Editor’s note: The Australian Prayer Network office is closed to allow staff to undertake major prayer assignments in restricted nations. This abridged newsletter was prepared prior to their departure for overseas and may therefore not contain up to date information. Full newsletter service will resume from 29th September.
PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH U.S.A. ENDORSES SAME-SEX MARRIAGE
The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) (PCUSA) became one of the largest Christian denominations in America to endorse gay marriage when its General Assembly voted in Detroit recently to allow pastors to conduct same-sex weddings and approved a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between “two people” rather than “a man and a woman.” The authorization for pastors to perform gay weddings takes effect immediately and applies only to ministers in the 19 states where the practice is legal. The measure passed by a vote of 317 (61 percent) to 238 (39 percent) and was classified as an “Authoritative Interpretation” of the PCUSA constitution.
A commissioner at a meeting of the General Assembly’s Civil Union and Marriage Issues Committee raised a point of order regarding the Authoritative Interpretation, noting that it appeared to contradict the constitution it purported to interpret. Currently the PCUSA constitution states, “Marriage is a civil contract between a woman and a man” as well as a “covenant” between “a man and a women” for Christians. The point of order, in parliamentary rules, was “not well taken.” Also in the Civil Union and Marriage Issues Committee meeting, a motion to read Scripture for 20 minutes before starting discussion of same-sex marriage was defeated 39-22, the PLC reported.
The General Assembly voted to amend the PCUSA constitution by a vote of 429 to 175, but the amendment will not take effect unless a majority of the denomination’s 172 presbyteries approve it. However, the departure of many conservative churches from the PCUSA as well as the amendment’s landslide victory at the General Assembly make approval seem likely. Hunter Farrell, director of Presbyterian World Mission, told the Committee that if passed, the amendment likely will lead 17 of the 54 organizations that partner with the PCUSA in world missions to sever their relationships with the denomination. Another 25 partner groups said the action would damage their relationship with the PCUSA, Farrell reported.
A similar measure approving gay marriage was defeated at the 2012 General Assembly 338-302. The Presbyterian Lay Committee (PLC) called the General Assembly’s endorsement of homosexuality “an abomination.” “In the name of 1.8 million Presbyterians nationwide, the General Assembly has committed an express repudiation of the Bible, the mutually agreed upon Confessions of the PCUSA, thousands of years of faithfulness to God’s clear commands, and the denominational ordination vows of each concurring commissioner. “The Presbyterian Lay Committee mourns these actions and calls on all Presbyterians to resist and protest them.
You should tell your pastor and the members of your session that you disapprove of these actions,” the statement continued. “You should refuse to fund the General Assembly, your synod, your presbytery and even your local church if those bodies have not explicitly and publicly repudiated these unbiblical actions. God will not be mocked and those who substitute their own felt desires for God’s unchangeable Truth will not be found guiltless before a holy God.” PCUSA leaders issued a letter to congregations in which they admitted that there is “both happiness and sadness” among Presbyterians regarding the gay-affirming votes.
The votes “came with much thought, discussion and prayer, and clearly the entire body that is the PC(USA) will be interpreting these actions for some time,” the letter stated. “Please know that the same triune God in whom we place our hope, faith and trust … is still in control, and that the Assembly’s action today is the result of deep discernment to hear God’s voice and discern God’s will.” Mark Tooley, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, an organization that seeks to foster renewal in mainline denominations, said that “by overturning natural marriage the PCUSA is only accelerating its already fast-paced demise. It will become even smaller, whiter and older.
“Only declining denominations reject historic Christian standards and in nearly every case that rejection reinforces the decline. Who respects a church that only echoes the secular world?” Tooley said. “Many faithful have already quit the PCUSA and many more now will. But some faithful will remain. May the Holy Spirit bless their witness and lay the groundwork for the PCUSA’s return someday to the teachings of the global church.”
R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said the PCUSA’s votes were so “lopsided” in part because theological conservatives have departed en masse from the denomination. Mohler said. “Approximately 300 churches have left the PCUSA just in the last three years.” Mohler said much news coverage of the PCUSA’s decisions will fail to note that most Christians oppose gay marriage. According to recent Pew Research Centre data, among denominations to oppose gay marriage are the Southern Baptist Convention, the American Baptist Churches, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, the Roman Catholic Church and the United Methodist Church.
MORE BRITS JOINED JIHAD THAN VOLUNTEERED FOR U,K. ARMY RESERVES
More British citizens joined the jihad in Syria and Iraq than signed up for the Army Reserves over the last twelve months. Whilst “several hundred” have gone to fight for militants in the Middle East, only 170 have enlisted for the British Army Reserves despite a major recruitment campaign.
Foreign Secretary William Hague believes that as many as 400 Brits have gone to fight alongside the jihadists of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS). Their activities are now a major concern for the government, as they are likely to return to the U.K. radicalised and with military training. It is widely believed that these British militants will continue their ‘struggle’ when they get back to the United Kingdom.
In a statement to the House of Commons on Syria and Iraq Mr Hague said: “As I have previously told this House, we estimate the number of UK-linked individuals fighting in Syria to include approximately 400 British nationals and other UK-linked individuals who could present a particular risk should they return to the U.K.” Shadow defence secretary Vernon Coaker said that scale of jihadists from Britain was humiliating for the country because it outstripped the number of Army Reserve volunteers. Mr Coaker said: “The government’s own figures show more U.K. citizens are joining ISIS than signing up for the Armed Forces Reserves. This is shameful, embarrassing and will cause deep concern.
“We need to see action to ensure recruitment to the Armed Forces meets the targets set. Otherwise, Britain will be left with a dangerous capability gap.” In the whole of 2013 the number of British Army reservists actually fell by 50 to 19,150 with only 170 new recruits coming in. Under normal circumstances this decline would be a blow but because of the government’s policy to rely much more on the reservists it is catastrophic. The Defence Secretary Phillip Hammond has recently made large numbers of full time soldiers redundant and hopes to replace them with part timers. The target is to have 35,000 reservists by 2018, a level that seems unattainable given this year’s performance.
News that the jihadists are recruiting more British people than the Army will once again raise concerns that the strategy of bringing in part time soldiers is a risk to national security. Ministers are accused of undermining the military by starving it of funds and downplaying the important role of full time personnel. Over a thousand regular soldiers have been made redundant in the latest round of cuts. In previous rounds the Royal Air Force search and rescue group was privatised, meaning that Prince William had to leave the RAF to avoid the embarrassment of being made redundant.