The study, said Charles Wiley, coordinator for the Office of Theology and Worship (OTW), was tested in 13 churches during the past fall and winter and is now being revised with feedback from those churches before its debut.
Wiley, speaking at a recent meeting of the Leadership Committee of the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board (PMAB), said that the study of Christian marriage was referred to OTW by the 2012 General Assembly, where a vote to change the PCUSA’s marriage standards failed by 22 votes.
Instead, the General Assembly voted to move the denomination into a two-year “season of serious study and discernment concerning its meaning of Christian marriage.” That same vote directed OTW to “prepare and distribute educational materials to all presbyteries and congregations. These materials should include the relevant Scriptures, key methods of Biblical interpretations, current understandings of our Constitution, and some suggested guidance for prayerful and reconnecting ways of listening to one another.”
Wiley said that the six-part study uses the “Statement on the gift of marriage” found in the Presbyterian Book of Common Worship, as its outline.
“If the church is looking at changing marriage, then it needs to look at what is marriage,” said Wiley.
In discussing the feedback from the 13 churches, Wiley said the biggest criticism of the study is that there wasn’t enough discussion of same-sex marriage. His response was that because it was a church study coming from the church, it had to use church documents, including the Book of Confessions, the Book of Order, etc.
A two-hour study for use by mid-councils is also being prepared. “We’re hoping that the two-hour study will be used in meetings,” he said.
Nancy Ramsay, of Fort Worth, Texas, and a member of the Leadership Committee, asked Wiley if the staff had felt “constrained only to use constitutional documents.”
“When there is a controversial topic and the church itself is doing the study,” replied Wiley, “people are very suspicious of what the church is trying to do. The reason for using church documents is first, they are shared authority, and secondly, to avoid looking like we are trying to push an agenda.”