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Paper vs. Practice: Mainline Reactions to Same-Sex Marriage

  • Rusty Benson Agape Press
  • 2004 27 May
Paper vs. Practice: Mainline Reactions to Same-Sex Marriage

Senator Mark Dayton (D-MN) is a Presbyterian. However, on February 28, he told a gathering of homosexual parents that those who oppose same-sex marriage are "forces of bigotry and hatred." Two days later he invoked numerous Bible passages to argue against a Federal Marriage Amendment, which would protect a scriptural view of marriage.

Dayton is one of many American churchgoers and leaders whose personal opinion about same-sex marriage is out of accord with his own church's creeds. Historic Presbyterian doctrine holds that marriage is to be only between one man and one woman.

While such differences in doctrine and practice threaten schism in mainline churches, many biblically conservative groups have reaffirmed orthodox teachings about the nature of marriage.  The following is a survey of selected church positions that define stated beliefs about marriage.

The Roman Catholic Church

Roman Catholics offer what is arguably the most comprehensive and lengthy declaration in Christendom in support of a biblical view of marriage. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, an authoritative reference to Roman Catholic belief, states, "Everyone, man and woman, should acknowledge and accept his sexual identity. Physical, moral, and spiritual difference and complementarity are oriented toward the goods of marriage and the flourishing of family life. The harmony of the couple and of society depends in part on the way in which the complementarity, needs, and mutual support between the sexes are lived out."

In the section "The Love of Husband and Wife" the catechism teaches: "Sexuality is ordered to the conjugal love of man and woman. In marriage the physical intimacy of the spouses becomes a sign and pledge of spiritual communion."

The catechism also declares homosexual acts to be "intrinsically disordered," "contrary to the natural law," and "under no circumstances [to] be approved."

The Roman Catholic Church is the largest Christian group in the U.S. with 64.6 million members.

Baptist Tradition

The largest U.S. Protestant denomination is the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) with 16.4 million members. Although the SBC is careful to state that Scripture is the final authority on all matters of faith and practice, they offer this statement in their Baptist Faith and Message: "Marriage is the uniting of one man and one woman in covenant commitment for a lifetime. It is God's unique gift to reveal the union between Christ and His church and to provide for the man and the woman in marriage the framework for intimate companionship, the channel of sexual expression according to biblical standards, and the means for procreation of the human race."

A Policy Statement on Family Life from American Baptist Churches in the USA, membership approximately 1.5 million, says: "We affirm that God intends marriage to be a monogamous, life-long, one flesh union of a woman and a man ...."

The National Baptist Convention USA, a large African-American denomination (five million members) did not respond to phone calls concerning this article.  However, on March 23, two dozen African-American pastors rallied at a Missionary Baptist church in Atlanta, Georgia, to distance themselves from the claim by homosexual activists that same-sex marriage is a civil right. The pastors signed a declaration supporting a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage and promoting marriage as only between one man and one woman.

Wesleyan Tradition

The United Methodist Church (UMC), with 8.25 million members, is the second largest Protestant denomination in the country. For 30 years the UMC has been a battleground for homosexual activists, who have gained major concessions in church life.

Still, the UMC Book of Discipline, Social Principles section, says: "We affirm the sanctity of the marriage covenant that is expressed in love, mutual support, personal commitment, and shared fidelity between a man and a woman."

Ironically, Rev. Karen Dammann, the lesbian UMC pastor in Washington recently found not guilty of trespassing church law, was recently "married" to her homosexual partner.

The Church of the Nazarene, a smaller and theologically more conservative denomination from the Wesleyan tradition, is unequivocal in their support for traditional marriage. Their 2001-2005 Manual states the denomination's official position: "The institution of marriage was ordained by God in the time of man's innocence, and is, according to apostolic authority, ‘honourable in all'; it is the mutual union of one man and one woman for fellowship, helpfulness, and the propagation of the race."

Pentecostal Tradition

The Church of God in Christ (COGIC) is the nation's third largest Protestant church (5.49 million members) and largest African-American denomination. In a statement addressing same-sex marriage, issued on March 30 from their international headquarters in Memphis, Tennessee, Presiding Bishop G. E. Patterson said COGIC "stands firmly against same-sex marriages because we believe it to be contrary to the teaching of the Holy Scriptures."

The statement from COGIC also took issue with those who argue that same-sex marriage is a civil right: "Homosexuality is a lifestyle; it is not to be compared with a minority ethnic group such as Blacks or Jews. It is a lifestyle that has destroyed every civilization of the past that embraced it."

