Earlier this week you may have seen on the news, or heard through major news outlets like the New York Times and NPR, about a change in the Presbyterian Church (USA) regarding our denomination’s understanding of marriage. As your pastor I feel you need to hear directly from me regarding what this change means.
So what happened?
There’s been a change in the language of our Book of Order regarding how we as Presbyterians understand marriage. The new language was approved at the 221st General Assembly of the PC(USA) last summer. In order for it to be fully ratified, though, it had to be approved by a majority of the 172 presbyteries in our denomination. This past Tuesday it received that majority when the Palisades Presbytery became the 86th presbytery in the country to vote in favor of it. There are still a few more presbyteries to vote (and for the record, our presbytery voted in favor), but with Tuesday’s vote the change is official.
The former language in our Book of Order referred to marriage as a gift of God between “a man and a woman.” The new language, known as “Amendment 14-F,” will replace the old:
"Marriage is a gift God has given to all humankind for the wellbeing of the entire human family. Marriage involves a unique commitment between two people, traditionally a man and a woman, to love and support each other for the rest of their lives. The sacrificial love that unites the couple sustains them as faithful and responsible members of the church and the wider community."
So what does this mean exactly?
This change means that, in states where same-sex marriages are legal, PC(USA) churches may now perform marriage services for all couples. It does not, however, force a church to have a wedding of two same-sex persons if the church does not want to. Nor does it force a minister to conduct a same-sex wedding against their wishes. It simply allows for the possibility.
What does this mean for Trinity?
As with all weddings in a Presbyterian church, and per our Book of Order, it is ultimately the session’s decision, acting on a recommendation from the Worship Ministry Team, to approve or not approve a wedding request. Should we have a request for a wedding that would involve two men or two women, our session would consider it with the same standards and protocol as they consider all wedding requests.
So what’s your take on this, Steve?
I’m glad you asked! The issue of same-sex marriage bears significance for me on both professional and personal levels. Many of you may know that my cousin, who lives in Charlotte, is gay – in fact, he and his husband were the first same-sex couple officially married in our county back in October, when same-sex marriage was first allowed. If you want to read a blog post I wrote about this, click HERE.
During my almost eighteen years as a teaching elder in the PC(USA), our denomination has wrestled with issues of sexual identity – the ordination of gays and lesbians and same-sex marriage. Many people on both sides have been hurt, and some churches have left our denomination. These are hard issues – but I am proud to be part of a denomination that desires to wrestle with them instead of shoving them to the back-burner. Meaningful dialogue is important, no matter what side of an issue you might fall on. Ultimately I feel God's gift of marriage is a gift to be offered to all, and not withheld from some solely based on sexual orientation.
I appreciate the spirit that Heath Rada and Larissa Kwong Abazia, moderator and vice moderator of the 221st General Assembly, seek to foster in a letter they wrote just yesterday:
"Though we know that this amendment received the necessary majority for approval, we encourage the congregations, presbyteries, and synods of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to continue to be in conversation about marriage and family. We hope that such “up/down” voting does not mark the end, but the continuation of our desire to live in community; a partnership that requires prayer, the study of Scripture, listening to and with one another, and a dedication to partnership in the midst of our diversity of opinion."
I’m still learning about Trinity, but my hunch is that this decision will be met with approval by many, indifference from some, and grief from others. I want you to know that all of you have a place and a voice at Trinity. We are bound together by so much more than that which divides us – we are bound together by Jesus Christ. As pastor I lift up those “ties that bind” in our shared ministry of kingdom-building here on Providence. If you are grieved by this decision, or if you just have questions, please know that your thoughts and opinions are important to me and my door is always open. Whether we agree or disagree, you can count on me to listen and always be there for you as your pastor.
Grace and peace,
March 19, 2015