RALEIGH, N.C. — Presbyterian church leaders in central North Carolina have approved a measure to let gays and lesbians in partnered relationships be ordained.
The News & Observer reports that the amendment was approved Saturday by a vote of 177 to 139 with 10 abstentions during a meeting in Cary of the New Hope Presbytery church leaders.
"The mood at the presbytery meeting was while we differ on this issue, and are committed as Christians to vote our conscience, we also are committed to finding ways to live together with our differences," said the Rev. Joseph Harvard, pastor of Durham Presbyterian. "I don't think it's a radical shift in the presbytery."
The measure must be approved by a majority of the nation's 173 presbyteries and conservative congregations including those in Charlotte and western North Carolina have already approved the amendment.
Gays and lesbians can be ordained within the 2.2-million-member Presbyterian Church (USA), but they must remain chaste as church standards forbid sex outside of traditional marriage between a man and woman.
The standard applies to clergy and lay people in the Presbyterian church who participate as deacons and elders. But even if the standard is struck down, individual churches will not be required to ordain partnered gays and lesbians. It would just give those who want to the freedom to do so.
Still, the issue has divided many churches. At least one church, Raleigh's Hudson Memorial Presbyterian Church, has lost members who formed a new congregation allied with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church in protest of the change.
But the Rev. Moffit Churn, associate pastor at West Raleigh Presbyterian, said Saturday's meeting was not divisive.
"We all held hands and sang 'Blessed be the Tie that Binds' in the Presbyterian way," the Rev. Moffit Churn, associate pastor at West Raleigh Presbyterian, told the newspaper. "The voice of the middle ground is being heard, at least in this presbytery. That was my sense."
Votes have to be completed by June, but half the nation's presbyteries will have voted by the end of this month.
Copyright 2016 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.