Assemblies of God (AOG) is the eighth largest Protestant denomination in the U.S. with 2.68 million members. Their Position Paper on Homosexuality includes this belief statement: "The biblical order for human sexual expression is that of an intimate physical relationship to be shared exclusively within a lifelong marriage covenant -- a heterosexual and monogamous relationship." Position Papers are official documents of the AOG and have been approved by its highest legislative bodies.

A smaller denomination in the Pentecostal tradition, The Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee), instructs their membership that: "Marriage is ordained of God and is a spiritual union in which a man and a woman are joined by God to live together as one" (Genesis 2:24; Mark 10:7).

Anglican Tradition

Those working for society's full acceptance of homosexuality have made no greater institutional inroads than in the liberal Episcopal Church USA. Case in point, the denomination consecrated a practicing homosexual man as bishop during its annual convention last August.

Despite the Episcopal Church's leading role in promoting same-sex marriage, the official standard of the church, the Book of Common Prayer, in several passages refers solely to "woman and man" as those to be married. From the section titled The Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage: "Dearly beloved: We have come together in the presence of God to witness and bless the joining together of this man and this woman in Holy Matrimony .... The union of husband and wife in heart, body, and mind is intended by God for their mutual joy; for the help and comfort given one another in prosperity and adversity; and, when it is God's will, for the procreation of children and their nurture in the knowledge and love of the Lord."

In the Episcopal Church, the Book of Common Prayer is the definitive descriptive expression of Episcopal beliefs.

Reformed/Presbyterian Tradition

The largest Presbyterian body in the nation, The Presbyterian Church in the United States (PCUSA), maintains doctrinal standards which state that a Christian marriage is one in which "a lifelong commitment is made by a woman and a man to each other ...."

However, the PCUSA supports extending "gay and lesbian couples access to the civil status of civil marriage and to share fully and equally in the rights and responsibilities of that status," according to Rev. Elenora Gidding, director of the Washington, DC, office of the PCUSA. Gidding made the comment at a March 3 press conference prior to the U.S. Senate hearings on the Federal Marriage Amendment. She clearly stated that the PCUSA opposes such a constitutional amendment to protect the traditional definition of marriage.

As further evidence of support for the homosexual political agenda among PCUSA leadership, last summer the PCUSA named a radical feminist pastor to its highest elected post. Susan Andrews, pastor of Bradley Hills Presbyterian Church in Bethesda, Maryland, is on record as saying it is her "fondest dream" that the PCUSA remove its ban on ordaining practicing homosexuals.

PCUSA pastor Parker T. Williamson, editor-in-chief of the Presbyterian Layman, calls Andrew's selection an "unfortunate" vote by the General Assembly.

"Susan Andrews stands for everything that has caused the decline of this once great denomination," Williamson said. "She is part of an organization called the Covenant Network of Presbyterians that has been lobbying for the full inclusions of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered persons into the leadership of the church."

The Presbyterian Church In America (PCA) is a smaller, theologically conservative group that split from the liberal mainline church 30 years ago. Their primary expression of orthodoxy is the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF), written in the 1640s. The WCF chapter titled "Of Marriage and Divorce" begins with the statement: "Marriage is to be between one man and one woman ...."

At their General Assembly in June 2003, the PCA used that WCF language in a resolution to reaffirm the denomination's strong stand for a Biblical view of marriage.

Lutheran Tradition

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) is the fourth largest Protestant group in the U.S. with 5.3 million members. According to, a website that "promotes religious diversity as a positive cultural value," ELCA is one of the most liberal denominations in the country.

In 2001 the Churchwide Assembly called for the development of a study on homosexuality, which is due in 2005. The purpose of the study is "to deal with the blessing of same-gender unions and the rostering of persons in committed gay or lesbian relationships."

A companion denominational study guide titled "Journey Together Faithfully" asks ELCA members "to consider how this church should respond to the requests to bless same-sex unions and to ordain, consecrate, or commission people in committed same-sex unions."

Meanwhile, the document A Message on Sexuality: Some Common Convictions, adopted by the Church Council in 1996, states: "Marriage is a lifelong covenant of faithfulness between a man and a woman."

The smaller Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod, remains faithful in belief and practice to biblical teachings on marriage. A pastoral letter in March 2004 from Dr. Gerald B. Kieschnick, president of The Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod, states, "We are against [same-sex marriage] in no uncertain terms. The definition of marriage must always be what it always has been: the loving, permanent relationship between one man and one woman .... If it takes an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to preserve the timeless and holy definition of marriage in our country, then I am in favor of it."

 Rusty Benson, a regular contributor to AgapePress, is associate editor of AFA Journal, a monthly publication of the American Family Association.  This article appeared in the May 2004 issue. © 2004 Agape Press.