On March 17, the deciding vote was cast. Palisades Presbytery was the 86th presbytery – a clear majority of the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s 171 presbyteries – to vote in favor of changing the denomination’s definition of marriage to allow same-sex marriages.
The vote officially changed the definition of marriage found in the PCUSA’s constitution from being between “a man and a woman” to marriage being “a unique relationship between two people, traditionally a man and a woman.” While it doesn’t go into effect until June 21, 2015, the 221st General Assembly approved an Authoritative Interpretation in June, 2014, that allows PCUSA pastors to conduct same-sex weddings in states where it is legal, until that date. So same-sex marriages can and are being legally conducted now in the PCUSA.
And in the midst of all of the disappointment or jubilation — depending on which side of the issue you were on — PCUSA officials have been quick to offer assurances that no pastor would be forced to conduct a same-sex wedding and no church would be forced to host one.
Carmen Fowler LaBerge, president of the Presbyterian Lay Committee, is cautiously optimistic but also hopes pastors and sessions will move quickly to protect themselves. “The language protecting the freedom of conscience is strong but I would recommend that sessions take action now to insure protection from litigation down the road.”
PCUSA Stated Clerk Gradye Parsons made it clear that there was “nothing in the amendment to compel any teaching elder to conduct a wedding against his or her judgment nor a session to host one against its judgment,” in a video posted on the denomination’s web site.
In a letter to the denomination, the 221st General Assembly Moderator Heath Rada and Vice Moderator Larissa Kwong Abazia wrote that the approved language “lifts up the sanctity of marriage and the commitment of loving couples within the church. It also allows teaching elders to exercise their pastoral discretion in officiating weddings and in doing so “… the teaching elder may seek the counsel of the session, which has authority to permit or deny the use of church property for a marriage service.”
Also, the denomination’s Office of the General Assembly (OGA), which Parsons oversees, offered an Advisory Opinion on the approved amendment of W-4.900 – the section of the constitution where definition of marriage can be found.
The opinion said that the new definition of marriage does allow teaching elders to perform marriage services for same-gender couples, “as long as the couple ‘meet the requirements of the civil jurisdiction in which they intend to marry.” But, it continues by stating that:
- “A teaching elder cannot be compelled to perform a marriage service for a same-gender couple.”
- “Sessions may permit the use of church property for the marriage service of a same-gender couple.”
- “Sessions may deny the use of church property for the marriage service of a same-gender couple.”
- While a session can prohibit same-sex marriage from being held on church property, it cannot prohibit the pastor from performing such a service elsewhere. “The pastor cannot compel the session to approve a marriage service nor can the pastor conduct any such service within the church facilities without session approval.”
Even the Covenant Network, a non-profit organization that tirelessly worked on behalf of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people so that they may be ordained and married in the PCUSA, has offered assurances that no pastor can be compelled to perform a same-sex ceremony.
“We continue to affirm that ministers or sessions whose conscience precludes them from officiating (or hosting) same-gender marriages should not be compelled to do so or in any way disciplined or excluded for those views,” said the organization’s board of directors.
So, for now the authority to marry same-sex people in Presbyterian churches is permissive and not compulsory. “But,” LaBerge commented, “If this is a genuine justice issue, which supporters of marriage redefinition claim, then how long do you think they’re really going to be willing for the denomination to limp along between two opinions? How long can ministers serve together as real colleagues in ministry when some think others are discriminatory hatemongers and on the contrary, some think others are blessing what the Bible calls sin? That’s a lot of tension for an organization to endure for long.”
I believe I’m being realistic, rather than cynical, in suggesting the conscience clause was inserted only to assist passage of 14-F, and will be eliminated as soon as PCUSA leadership feels it’s feasible to do so. Certainly after same-sex marriage becomes legal nationally, the pressure to eliminate the conscience clause will grow.
In the immortal words from Monty Python and the Search for the Holy Grail….
Run away…..Run away
New Testament Translation…..shake the dust from your sandals
At its core Presbyterian polity is a form of church government, it is a business process model to process an agenda. It is not a stress management or deduction, conflict management or resolution, or a mutual agreement society model. There have been 7 major and 3 minor schisms in the Presbyterian root since 1775. The model remains, those who desire more theological integrity or fidelity to Biblical ethics or theology leave, flee the normative organization. This is no different.
The current concept of “mutual forbearance” will pertain as long as the governing elites see it as in their best interest to do so. Once and when they deem it appropriate to turn, “may” “can” to “must” or “proscribed” they will do so. As we have all seen since 2006 and PUP, all it takes is an AI or some other quick fix from the hot house GA and done is done. A uber liberal, comatose non-fuciotnal Presbytery say (Boston) proposes some change, its gets enough to sign on, and in about 20 minutes of process on the floor of GA, done at done. In the interim my counsel is keep a hand over your wallet, hang on, the ride will be a bit bumpy.
