The Board of Directors ofTheology Matters is deeply grieved by the action of a majority of commissioners to the Presbyterian Church (USA) General Assembly that now allows ministers to perform same-sex marriages and effectively changes the definition of marriage. A majority of commissioners approved and celebrated a behavior that God has condemned in His Word and that Christ died to redeem. Their action gravely wounded this part of the bride of Christ and blasphemed His name. Thus we grieve.
The assembly approved an “authoritative interpretation” (AI) of the constitution immediately allowing ministers to perform same-sex marriages. The AI directly contradicts the words of the PCUSA constitution that defines marriage as the union of a man and a woman.
In addition, commissioners sent to the presbyteries for ratification an amendment to the constitution that changes “a man and a woman” to “two people.” The AI and the amendment are independent actions. The AI is enacted immediately and stands as the interpretation of the constitution whether or not the constitution is amended. The proposed amendment cannot be enacted until a majority of presbyteries vote to affirm it within the next year.
What the actions say
How the GA actions affect you
Both the amendment and the authoritative interpretation (AI) have wording that appears to protect ministers from being forced to perform same-sex weddings in violation of their conscience. The wording however, will not protect pastors or congregations. Here is why.
First: The power of intimidation.
Without the protection of the constitution limiting marriage to a man and a woman, ministers may be subject to intimidation by church members who threaten to disrupt the peace and unity of the congregation if the minister refuses to perform same-sex weddings. If the presbytery is unsympathetic to the Biblical position on marriage, even the complaints of a very small number of church members may be perceived as a disruption to the peace of the congregation. That perceived disruption, according to theBook of Order, is grounds for the presbytery to step in and remove the minister and session.
The presbytery may inquire into reported difficulties in a congregation and may dissolve the pastoral relationship if after consultation with the minister, the session, and the congregation, it finds the church’s mission under the Word imperatively demands it.” Book of Order, G-2.0904
Similarly, the Book of Order (G-3.0303 e) gives the presbytery the power to dissolve a session and assume original jurisdiction, if it judges the session to be “unable or unwilling to manage wisely its affairs.”
Second: Presbyteries set membership requirements
Presbyteries have the right to set their own membership requirements. Presbyteries whose majorities support same-sex marriage may refuse to accept into membership a minister who refuses to perform same-sex weddings. The wording of the AI and the amendment may be a weak attempt to protect ministers currently in a presbytery, but it cannot override a presbytery’s right to determine its own membership. Click here to view the video clip from the recent GA in which commissioner Ken Macari asked if ministers would be able to take a call or be ordained without “prejudice” based on their understanding of Scripture on this issue.
Gradye Parsons, the stated clerk of the General Assembly and highest constitutional officer, responded “The Book of Order guarantees the rights of bodies to determine their membership. .. .they can determine their membership … based on the laws of their state and their understanding of this issue.”
A congregation cannot call a pastor unless that pastor is first admitted into membership of the presbytery.
How to respond
Statistics show that often people accept same-sex marriage as “fair” and “just” because they have never learned a Biblical understanding of marriage. They are swayed by touching personal stories. Too many leaders fear that teaching the truth about marriage will divide their church. But the most important response to the actions of the GA is to teach the truth about God’s plan for a man and a woman; God’s power to heal and redeem; and God’s condemnation of sin that led Christ to the cross.
When the church in Jude’s day was faced with sexual immorality, Jude told those “who were called,”
I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints. For certain men whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are godless men, who change the grace of our God into license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.
Jude then explains how they are to contend for the faith,
Be merciful to those who doubt; snatch others from the fire and save them; to others show mercy, mixed with fear …
It is time to stand boldly for the truth in order to vindicate the name of Christ and protect the flock, even knowing that such a stand might bring persecution.
Sue Cyre is the executive director of Theology Matters. In the weeks ahead, Theology Matters will be sharing links to teaching resources on marriage through its biweekly email update. Also included will be examples of actions that churches and individuals are taking. To sign up for the updates, visit www.theologymatters.com.