Shuck and Jive

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Showing the Love and Justice of Jesus Christ

I met with my board of elders or session last night.  Among the various items for business we discussed the Stand For Love initiative from More Light Presbyterians.    I previously wrote that I signed this statement:
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?
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.
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.  

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. 


  1. Well, whatever you call it, marriage or holy union, glad you're doing it!

    The Hudson River case is very, very clear about what you cannot do: "They [pastors] may not perform a ceremony that they consider to be the same as a marriage ceremony nor may they permit their facilities to be utilized for any such ceremony."

    So no, you're not breaking church rules because you just clearly acknowledged that you see there is a difference between the ceremonies conducted at your church and a heterosexual ceremony.

    Note, by the way, that the rules do not depend on what the grooms or brides think of the ceremony. For example, if you married my husband and I, and we were absolutely convinced that our marriage was equal in every way to a heterosexual marriage, you still would not be breaking the rules ... because the rules do not even care about nor mention the actual participants.

    In fact, since in no state in this country can a same-sex couple get married and have the federal government recognize the marriage, there is no place in this country where a gay marriage is "the same" as a heterosexual marriage. So there is no where in this country where a pastor in the PCUSA can break the rules.

    The only place, currently, where the PCUSA rules prohibit anything, (regardless of what word you use to describe it), would be in a foreign country in which marriage is recognized by local, state, and federal governments -- that is, where the marriages are actually "the same."

    But as long as heterosexual couples are afforded over 1,000 special federal rights on the basis of their lifestyle choice to marry someone of the opposite sex, and as long as pastors are aware of that heterosexual privilege, there is actually no way to break the marriage rules in the PCUSA.

    Just to be clear, the PCUSA does not prohibit same-sex marriage and it never has.

  2. (BTW, interesting that Hudson River uses "may not" not "shall not" in that decision... But that's a whole different argument.)

  3. The only place, currently, where the PCUSA rules prohibit anything, (regardless of what word you use to describe it), would be in a foreign country in which marriage is recognized by local, state, and federal governments -- that is, where the marriages are actually "the same."

    You make a very good argument.

    What is the significance of the Jane Spahr decision?

  4. It was wrongly decided and clearly contradictory to previous decisions that said that she couldn't have done anything wrong, because gay marriage doesn't exist. The Presbytery was right to refuse to rebuke her.

    The PCUSA PJC is clearly just makin' it up as they go along at this point, but a plain text reading of the Hudson River decision, which is the only decision that spells out what one may or may not do, makes it clear that it isn't possible to break the current rule in the PCUSA as long as there is legal discrimination in place at the local, state, or federal level. After all, the BoO clearly defines marriage as both a covenant and a civil contract, so if the contract doesn't exist on some level, then it isn't the same as heterosexual marriage.

    I'm not sure anyone has ever tried my argument before, but it is pretty unassailable, IMHO. No one could honestly say, in the face of federal discrimination, that heterosexual marriage is the same as same-sex marriage in this country.

    In fact, that's the whole point of the fight for marriage equality. We wouldn't be fighting about this if they already were the same! It's a tautology.

  5. You convinced me! Will you be my counsel when I get taken to church court? : )

  6. Absolutely! Heh.

    Though frankly, having seen some of these cases from the PJC side, you wouldn't need counsel, given the Keystone Kops nature of the accusations they file.

    Fer instance, if you're going to charge a minister for ordaining an elder in violation of G-6.0106b, you should probably make sure that minister was actually working at the church in question, and not a completely different church halfway across the country. (Yes, really, this happened.) Or if you're going to charge a minister for violation of the BoO by performing a same-sex marriage, you should probably have the basic facts, including the names of the people involved correct. (Yes, this also happened. It's hard to charge someone for performing a marriage ceremony when one of the grooms doesn't exist.) Or if you file charges, maybe you should have someone show up to actually testify. (Like the Janet Edwards trial, where only one guy showed up to testify for the prosecution, and they couldn't even convince noted homosexual expert Gagnon to testify, or any of the other accusers from PA, even though the trial was held in their back yards.) Or, if a prosecution can't even get a PJC to agree that an marriage actually even exists?

    When I say these people are inept and incompetent, that's the sort of silliness I mean. While the Galactic Empire appears to operate with frightening efficiency, from what I can tell, the Stormtrooper School of Marksmanship isn't exactly a rigorous curriculum, if you know what I mean.

  7. John and Alan --

    Fascinating discussion, and terrific blog post by John (my favorite heretic). The State of Maryland has "marriage equality" on the ballot for November, and on Sunday, a few of us UUs (including our new progressive-Baptist apostate minister)are joining with the UCC of Frederick for a rally.

    I'm sending links to this conversation to church friends.

  8. Hey Sea, good for Maryland and I hope your rally raises awareness of the need for equality!

    @Alan, I would be surprised if any charges are filed. I would say there is no need to be afraid of that and therefore not do the pastoral care requested.

    So colleagues, sign those marriage licenses and do so as a PCUSA teaching elder!