Presbyterian Church (USA) Moderator Heath Rada, in a recent column, told of questions he receives about the 2014 General Assembly votes to redefine Christian marriage to include same-sex couples. Rada cited one question he heard many times: “How do you get away with changing the wording of the Bible when it comes to marriage, which clearly states that marriage is between a man and a woman, to saying something else?” He recounted that one woman had written him asking “why the committee dealing with same-gender marriage at General Assembly did not pray nor read the Bible.”
Rada reassured the woman, and his readers, that the committee had “prayed and read the Bible with great care.” The issue, as the moderator explained it, was that there were different interpretations of the Bible. Some Presbyterians still believe that “same-gender marriage is a sin,” while others have come to the conviction “that a committed marriage between two adults who love each other is consistent with their understanding of God’s word.”
Rada cautioned, “I am not trying to say that we can just sit back and interpret the Word of God in any manner that feels good to us.” But he wanted his audience to “[r]emember that the way we read and understand the Bible has been evolving throughout Christian history.”
The moderator pointed to the example of divorce. Remarking that there are divorced people in the church, the moderator said, “[W]e don’t believe that because it says in the Bible they should be taken out on the street and stoned to death, that is what God wants us to do.” He urged PCUSA members to “keep the dialogue going” about marriage and “seek to broaden our understanding of the faith.”
“It is not my job as Moderator of the denomination to defend the actions of the church,” Rada wrote in his column. “It IS, however, my job to make sure that the work of the General Assembly is correctly interpreted.” So how well did Rada interpret the Detroit assembly’s actions to redefine Christian marriage from “a man and a woman” to any “two people”? Not so well. Let’s look more closely at his assertions in this column.
“I assured her that they [commissioners] prayed and read the Bible with great care.” It is true that commissioners in every General Assembly committee had daily devotional times when they read passages of Scripture, prayed, and sang hymns together. But neither the Marriage Issues Committee nor the assembly as a whole took the time to study key biblical passages on which church teaching on marriage has been based—e.g., Genesis 1-2, Matthew 19/Mark 10, 1 Corinthians 6-7, and Ephesians 5.
Supporters of same-sex marriage did not put forth comprehensive new interpretations of these passages. Their appeals in debate were light on Scripture and heavy on other arguments: that marriage is all about people loving and supporting one another and has nothing to do with the sex of the spouses; that there is a “right to marry whoever one wishes”; that ministers can claim “pastoral discretion” to marry whichever couples they choose; that it is “discrimination” to treat the lifelong union of man and woman as different from all other relationships; that persons in same-sex relationships are “denied pastoral care” if they aren’t able to marry in church; that the church needs to catch up with public opinion and state laws in accepting same-sex marriage. These were the arguments that carried the day at the Detroit assembly.
“Some Presbyterians believe same-gender marriage is a sin. Others believe that a committed marriage between two adults who love each other is consistent with their understanding of God’s word.” Rada presents the alternatives as two opinions held by individuals, of equal standing and validity. But the two do not have equal standing in the PCUSA or the Christian tradition.
The teaching that “Christian marriage is an institution ordained by our Lord Jesus Christ, established and sanctified for the happiness and welfare of mankind, into which spiritual and physical union one man and one woman enter” (Westminster Confession, 6.131) is expressed repeatedly and consistently in the PCUSA Book of Confessions. The Book of Order, unless and until it is amended by vote of the presbyteries, still states, “For Christians marriage is a covenant through which a man and a woman are called to live out together before God their lives of discipleship” (W-4.9001).
This has been the teaching of every major branch of the Christian faith worldwide for the past 2,000 years. It also remains, officially, the teaching of the PCUSA. By contrast, the view that marriage can unite any “two adults who love each other” is an opinion held by some U.S. Presbyterians in the early 21st century.
The moderator misconstrues the position of marriage traditionalists. It is not that they “believe same-gender marriage is a sin”; rather, they believe it is an impossibility. Two members of the same sex can have a deep friendship; however, they do not fit the requirements for marriage as God established it.
