“Presbyterians approve gay marriage” is a top headline this morning. It is an imprecise and misleading headline. One Presbyterian denomination, the PCUSA (yes, it is the largest one) approved calling marriage a contract “between two people, traditionally a man and a woman.” No doubt this is considered a significant victory by the LGBT community, but it does not equal Presbyterians approving of homosexual marriage. First, it represents that the majority of presbyteries in one Presbyterian denomination -- 86 of 171 -- approved the change. It remains to be seen how many of the 85 others will approve or disapprove. Second, the effect of the decision is that PCUSA clergy can perform same-sex marriages in U.S. states where they are legal. It does not compel them to do so. Third, this decision may lead to a split within the denomination. Fourth, the PCUSA, though the largest single Presbyterian group, is only one of over 30-something Presbyterian denominations in the United States.
The PCUSA has over 1.7 million members, but is in numerical decline. According to the Washington Post article, the church “has lost 37 percent of its membership since 1992,” and some sources say 50 percent since the mid-1970s. In contrast the more conservative Presbyterian Church in America, now with about 400,000 members, has experienced steady growth since it was founded in 1973. (In fairness to the PCUSA, many "mainline" American churches are in decline whether conservative or liberal.)