The debate on gay rights that has raged in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) for more than three decades culminated in the recent ratification of a measure allowing the ordination of gay and lesbian ministers and lay leaders while giving regional church bodies the ability to decide the issue for themselves.
The denomination is the fourth mainline Protestant church to allow gay ordination, after the United Church of Christ, the Episcopal Church, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. It was the fourth time the church had voted on issues related to gay ordination, and the votes may reflect a shift of attitudes in the church and the broader society, reports the Los Angeles Times (May 11). Since the last time the matter was brought to a vote in 2008–09, some 19 presbyteries have switched their votes from “no” to “yes,” including some in relatively conservative areas, such as central Nebraska and northern Alabama.
The e-newsletter Religion Today (May 14) reports that while gay rights activists say the wind is at their backs with such a decision, other observers note that the Presbyterian vote may be less of a bellwether of future change than the completion of a trend that has made the rounds among exclusively mainline church circles. The remaining United Methodist Church is unlikely to give up its opposition to gay ordination anytime soon, since it is an international body with a significant representation of “global South” churches opposed to such measures.
The other largest American denominations, such as the Southern Baptist Convention and the Catholic Church, are not likely to consider such changes in the near future. “There is not another denomination I see on the horizon right now that is on the cusp of this,” said Robert P. Jones, CEO of the Public Religion Research Institute, a non-partisan research and consulting firm.