passed a resolution against corporal punishment.
Southern Baptist Church
The Southern Baptist Convention maintained a pro-marriage stance, with nearly unanimous affirmation that marriage is an "exclusive union of one man and one woman." The SBC denounced equating gay rights with civil rights, saying homosexuals lack "distinguishing features of classes entitled to special protections."
Aside from that, the 2012 convention was largely characterized by theological skirmishes between "traditional" Southern Baptists and those within the SBC known as proponents of "New Calvinism."
In the midst of these debates, the SBC made a historically significant move, with Dr. Fred Luter (pictured at right) elected the first African-American president of the convention, which was originally founded after a split with northern Baptists over the issue of slavery.