Shuck and Jive

Monday, June 22, 2009

Presbyterian Paranoia

The Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) finished its 37th General Assembly in paranoid fashion. The PCA is a different denomination from the one I serve, the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (PCUSA). When the two main branches of the Presbyterian Church finally decided the Civil War had ended in 1983, they reunited. Ten years prior to reunion, some congregations of the then "southern branch" broke away and formed their own denomination. The larger church had become too liberal for their tastes. The PCA doesn't ordain women and it accepts only the Westminster Confession. You can read the history from their point of view here.

It is no surprise then that they would be opposed to equal rights and rites for glbt folks. It would be a safe bet that few if any of their clergy would be inclined to officiate at a same-gender wedding ceremony. Of course, no clergy is ever, ever, required to officiate at any wedding.

That is such an obvious truth. As a clergyperson I am not required to officiate at anyone's wedding. Even though every state in the union allows previously divorced people to be married, no clergyperson is required to marry them. Allowance does not mean requirement.

Why then, did the PCA need to take "dramatic steps" to protect "their religious freedom?" It is a ploy based on fear-mongering.

During floor debate, a pastor from Iowa punctuated the group’s concern when he said he could potentially face discrimination claims under the state’s new policy of permitting same-sex marriages.

“If we fail to change the language today … you will leave me without protection,” said Allen McClure of Faith Presbyterian Church in Ackley, Iowa. “I would like to get the protection now, so that if the lawsuit comes next week or next month, I will have the protection.”

“I don’t want to go to jail,” McClure says. “I like being with my family.”

But if necessary, some PCA pastors say, they would go to jail rather than perform same-sex marriages.

I don't lose sleep over the superstitions of a religious body that is not my own. I highlight this article to show the lengths the religious right will go to make America dumber.

Now I am curious. Has there ever been a case in which a minister has gone to jail because s/he refused to marry someone?

This debate over same-gender marriage illustrates the larger concern whether or not churches and clergy should be in the marriage business at all.

I might be in favor of couples suing clergy and churches. Not same-gender couples necessarily, but anyone. If your local priest, rabbi, or preacher has the privilege of signing a civil marriage contract, should that person be required to sign it? If previously divorced Bob wants to marry atheist June and have the local priest sign the contract, should the priest be required to sign it? Is it not discrimination to refuse?

The issue of same-gender marriage and the church has nothing to do with same-gender marriage. The issue is the meddling of the church in civil affairs. I don't think clergy should have any business signing civil contracts, but it will be a long time before the church lobby gives up that privilege.

In the meantime, no church or clergy will ever be forced by anti-discrimination laws to marry anyone. For clergy and church bodies to make a big stink over same-gender marriage is nothing more than fear-mongering. It is a bullying attempt to deny people civil rights under the cover of religious persecution.


  1. "Has there ever been a case in which a minister has gone to jail because s/he refused to marry someone?"

    Of course not. But by now you should know that the far right's grasp of reality is tenuous at best.

    It's an interesting mix of fear-mongering and narcissism.

    The fear mongering, you point out, is silly. I'm sure it raises some money though.

    The narcissism, I believe, is from a group of folks who think they're so wonderful that LGBT folks would actually want them to officiate at an event on one of the most special days of their lives. For myself, I not only wouldn't have wanted a PCA minister officiating at my wedding, I wouldn't have even invited one to wait tables at the reception.

  2. What bull$#!+!


    It all is so tiring sometimes.

  3. Ah, my. As you say, marriage that's the problem. It's the wedding.

    The answer is simple: elope! Have a JP sign the legal document. Have a party afterward if you want (with a passel of PCA preachers to bus tables if you want to), and then get on with the real important stuff: the marriage.

