Shuck and Jive

Friday, October 09, 2009

Best Letter Yet to PCUSA Marriage Committee

This letter is so good and so right I want to post it here so you all can see it. Share it widely and then make sure to send your own. Find it at Alan's place.
“In essentials, unity. In non-essentials, liberty. In all things, love” -- Augustine

“God alone is Lord of the conscience” -- Westminster Confession of Faith, 6.109

October, 2009

To the Committee:

Grace and peace to you from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Thank you for your continued service to our denomination.

We have read your preliminary report and while we find much to disagree with, we will ignore those disagreements and submit our recommendation regarding Christian marriage in the faith community. We have only one recommendation:

1) Be Presbyterian

You note in your report that the denomination does not agree on issues relating to same-sex marriage and civil union. You also acknowledge the need for mutual forbearance. We agree on both points. Thus your recommendation to the denomination should, in the spirit of mutual forbearance, not force anyone to violate his or her God-given conscience on an issue that is not now, nor has ever been an essential of the faith. To wit, no pastor, or layperson, or session should be forced in any way to participate in any marriage ceremony with which they do not agree. Traditionally, pastors in the PC(USA) have always had the discretion to decide for whom they will and will not conduct a marriage ceremony and this should not change. In the same way, no pastor should be forced to refrain from officiating at a marriage ceremony for a couple simply due to the gender of the two individuals involved. In other words: freedom of conscience. Quite simply, we should continue to be Presbyterian.

There is nothing Presbyterian about instituting from the top down a clerical class that dictates how laypersons in the church must live their day-to-day lives. There is nothing Presbyterian about forcing people to act against their consciences on non-essential matters. We Presbyterians warmly welcome any who proclaim Christ is Lord to come to His table. We Presbyterians warmly welcome any who proclaim Christ is Lord to be baptized. That is all very Presbyterian. Why then, if we allow such freedom of conscience regarding our two sacraments, would we not allow such freedom of conscience for a marriage ceremony that is not a sacrament and is not essential?

By following our recommendation to “Be Presbyterian” both sides of these debates would, for the first time, be able to exercise their freedom of conscience. To those who disagree with us, we say, “If you don’t like gay marriage, don’t get gay married.” We do not seek, require, nor expect their approval any more than they sought or required our permission when they got married. No one is asking those who disagree to violate their consciences; they are free to disapprove as much as they want, as often as they want, as loudly as they want. They are free to invent specious rationalizations and fictitious harms that will supposedly arise from a wedding they were not invited to, of two people they will never meet. However they should not force the whole church to countenance their fabrications. So, to those who agree with the person who recently wrote to the Presbyterian Layman, “Irrespective of what the policy wonks force down the Church’s throat next, where I serve, marriage will be between one man and one woman. Nothing else,” we respond, "Fine. No one is asking anything else. We only expect the same forbearance from you." That’s very Presbyterian.

To our allies, we say, “If you want to get married, you cannot force anyone to officiate at the service or host the ceremony.” The answer to this impasse really is that simple. The solution merely requires everyone to kindly mind his or her own business, a habit that is unfortunately rapidly disappearing from both civil and religious society, including in our own denomination.

If that very Presbyterian (and not coincidentally very American) notion of live and let live is what you mean by mutual forbearance, then both of us are all for it.

However, if by mutual forbearance you mean one side of the church gets to continue to enforce the anti-gay status quo through continued cynical threats of schism and through intimidation by drive-by nonsense litigation, while LGBT Presbyterians and allies are forced to violate both their own God-given consciences and Scripture, then we believe that to recommend that they cheerfully agree to their own continued oppression is un-Presbyterian and is nothing like real forbearance, nor is it remotely realistic or workable.

So, we hope that you will look to traditional Reformed, Presbyterian understandings of church life in making your recommendations to the denomination, and be guided by both Augustine, and the Westminster Confession: On matters involving non-essentials, God alone is Lord of the conscience. That is our recommendation.

May God continue to bless you all as you finish your work.
The committee is not looking for letters written in iambic pentameter. They aren't going to grade you. Simply tell your story.


  1. oooh, iambic pentameter. Now *that* would make a good letter.

    Thanks for the kind words!

  2. This letter was an epic win. This has been my position all along, and I couldn't agree more.

  3. Alan and Brian - your letter was spot on. Nicely done.