You may have already heard that the PCUSA General Assembly, in a stunning and unexpected defeat for advocates of same-sex marriage, sent a proposal to institutionalize it in the Book of Order back for further study. This, along with the contradictory vote to send the deletion of fidelity standards for ordination to the presbyteries, was enough to garner the attention of the mainstream press, but I’m going to go to Alan Wisdom of the IRD for his account of the proceedings:

Earlier this week I told a couple of my colleagues at the IRD about how bleak it was looking at this General Assembly–how the defenders of traditional Christian teaching just didn’t have the votes, how the revisionists were determined to go ahead and there was nothing we could do to stop them. “I’m afraid we’re going down in flames,” I said. I added, however: “But God could surprise us. Pray for surprises.”

Well, God surprised us last night–beyond what I was expecting. All the proposals to redefine marriage were turned away by a single procedural motion. At 10:30 p.m., Commissioner Ryan Balsan from New Brunswick Presbytery in New Jersey moved to answer all those items with the assembly’s action in approving the majority and minority reports from the Special Committee on Civil Union and Christian Marriage.

I wasn’t expecting Balsan’s motion to be successful. It had seemed clear to that point that the advocates of same-sex relations had the votes to enact their agenda. At the end of the afternoon they had pushed through (yet another) proposal to delete the “fidelity and chastity” clause from the PCUSA constitution. (We can, again, defeat this proposal in local presbytery votes on ratification.)They were gunning for marriage next, and they showed no signs of letting up.

Sitting at the back of the assembly hall, I had already written on my notepad, “[Balsan’s] Motion loses, __ to __.” I was just waiting to fill in the numbers. The only question in my mind was how bad the margin of defeat would be. But lo and behold, the numbers came up on the Jumbotron screen and Balsan’s motion had won–by the narrow margin of 348-324.

Suddenly all those overtures to change the constitutional definition of marriage from “man and woman” to “two persons,” as well as the overtures to issue an “authoritative interpretation” of the constitution allowing ministers to marry anyone who held a civil marriage license–they all disappeared. We had been expecting perhaps two hours of fierce debate late into the night, and probably eventual passage of those destructive overtures, and yet here was the committee moderator saying, “This concludes the report of Committee 12.” Everyone on all sides was stunned. Many of the same-sex advocates were crushed to see their high hopes so suddenly dashed. Many of the rest of us breathed a sigh of relief, as if to say, “We dodged a bullet.”

Now, before anyone goes off dancing in the aisles (my Consistory-mate Toby Brown, on the ground in Minneapolis, wrote on Facebook last night, “Just finished one of the most amazing days in my life as a pastor in the church. The awesome working of God in this assembly has humbled us, bound up our hearts with gratitude and chastened us in His abundant mercy. I’m stunned with the experience of God’s power today.”), everyone needs to keep in mind a two things: first, it is still possible for this undead creature to be resurrected today through a reconsideration motion, but, assuming that doesn’t succeed…second, this will come back again two years from now. As that guy from Men’s Warehouse says, “I guarantee it.”

Oh, actually, there’s a third thing to remember: people such as Janet Edwards and Jane Spahr have already done same-sex weddings, and the refusal of the responsible bodies (up to and including the denominational Permanent Judicial Commission) to enforce the standards means that last night’s results are only going to stop the scrupulous. Those who don’t care what the denominational standards are are going to proceed as they like, and dare anyone to stop them.

So is this just a Pyrrhic victory? No–it is good to know that there are still some people in the PCUSA unwilling to rush head-long into a repudiation of New Testament and historic Christian teaching and practice. But will it stop that rush in the long-run? Count me skeptical.

(Hat tip: Jeff Walton.)

UPDATE: According to the GA Twitter feed, the move to reconsider went down 60%-40%.