  4. While no clergy has been prosecuted criminally, there have been documented cases in both the United States and Canada where civil proceedings have been brought against religious organizations which refused to provide services in connection with a same sex marriage or union. One instance was a Methodist facilty in New Jersey; a second was a Knights of Columbus Hall in Canada. In addition, a photographer in New Mexico who refused to photograph a same sex couple in connection with their "wedding" (same sex marriage not being legal in that state), was prosecuted before that state's human rights commission. I'm sure there are other examples, and it is inevitable that there will be more in the future. Any person, clergy or otherwise, who acts out of a sincerley held relgious belief that supports the traditional understanding of marriage may offend someone who holds the opposing view. Should that person have to answer to a civil rights complaint filed by someone who is offended by their action? Such actions have a chilling effect on the rights of persons to exercise their religious freedom. If you really want an honest debate about these matters, you should address the legitimate concerns about the infringement on religious liberty, and not characterize as paranoid those who hold views different than yours.

  5. Oh please, there is no infringement on anyone's "religious liberty." No clergy will ever be forced by the state to officiate at any wedding.

    As far as wedding photographers are concerned, I would hope they would get sued for not providing services based on discrimination.

    As for halls who rent out their facilities, I hope they too would get the pants sued off of them for discrimination.

    I would hope you paranoid religious nuts were correct about being taken to court for discriminating against other human beings.

    I would love to see every homophobic preacher thrown in jail for the damage they have done to other human beings.

    Unfortunately, that won't happen.

    So you get no sympathy from me. You should be ashamed of yourself for hiding behind religion and phrases like "traditional understanding of marriage" as you make life more difficult for your brothers and sisters.

    "Infringement on religious liberty" my ass.

  6. You might enjoy reading, "Idiot America: How Sutpidity became a Virtue in the Land of the Free," by Charles P. Pierce

  7. Sounds like a fun book. The title alone is cathartic.

  8. "Such actions have a chilling effect on the rights of persons to exercise their religious freedom."


    Here's a chilling effect: infringing on the rights of people to live their every-day lives openly, honestly, and with integrity.

  9. "One instance was a Methodist facilty in New Jersey; "

    A facility that was not a church, that was a public accommodation on a boardwalk usually used by sweaty runners as a place to take a break, a facility on which the Methodists received a tax break from the public because it was a public accommodation. They were happy to take the public's money, but then they got bent out of shape when the public decided that relationship ought to go both ways.

    This story has been repeated so often that it has developed its own mythos, and of course if the far right repeats the lies long enough and loud enough they're sure people will believe them ... and unfortunately some do. But the facts of the case are clear. No church was forced to allow a marriage, and no minister was forced to preside over one.

    Yes, I'm sure you can come up with other examples like the KoC in Canada. In Canada. You may not be aware, pds, that we actually have a very different system of laws and government than Canada. Living in Michigan, I'm always surprised at the number of folks living in the rest of the US who apparently think that Canada is the 51st state. So find us some examples in the US, won't you? We won't hold our breath.

    "if you really want an honest debate about these matters, you should address the legitimate concerns about the infringement on religious liberty, and not characterize as paranoid those who hold views different than yours."

    And if you really want an honest debate about these matters, pds, you should perhaps first begin with some honesty. Paranoia bread with lies isn't a good place to start.

    "I'm sure there are other examples, and it is inevitable that there will be more in the future."

    I'm sure you believe that. But I, for one, tend to rely on actual examples and real evidence, not myths and legends. That statement shows clearly that you simply want to believe in the boogyman, so you believe in the boogyman.

    Relying on "other examples" that you don't name and can't specify, and on a couple lies isn't exactly the best way to convince anyone that you're not paranoid.

  10. BTW, pds, your link takes one to an empty blog called "Iowa Employment Law." I wonder if you're an Iowan and a lawyer. If so, then surely with gay marriage legal now in your state you can provide us with numerous examples of cases working their way through the Iowa legal system in which Ministers have been imprisoned for refusing to conduct marriages in your state.

  11. I must protest pds for his or her lies.

    This "Presbyterian paranoia" is not just paranoia. It is intentional false witness with the purpose of creating confusion and fear to promote a right wing secular political agenda.

    People who call themselves Christian who are motivated by fear, or worse, live off the promotion of fear, are many things, but disciples of Jesus they are not.

    I can't decide whether to laugh at them, or pray for their miserable souls. Seriously, what will they come up with next?