Rada fails to mention that traditionalist Presbyterians, following the Book of Confessions and Book of Order, base their position on Scriptures such as those cited above. It is not just that they feel that their view of marriage is generally “consistent with their understanding of God’s word,” as is the case with their opponents; marriage traditionalists go further in affirming that man-woman marriage is specifically mandated in the Bible and same-sex relations are specifically forbidden. This is another sharp contrast between the two positions.
“Remember that the way we read and understand the Bible has been evolving throughout Christian history.” It is certainly true that interpretations of the Bible have changed over the years. Scholars propose new readings all the time. People in the pews come to believe all sorts of things about the Bible. Some of these new interpretations stand the test of time; most do not.
By casting change as “evolution,” Rada smuggles in an implicit assumption: that more recent opinions are more likely to be true because they represent a higher stage of theological development. This assumption obviously gives the advantage to proponents of same-sex marriage, since their views have arisen more recently.
“Chronological snobbery” is a name some have attached to this progressive vision of history as an ever upward “evolution.” In Scripture we do sometimes see fresh or clearer revelation of God’s will. Jeremiah prophesies, “The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when … I will put my law within them [Israel], and I will write it on their hearts” (Jeremiah 31:31-33). The New Testament teaches that this promise is fulfilled in the Holy Spirit sent out by Christ.
Yet we also see another scenario in the Old and New Testaments: God gives a clear revelation at one time—on Mount Sinai, in the life of Jesus—but later generations forget God’s revelation and choose instead to “do what is right in their own eyes.” And they suffer greatly, as individuals and as a people, because they have departed from God’s truth. Is what we are seeing in the PCUSA today a positive “evolution,” or is it this latter scenario?
“Yet we don’t believe that because it says in the Bible they [divorced people] should be taken out on the street and stoned to death, that is what God wants us to do.” Where in the Bible does Rada find this purported commandment? Under Old Testament law, it is true, adulterers were to be stoned (Leviticus 20:10). But divorce was freely available and without penalty (Deuteronomy 24:1-4). On the other hand, in the New Testament, Jesus warns his followers that “whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another commits adultery” (Matthew 19:9). But the same Jesus steps in to halt the stoning of a woman caught in adultery, challenging the crowd: “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7).
In truth, revising the church’s understanding of marriage is a much more radical step than any previous shifts regarding divorce, slavery, or other issues offered as comparisons. In some of these cases, behaviors that were previously regarded as morally questionable were measured against a higher standard and found to be unacceptable. In other cases, behaviors that had been strictly prohibited were reassessed as permissible (but not encouraged) in limited circumstances.
But the proponents of same-sex marriage would have the church undertake a 180-degree reversal: A behavior (same-sex relations) that is condemned whenever it is mentioned in Scripture would become something that the church would celebrate and bless as a gift of God. This is the radical nature of the decisions made in Detroit, which the moderator failed to convey in his column. This kind of reversal goes far beyond just “broadening our understanding of the faith.”
If indeed the principles and concept of biological or physical evolution of organic life can be applied to a religious sect. Yes indeed the PCUSA can indeed evolve, transform, change, adapt to the environment. All necessary markers of Darwinian theory. The “always reforming” concept reflects that.
It can also evolve out of the general Christian communion or even general monotheism into something else, a post-chritsian or post-modern entity adrift, confused, easily manipulated, easily modified, into whatever one chooses to make out of it.
Extinction is also a core principle of evolution. What do you think awaits the PCUSA?
I vote for religious bureaucrats managing money and property. Go Heath!
Peter – I think that “always reforming” is always supposed to be taking us back to what Jesus and the Apostles taught us, not to some new mutation.
the fundamental problem is a lot of Christians in name only don’t actually believe that Jesus is still alive.
The “stoning the divorced” was a nice non-sequitur.
