Shuck and Jive

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

PCUSA Marriage Committee Finishes Its Work

The Committee on Civil Unions and Christian Marriage has finished its work. The Presbyterian Outlook reports:
The committee did not recommend any change in the definition of Christian marriage currently in the constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). That definition – that Christian marriage is between a man and a woman – was off-limits to the committee, according to its mandate from the 2008 General Assembly.
This made the committee's work pretty much worthless from the outset. What we need is action. Thanks to Baltimore Presbytery for leading the way. Also thanks to Hudson River for endorsing a similar action recently. Back to the committee...
Nevertheless, three evangelical members of the committee voted against the committee’s recommendations, expressing concern they might lead to some form of local option, and insisting that the church needs to speak a strong message that sex outside of heterosexual marriage is wrong.
At least something in the report had enough substance to alienate the busybodies. What was that something?
Among the recommendations it did approve were to:

- Ask the 2010 General Assembly to encourage presbyteries and sessions to develop resources that are consonant with the PC(USA) constitution, regarding how church facilities can be used for marriages and same-gender union ceremonies, and for clergy participation in marriages or same-gender ceremonies.
That is a start. It is more of a recognition that the wind is blowing. As a recommendation it is rather useless. Sessions already make up their own rules for the use of our facilities. I really don't know why the fundies were fussing over that one.

I did not like the following recommendation:

- Ask the assembly to direct the denomination’s Office of Theology and Worship and the Constitutional Services section of the Office of the General Assembly to provide guidelines and resources addressing the difference between a ceremony of Christian marriage and a same-gender union ceremony.
That language is condescending. It assumes that same-gender marriages are not even Christian! Sorry gay and lesbian couples. Your relationships are simply second-class. Not even Jesus approves.

There you have it. Thanks to the committee members for their work and thanks to the progressives on the committee for doing the best they could do.

What I find pitiful, groveling, and bordering on masochistic is the insistence that the denomination stays together. "We must stay at the table," I hear again and again.

The problem is that the gays aren't at the table! The only way the busybodies will stay "at the table" is if they can keep the gays from it. We have to admit that at some point and move on.

The committee didn't help much, but hopefully it didn't hurt. This is what needs to be done and these types of actions need be taken at the upcoming General Assembly:
1. Allow clergy in the six states (and in any future states) that have legalized same-gender marriage to sign marriage licenses and solemnize these marriages in the church.

2. Affirm that clergy may consecrate marriages (in the eyes of the church) for same-gender couples even in those states that have yet to legalize same-gender marriage.

3. Change the definition of marriage from one man and one woman to two people in all relevant documents.

4. Modify the Directory for Worship to create marriage rites suitable for same-gender couples.

5. Advocate for marriage equality throughout the United States.
The full report from the committee will be on the PCUSA website soon.


  1. You sort of have to feel sorry for the folks on the committee who put in the time only to have their work be irrelevant from the start.

    As has already been shown (via PJC cases), there is nothing in the BoO that specifically prohibits same-sex marriage ceremonies. It is already the Session's job to determine the use of the sanctuary, and it is already the minister's right to decide for whom they will and will not conduct ceremonies. Nothing really has to change, though it would be nice if the BoO language was cleaned up a bit to reflect the reality, as the Baltimore & Hudson River overtures would do.

    Anyway ... whatever. This report will be consigned to the ash heap like all the others and rightly ignored by people who think people are more important than reports.

  2. Good points, Alan. It would be nice to have the directory of worship changed to reflect marriage liturgy as opposed to heterosexual marriage liturgy.

  3. I wish this would happen-- your recommendations for what the church should do.
    But 30+ years of destructive navel-gazing, in fear of offending conservatives or further hemorrhaging members is about 25 years too many. And I am about to give up hope.

  4. RE: Hemorrhaging members & giving up hope...

    I wonder why the denomination is so concerned about hemorrhaging members on the far right, when there has been a steady stream of LGBT members and their allies (including ministers) seeking greener pastures in the UCC and other denominations for decades.

    I guess because we don't make a fuss and don't try to take our property with us it is easier to ignore that trend.

  5. John,

    I don't know what your take is on the Five Solas is, but to my (very limited) way of thinking this sort of irreconcilable conflict is an unavoidable consequence of making (what I consider to be) this sort of primitive theology axial in determining what constitutes moral rules and behaviours.

    Of course, and my tongue is not in my cheek (as it often is), I could be wrong...

  6. @relapse

    Alan did say what is important here. You can get gay married in the PCUSA already as the court cases have shown.

    Clergy (like me) can (and I will) officiate at big gay weddin's in the church building as a Presbyterian minister. If it were legal in the state I live, I would sign the license. I can already use whatever liturgy I want for weddings both gay and straight. I don't need a committee to give me any approval.

    We didn't need this committee in the first place. It would be nice if the church officially recognized their own lgbt members and celebrated their relationships and all of that by taking on the proposals I suggested. But we don't have to have the denomination or any committee do that in order to do ministry. As Alan put it: "people are more important than reports."

    My concern about this committee is that it would make things worse. The recommendation to have the office of theology and worship step in and engage in a bunch of superstition pretty much shows that my fear is about something real.

    Now that three "evangelical" committee members are going to come up with a minority report (can you imagine the oppressive superstition in that one!) I would encourage the progressives on the committee to make another minority report. In for a dime in for a dollar. There is no unanimity anyway.

    So how about it progressives? Give us another minority report that says what you really want and what is really right. Full recognition. Feel free to use the five recs I stated in this post.

    Then the GA can look at three reports.

    1) the main, bland and bad one.
    2) the busybody superstitious one.
    3) The one that expresses full marriage equality.

  7. @Steve I don't even know what the five solas are, so that should give you a clue where I am.

    However, that really isn't the point. There are many people regardless of their theological speculation who know the right thing from the wrong thing. You can be evangelical and be for full equality. And you can be non-religious and be against equality. So I try not to link theological views with basic human decency too closely, although, I see your point.

  8. "I wonder why the denomination is so concerned about hemorrhaging members on the far right"

    Hello, Alan.

    The answer would be "collection plate".
    The church, unfortunately, likes that conservanoid money. If we Liberals had that kind of dough we'd have everything we want.
    Of course, lots more Liberals could possibly make up the losses. But the church will never take the chance of being wrong where money is concerned.
    They have the same bottom line as the rest of the world. Their primary flaw in my eyes.

  9. @Captain,

    I am not sure that is true in fact. It is the popular myth or threat, however.

    Those who would cease giving money to their congregations or to the denomination if we fully embraced equal rights are already gone.

    That the denomination is going to lose money if we embrace equality is an empty threat.

    Viola over on her blog has already admitted that her cult doesn't pay per capita. They have done all the damage they can do. The busybodies are running on fumes.

    When the PCUSA (or any congregation) embraces equality it will grow.

    You are right, Captain, that the MYTH persists. The solution is simple: stand up to the bullies and the busybodies. Do the right thing.

  10. I sooo hope it is a myth, John. It has always seemed to me that the church, at least Bristol, was terrified of pissing off the old conservanoid money.

    Parkay floors and glitzy fellowship dinners don't grow on trees ya know.