As the 221st General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) prepares to convene Saturday in Detroit, a report has been posted on the General Assembly business web site (pc-biz.org) detailing the denomination’s response to the 2012 GA’s call for a two-year season of study and discernment concerning the meaning of Christian Marriage.
Marriage will be one of the top issues to be debated at the assembly. The GA Committee on Civil Union and Marriage Issues will consider seven business items concerning marriage. During the openings days of the assembly, commissioners may submit additional business, called commissioner resolutions, so more work may be added to the committee’s agenda.
The majority of the business before the committee seeks to change the denomination’s constitution so that same-sex couples can be married by PCUSA pastors and in PCUSA churches either by changing the wording of the definition of marriage in the constitution or by approving an Authoritative Interpretation.
The most interesting part of the survey results were found in the comments section. Many seem to hint at not only a volatile assembly, but also unrest following the assembly if same-sex marriage is approved.
“The study brought out major conflicts among people who had known each other for years. Not a good prediction for the ability of the Assembly or the denomination to deal with the issue this year,” read one comment.
Another came from a person who participated in a study, “The passage of 10-A started an exodus of churches form the PCUSA. The passage of an overture on same sex marriage this summer will open the flood gates of churches leaving the PCUSA. The churches not leaving the PCUSA will suffer major losses of members who cannot continue to be associated with the PCUSA.”
A stated clerk, new in his position, said that while he did not participate in any discussion on the topic, “I believe that our focus has been on stability. This very topic has the potential to produce instability at this time.”
Other presbyteries cited a lack of time as the reason for not having a study on Christian marriage, due to the amount of church dismissals they are dealing with. “We have been so busy finishing up with gracious dismissals, dealing with the closing of two congregations and dealing with a complete change in presbytery staff that there has not been time for Foothills to engage this study,” said one comment.
Another comment read, “We are doing all we can to keep our congregations in the PCUSA. We don’t encourage congregations to study issues that could or would cause division at this time. We did give the congregations a list of resources regarding several issues that they could study if they desire.
One comment even lamented the lack of participation from conservative churches in its area, saying “Our more conservative congregations were, for the most part, not interested in conversation. Those who participated were more open-minded. Preaching to the choir.”
The Office of the General Assembly sent a survey to all the presbytery stated clerks in February 2014, asking them about presbytery and congregational participation in the two-year season of study and discernment of Christian marriage.
According to the report, of the 104 presbyteries that responded, 66.35 percent engaged in a marriage study following the 2012 assembly, and a majority of the studies – 52.63 percent – took place at a presbytery meeting.
The Office of Theology and Worship’s “Christian Marriage in the PCUSA” study guide was used by 90.63 percent of those participating, while 28.13 percent used other marriage study materials, including the supplemental materials prepared by the Covenant Network of Presbyterians.
Other comments found in the survey results include:
- “Our unity is in Jesus Christ. Discussing this topic would have fractured our unity, since no one is seeking ‘to’ discern; our presbyters have already discerned and our (sic) firm (though of different discernments) in their beliefs.”
- “Some folks were interested in studying the material, most were not. Sorry!”
- “I was very disappointed in the PCUSA study. VERY thin soup. Gave little insight, little to work with. I expect much more, and we need it.”
- “A small group in the church I serve is working through the study. The experience has been one of the best we’ve had: good and sustained attendance, evidence of study/reflection between sessions, and energy for the conversations. It is well-conceived and well done. The final question each session brilliant! It allows sharing without judgment of any observation or opinion, and engages a powerful question: What difference does it make? Thank you.”
- “Baltimore Presbytery has been studying this topic at least since 2004. During the last four years my sense is that we are tired of talking about it.”
- “The leadership of Cimarron Presbytery felt that the study provided by the Office of Theology and Worship was lacking and therefore, not usable. There was an overwhelming amount of background material to cover and absorb, especially for members who have not been closely following the topic of marriage. In contrast, the discussion questions themselves seemed rather shallow. Regretfully, Cimarron Presbyter did not have the time or resources to seek out or develop other study resources on this important topic.”