Where in the Bible does it say “in the Bible they [divorced people] should be taken out on the street and stoned to death, that is what God wants us to do.”
Devolution, not evolution.
Your handling of the Scriptures as well as your internal logic seem very reminiscent to me of the work of Andrew Fincke. Do you happen to know him?
I too have often thought the horned lady and Andrew are indeed one in the same. Now that she/he has posted, Pres and Calvin, again maybe the same person, I am sure not far behind.
Evangelicals-traditionalists in the PCUSA have been taken to wood-shed for over 40 years now by the ruling liberals with the charge that we have abandoned the church councils, we quit in place, we snipe and undercut the legitimate authority and polity of the church. That our core problem is that we do not know how to function and act as the “minority”, that we just should be silent sitting in the back and just pay the taxes when asked. That our core problem is that we just are not good enough “Presbyterians”. Or that we should just shut up and leave.
As applies to the same sex marriage debate and the AI from Detroit, what this shows is that even the ruling liberals, who manage the process and own the floor, when they do not trust or assume the outcome will be to their liking, will devolve to what is in essence a papal bull, an administrative fiat, of the AI. If you do not like the rules, then change the rules to your favor. When the ruling liberals run to jump the polity ship which they control and steer, , all others to the life boats.
And before the usual suspects rush to the defense of all things PUCSA, I am still awaiting a response on the matter of a religious, theological justification of abortion that I posed on that platform.
Since pres referred to part of a comment of calvin as so far out there as to be hardly worth a response, it seems unlikely that they are the same person. But of course, since (as you say) you take it as a “badge of honor” that you do not bother to comprehend what others are saying (something that otherwise explains a lot) i can appreiciate you confusion. On the other hand, for anyone who finds andrew/sigrid a surprise, we might add the news that clark kent is superman.
Some pointed out recently that divorced men and women who marry
live in forgiven grace. The same sex demand a right. There is a difference between grace and a right.
John Warwick Montgomery points out in his “Human Rights And Human Dignity” that the right to do as one pleases in a Second Generation Right and is utopian and also a “right” conferred by
the state, that is, the government.
The PCUSA and other liberal denominations have latched on to the
agenda of the culture, the agenda of the state, and attempt to call
same sex marriage a matter of different biblical interpretations.
Plainly, it isn’t.
Either one is correct or one is not correct. Pluralism cannot decide and secularism has its own agenda.
Dean Inge of two or three generations ago pointed out that the church that marries the culture in one age will find herself a
widower in the next.
The great and lasting victory of the LGBT lobby in the PCUSA, and in reality they are now one in the same, was to convince the organization that human sexuality in general, both in orientation and expression, behavior of, is irrelevant and a non-factor in the ordination of ruling/teaching elders. In other words you went from the “chastity and fidelity” clause to “does not really matter” in one GA cycle. . The liberals will convince us that such is another sign post in the great progressive march to greater individual freedom. liberty and autonomy. The reality is the PCUSA as an organization now exists in sex-free zone where teaching elders/clergy are free to have sex with any and whom they wish and desire, if they can get away with it. Marriage, the institution of in the traditional sense, really has no value in PCUSA. Parishioners, strangers on the street, all fare and honest game. It is the college “hook-up” culture applied to a religious sect. If the only sexual ethos for the PCUSA is the rule of “love”. Then anything done or interpreted under that rubric, again is good and right in the PCUSA. Who is to say otherwise. Presbyteries are so desperate to get on the “right” PC side of this matter the only real requirements for ordination is the candidate saying all the right things and a pulse and breath.
Mothers, hide the daughters or sons, whatever the case may be from PCUSA clergy. . The usual suspects and PCUSA apologists, the floor is yours.
yet another of my Bible based comments has vanished from this website.
be careful what you say here folks, this is not the safe haven it claims to be, countless times my posts have been deleted or blocked, for no other reason than they speak the truth.