But as the great emancipator himself said, ” a house divided upon itself, cannot stand”.
As Richard John Neuhaus once observed: Where orthodoxy is optional it will soon be proscribed.
This is such a red herring argument! Teaching elders have ALWAYS had a conscience out for performing ANY marriage. Such an option will continue, As usual, Ms. LaBerge’s comments sound more like a fundraising appeal than a genuine concern.
The best defense against the accusation of cynicism is that what you are saying is true.
“While a session can prohibit same-sex marriage from being held on church property, it cannot prohibit the pastor from performing such a service elsewhere.”
This is the money quote right here. Sessions cannot discipline or remove pastors who act in direct violation of the Word of God.
A Presbytery has the right to refuse to accept any TE into the Presbytery. A TE may have the right to refuse to marry same-sex couples. But she or he should not plan on receiving a call to a congregation in another Presbytery.
A church may have a pastor who agrees with them in not conducting same-sex weddings. But that congregation should not count on their Presbytery allowing another like him or her to be their next pastor.
This chapter of the fight against evil is pretty much over, folks.
You’ve cut through all the irrelevant issues and found the key point. Well done.
There are already many evidences of the “gate keeping” nature of the Presbytery where tatics and subtle pressure is being used
against evangelicals being let in for ordination or for obtaining a call.
Even though members of presbytery committees state that they are open minded, the subtle decision making leans toward the Progressive agenda and in the name of inclusiveness.
We also see this in the way Presbytery leaders have orchestrated sending
representatives to the GA that did not vote with the majority conservative
opinion of their Presbytery. In these cases, ithe will of God was tampered with by these leaders who put forth their own agenda in opposition to the majority, and now they say this is God’s will. God will have the last word on such leaders.
The issue may not be whether the Presbytery or the church has the option to choose performing same sex marriages, it has more to do with the LGBT activists who have up to this point searched out Christian businesses who refused to be involved in gay marriage ceremonies even if they served these persons in every other capacity. Now that the definition has changed for PCUSA how long do you think it will be before they search out churches and pastors who refuse to be involved with same sex marriage? When they do, do you really think PCUSA will come to the rescue financially? I have grave reservations about that. The best defense is being in a denomination that defines marriage in the traditional way. For those who chose to stay and oppose same sex marriage, good luck and open your pocketbooks or open your doors to same sex marriage.
Exactly right. Conservative Pastors will soon be targets of litigation for refusing to perform the ceremony. It is hard to see how to argue refusal on religious grounds in a denomination that recognizes same-sex marriage.
Since same sex marriage advocates argued it was a matter of justice, they will –they must– eventually move from may to should to must. Otherwise, they would be tolerating injustice within the PC(USA). The basic logic of their argument requires–demands–it.
It took 30+ years for liberals to win the fight for same
sex marriage. I expect it will take less than 5 years for the ground to shift to should. And we’ll be at must by 2025, to put a fine point on it. LGBT activists are very talented and aggressive advocates for their positions. They’ll have multiple strategies in play to make that happen, beginning with control of presbyteries ordination standards. And PC(USA) leadership is in complete agreement with them. In other words, they now own the rule book, the referees, and the game clock. The outcome will be uneven across the country. Neutral principles state congregations have a brighter future than deferential principles state congregations. They at least have the option to leave with their property, messy as it will likely be.
“elders have always had”
Key word there is HAD
“Such an option will always continue”
Assuming something for which there is no assurance. Always is a very long time.
For a self-destructive denomination crumbling from the inside, time is not its friend.
It is expected that the Supreme Court will be issuing an important decision on same sex marriages in June 2015.What will the court say? What would the court do? Could the Supreme Court force a pastor to do such a wedding? Could the Supreme Court force a local church Session to authorize such a wedding on church property? I wonder. This could become a classic church verses state case.
The same scripture twisting that was used to allow women elders has now been used to remove gender requirements for marriage. You all should have left decades ago. When Machen told B.B. Warfield that he feared the split of the Northern Presbyterian church over liberalism, Warfield’s response was, ” You can’t split rotten wood.”
How long between the allowing of women’s ordination until the requiring of it? I forget, cut that time by 3/4 and that would be my estimate.
Matthew 6:34. If Christ’s words are not authoritative when we believe ourselves to be “truly” threatened, then they are not authoritative at all.
Pardon my ignorance on the subject of gay marriage. Is it now legal for Presbyterian church USA Pastors to marry same gender persons?