Jul 3, 2012

Day 4 - Committee on Civil Union and Marriage Issues Votes to Redefine Marriage

Committee 13 - Civil Union and Marriage Issues.

The committee spent the entire day and early evening discussing whether they would recommend a study on issues on marriage for the next 2 years or 4 years.

The committee did not consider the validity of any of the overtures until 8:30pm EST.

The committee eventually voted to recommend a study of two years on the Christian understanding of marriage.

The day and the confusion that the committee faced with the decisions before it can be summed up by the following.

  • The committee's moderator's ruling was challenged three times by committee members. Challenging the moderator's ruling is pretty rare. To see it happen three times? I cannot remember the last time I've seen that.
  • On another occasion after the committee moderator ruled that a substitute motion to maintain traditional understanding of marriage 15-07 was ruled out of order by the committee moderator, maker of the motion appealed to the Stated Clerk to bring a ruling. 
  • I've rarely seen such a quagmire of parliamentary procedure as I witnessed in this committee.
When the committee finally got to dealing with the actual overtures, a motion was brought to affirm 13-05 on Issuing an Authoritative Interpretation of W-4.9000 to Ensure Pastoral Discretion from the Presbytery of Genesee Valley.

This overture states: 

Teaching elders and commissioned ruling elders authorized to conduct services of marriage, may, at their sole discretion, following the discussion required in W-4.9002a, officiate at a service of Christian marriage for two persons who meet the legal requirements of the state and whom the elder determines demonstrate sufficient commitment, responsibility, maturity, and Christian understanding. Sessions may permit the use of church property for such services. Teaching elders and commissioned ruling elders may decline to conduct such services, and sessions may decline to permit the use of church property for such purposes (emphasis mine).

This particular overture is problematic and dangerous for several reasons. 
  1. An Authoritative Interpretation is an act of the General Assembly. It does not need ratification by the presbyteries. The 600 or so commissioners at a GA can, at their discretion, make a decision that impacts the entire denomination without the presbytery's input. 
  2. This Authoritative Interpretation would change our church's practice of Christian marriage without changing the actual Book of Order or the Confessions which still declares that marriage is between a man and woman. 
  3. The result would be a practice which violates our own polity and constitution.
This overture was defeated by the committee by a vote of 24 (for) -26 (against) -2 (abstentions). 

After this vote, 13-04 on Amending W-4.9000, Marriage from the Presbytery of Hudson River was moved. 

Overture 13-04 seeks to change the language of the Book of Order to state that a marriage is between two persons rather than between a man and woman. The difference between this overture and the previous 13-05 is that it is asking for a Book of Order change and not an Authoritative Interpretation. 

This overture to change the language between a man and woman to two persons in the Book of Order passed by a vote of 28-24-0 in committee. 

The committee then voted to answer all remaining overtures with the committee's action on 13-04. 

This overture would still need to be approved by a majority of the presbyteries even if the plenary votes to move this to the presbyteries for vote.

The plenary can still defeat this recommendation from committee 13. 

There will be a minority report that will seek to maintain traditional understanding of marriage.

The problem with this overture is: 
  • Just after the PC(USA) adopted a major revision of the Form of Government and changed its standards on ordaining homosexuals just two years ago, 
  • While those evangelical congregations that have not already left the denomination are doing their best to hold their people together, 
  • While the PC(USA) finds herself hanging by a thread, 
  • Asking congregations and presbyteries to go through another round of painful voting may just be the thing that makes it simply no longer possible for many, if not majority, of evangelicals to stay in the PC(USA).
The redefinition of marriage is a line in the sand many evangelicals and our world mission partners may not be able to cross. 

It is indeed a time for much prayer and discernment for evangelicals who are, for now, still in the PC(USA).

1 comment:

Leslie Day-Ebert said...

We'll see what happens in Plenary but this could be the Rubicon we're crossing. May God have mercy on the PCUSA and lead us as we seek His wisdom and guidance.