TROLL ALERT …
Perhaps its not that they ‘speak the truth’ but because you do not list anything other than you are a ‘Guest’.
have no idea what you’re talking about. i have every right to remain anonymous, as do all of you. this is not twitter or facebook, and i have no skin in the game so to speak. i don’t know why i chose to identify myself as ‘guest’ here, but if i had to analyze it my best guess is it’s a direct reaction to the egocentric attitude i’ve put up with from presbyterians all my life, i find it offensive.
The Layman was relatively troll-free for a while. No longer. It’s a problem they’re going to have to confront eventually.
Cleaning up or at least raising the professional competency or level of discourse on the website is a very easy fix. Only allow proper first and last names in registration with identifiable trail markers back to the originator and editorship or moderation of submitted material prior to posting.
Then the crazies, and the unhinged migrate of other platforms. Apart form that the “Laymen” as well as the PLC is richly deserving of what some think and assume about it. A place full of old angry white people and various wing-nuts with foil on their heads. And at times the assumption is deserved.
Among all of the opinions about this topic, I recently found myself pondering the arrival of Jesus. If God didn’t intend for marriage to be defined as it has been all along, why did he need Joseph? In fact, the very arrival of Jesus is proof to me of God’s definition for marriage. He could have sent Jesus any way he chose. But he sent him through a virgin, who was only engaged. He made sure Joseph knew about the plan, but directed him to marry Mary to demonstrate a family unit like he defined it. Joseph wasn’t Jesus’ Father. But while Jesus was on the earth, the three people who knew the truth couldn’t reveal that information. Indeed, the model of a husband and a wife as man-woman was clearly so obvious that God even used an unrelated man to complete the picture. It’s hard for me to actually articulate what I mean. I just feel it so plainly.
Lance, an excellent job of explaining. i’ve never heard it said this way, you put it beautifully.
Even with the caveat that he isn’t ” trying to say that we can just sit back and interpret the Word of God in any manner that feels good to us,” our present Moderator has come to a view of Scripture which would do any 12 year old budding agnostic proud. What puzzles me is this: with a view of Scripture and conduct that would be comfortable to most 12 year old’s, why aren’t there more of them in our churches?
a very logical extension of your recommendation is the chip in the hand, sign of the beast; you’re in the right place, that much i can say without being openly uncharitable, there’s hope even for you Peter.
and there are reasons for anonymity at this time in history. if you are still blind to what’s going on no words can help you, it is too late. last call is around year end, i would advise remaining silent til then.
Must be tough living life offended by so much.
This is the dumbest comment i’ve heard yet. Joseph was chosen to provide an example of a family? Can you name one Bible verse that says the words “family unit”? In the real world of Roman Palestine, there were no single mothers. Mary was betrothed to Joseph before the Annunciation, so the idea that they only married to provide cover for Jesus is absurd. How could she have raised a child without a husband? The whole social structure at the time was based on a man owning land and having as many children as possible with as many women as possible, including slaves, which were fine. Even rape of the slave was ok.
I was shocked by Rada’s statement about stoning. It was nothing but a sophomoric spit ball. It confirmed my recent decision to renounce the portion of my ordination and membership vows that relate to the national leadership of this God forsaken denomination.
There were no single mothers, eh? And you know this how?? I guess those women practicing the world’s oldest profession never found themselves “with child” back then. Of course there were illegitimate children born back then, just as there always has been. It would have made no sense for God to plant Jesus in Mary’s womb after she and Joseph were already married, as that would be contrary to Jesus being born to a virgin. It happened the way it did for a reason. Joseph was engaged to Mary and when he learned of her pregnancy was going to quietly divorce her. Quietly, because otherwise Mary risked public scorn, or, at worst, a stoning. But an angel told him who it was in Mary’s womb and Joseph went ahead with the marriage but did not consummate it until after Jesus’ birth.
No, I think Lance’s comment is very insightful; it is your comment that is unthoughtful and petulant.
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