Jul 2, 2012

Day 3 at GA - Committee on Civil Union and Marriage Issues

All the commissioners to the 220th GA spent the day in their respective committees.

The committee I spent the most of my time was in Committee 13 - Civil Union and Marriage Issues.

Coming into this year's GA, I was pretty discouraged for I believed that the GA would redefine marriage. But today something amazing happened as I was sitting in Committee 13.

There were five overture advocates who asked the committee to maintain traditional understanding of marriage to be between a man and a woman, and there were fifteen overture advocates who asked the committee to redefine marriage.

The committee spent all morning and afternoon listening then spent the first part of the evening discussing with one another in table groups about what they heard and what they think they are being asked to decide.

There were several telling moments about the life of the church.

  1. Listening to the overture advocates, it was extremely clear to everyone that those who advocated for maintaining traditional understanding of marriage were all about quoting scripture and what the Bible has to say on the matter. On the other hand, those who advocated for a change in the definition of marriage were all about telling stories of relationships. Several of the groups mentioned this very vast difference.
  2. Listening to the overture advocates, it was clear that their relationship to the Bible was the reason why they stand so far apart from each other.
    • For the conservatives the mere reading of scripture is enough because we stand under the authority of scripture.
    • For the liberals, the scriptures stand alongside personal experiences and cultural realities. The reason why we ought to change the church's definition of marriage is because there are many faithful gay people in our churches and they want to get married. One of the overture advocates said, that the Bible was descriptive of ancient times but it is certainly not prescriptive for all times. 
    • The difference between these two perspectives is profound and it has everything to do with  where the PC(USA) finds herself today. 
    • The main question is do we stand under the scriptures and its authority or do we stand alongside scriptures so that the scriptures must conform to our and our culture's experiential reality?
  3. When the committee gathered after dinner, they broke up into small groups to talk with each other then they were to report back to the entire committee what they discussed. And this part was quite shocking. Every single group reporting back spoke about how this decision was so big that it needs more time, more prayer, and more study. And most importantly that this may not be the right time to act. 

I would have never expected this after listening to the overture advocates. 

I am optimistic that the committee will defer answering the overtures to redefine marriage by a recommendation for further study or something similar.

The questions before us are:
  • Is this a God thing? Is God moving in the PC(USA) to give us more time to better discern together how we might live together?
  • Or is this merely be a "now is not the time because it would be too explosive so let's wait until a future time to when this decision would be more palatable?"
As I was wrestling with this question, I was reminded by a colleague, "If this is what this committee discerns to do, it is the right thing because it is the right thing and we ought to celebrate that." 

I believe Carmen is right.

This is the right thing because it is the right thing. 

I do trust that God is in this. 

I believe this is a God thing.


Leslie Day-Ebert said...

Not so sure about this, James. We've been delaying and arguing for so long and the fracture is worsening the fissure is deepening. This is Death By a Thousand Cuts. Either amputate the diseased limb or save it - but don't keep rebandaging it and hope it heals. You know I love and respect you but I think we need to make this decision so we can move on - one way or the other.

James Kim said...

Leslie, I was thinking the same things. I was unsure of how to interpret what took place in the committee. What I was hoping is exactly how the committee was acting. But if this is merely a wait until a future assembly I am right with you. As I shared my ambivalence, I was reminded by Carmen that we have to leave room for God to act. I have to believe that God can still act.

Brian North said...


Not sure how this is really a good thing, quite frankly. If marriage isn't clearly defined for us in the Bible now, what's going to change between now and two years from now or some other time so that it is clear - Scripture? Not. Seems to me, that given the direction of the PCUSA the past 40 years, the change that will take place will be for the PCUSA to be more inclusive and tolerant. And so this delay - if it happens - simply seems like a speed bump on the way to an inevitable change in our definition of marriage.

Bill Teague said...


I appreciate your comments and perspective. Typically helpful. Taking what is beneath this and the previous post, it seems as if we have, maybe for awhile now, become a denomination in name only. Neither the constitution nor a broad theological consensus bind us together. Aside from property and pension we stay connected for reasons of history, habit and common conviction about the value of radical diversity and the possibility of finding some kind of unity in such diversity.

Since we now give implicit permission for same-sex weddings, of course we will move to explicit permission. I lean towards the "let's get it over with" school.

But here is my question for you. You have been one of the more creative and open evangelical commentators on things PCUSA, challenging us to get beyond our Pharisaism and grumpiness. Question then, what might evangelical participation in this post-constitutional, post-biblical, post-denominational association look like? And what would make it worthwhile? Or should we just leave?


James Kim said...

Brian, I am with you on that. I totally get what you're saying. That's why coming out of the committee I found myself really ambivalent about what the committee was saying. Mind you, they haven't voted on anything but was merely sharing what they were feeling. They will be making the decisions and recommendations today.

What the committee members were saying is exactly what I was hoping for coming into this GA. I really thought that the marriage would be redefined for there were not enough evangelical commissioners to stop such a move. But what's been amazing thus far is that there are enough moderates who sense that this is not the right the time.

Now, if this is merely an issue of time, I am with you.

And as an active participant and observer in multiple GA's I ought to know better, but I have to confess that I am cautiously optimistic that this isn't just a human thing but that God is speaking through the Holy Spirit.

Isn't that what we should be thinking?

We will get a much better sense today as the committee votes.

Thanks for the comment and for staying engaged!

James <><

James Kim said...

Bill, excellent questions and observations.

Your first statement nails it. Before we can talk about unity and connectionism, we have to identify and articulate our ecclesiology and what are the things that bind us together particularly as presbyterians.

You asked, "What might evangelical participation in this post-constitutional, post-biblical, post-denominational association look like?"

I love this question!

The way we have traditionally understood how we function as Christ-folowers is through a particular denomination of which our local congregation is a part. Thus the hierarchy of commitment was such that Jesus was primary, denomination was secondary, and the local church was tertiary.

But in a increasingly post-denominational age, what would church polity and church norms look like if we flipped the last two.

Such that our commitment to Jesus Christ is lived out primarily in how we function together as a local congregation of which there may be a variety of denomination commitments?

Just as we have democrats and republicans and independents who are Americans, what would it look like for the local church if we had pcusa, eco, fellowship, epc, etc folks who happens to be committed to living out their reformed presbyterian life through a particular congregation because the mission of Jesus Christ to reach those who do not know Christ with the love of God takes precedence over denominational affiliation?

What would that be like?

Would love your feedback.

James <><