As a teaching elder in the PCUSA, I have married or am willing to publicly marry same gender couples in my pastoral role, in obedience to my ordination vow to “show the love and justice of Jesus Christ.” Respecting the conscience of fellow Presbyterians, I accept the consequences of this declaration, including the provisions of discipline in our Book of Order.
As of this writing I am one of 195 signatories. Some of this is a problem with semantics as we discussed at the meeting last night. What is marriage? Is it a legal document? Is it a religious action? Is it a personal agreement between people?
When the statement says, "I have married or am willing to publicly marry same gender couples," I do wonder have I done that? I am willing to of course. But have I so far? I have not signed a marriage license for a same-gender couple. I live in Tennessee. It will likely take federal troops for this state to accept marriage equality. If I were invited to sign the license and bless the nuptials for a same-gender couple in New York, I will be happy to do it for the gas money and the thrill and honor of it all. (On second thought, if asked, I would buy my own gas).
I have officiated at Holy Unions for same gender couples. I have one coming up this Saturday. David and Landon have invited the congregation to celebrate with them. You can read about it in the newsletter (page 9). Is it a marriage? Here is our session's policy:
Do you marry same-sex couples?Our policy is based on the legal definition of marriage. So from that perspective, this Saturday's wedding is not a marriage. Yet what we will do on Saturday will be no different from what we would do if we lived in New York State, except for signing the license. They will be married in the sacred sense of the word.
No. Tennessee restricts marriage to one man and one woman. However, we do celebrate Holy Union ceremonies for same-sex couples and for opposite-sex couples who do not wish to be married.
I treat same-gender couples no differently from opposite-gender couples. They go through counseling. We create a worship service that is meaningful. We honor and celebrate and bless the relationship as holy, sacred and blessed. I use all the ordained Presbyterian mojo and hoopla I have in me to honor these lives.
So am I breaking the church rules? I really don't know. I do know that my colleagues who sign the license because they happen to live in a state where same-gender marriage is legal are breaking the church rules. I know that because of the precedent set by the Jane Spahr case. If you have not listened to my Religion For Life interview with Jane Spahr, I invite you to do that. Here is the podcast. She describes all the church disciplinary shenanigans in regards to her case, but more importantly she talks about why marriage equality is so critical:
Second class status always leads to violence.Churches and clergy because of the moral symbolism attached to them need to demonstrate in word and in deed that same-gender relationships are moral, ethical, and sacred. If doing so requires personal risk, then we need to ask ourselves what it means to "show the love and justice of Jesus Christ" in the first place.
The General Assembly could have avoided this by issuing an Authoritative Interpretation that would have allowed clergy and churches to marry same-gender couples in states where it is legal to do so. The General Assembly did not do this. Therefore, because my colleagues are at risk of church discipline, including ultimately losing their ordination, this action, Stand For Love, is now necessary. I proudly stand with my colleagues in their obedience to their ordination vows as I seek to obey mine.