You may not know this but I never tell people how I vote on things… not even my wife.  So, it’s a big deal for me to write out that I voted against the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s change in their Book of Order that changed the definition of marriage.   Some people may say they’re not surprised, but maybe, just maybe they would be surprised by the reasons.
Along with the definition, here’s what got changed…

  • a pastor is allowed to perform weddings for marriages that are legal in their state
  • the requirement that at least one person in the couple be a professing Christian was removed
  • the pastor was made a “witness” of the wedding instead of consecrating it
  • the couple makes “promises” instead of vow

Here’s what these changes can mean…
When a pastor is told they can perform marriages that are legal in the state in which they live, that makes the authority of the church stand under the government or “the state.”  Back in the 1930’s a group of German Christians got together in the town of Barmen and they wrote out a document that made it vividly clear that the state never leads the church.  They did that because the Nazi party had announced that the state is the “head of the church.”  These folks wrote a declaration or confession that Jesus is the head of the church and not the state, ever.  In that time and place, they created their own death warrants by signing that document.
But, if the state is the one leading then there’s no need for at least one person in a couple to be a professing Christian.  But, then why have a pastor?  Why do this ceremony in a church?  Traditionally, weddings are worship services in which a marriage is consecrated (set apart as dedicated to God) with a community of believers.  The pastor acts as the representative of the gathered community to bring the two people together.  If neither person needs to be a Christian then shouldn’t the two people just go to a justice of the peace or a judge?  I mean, a “Church Wedding” is not about having a fancy day in the pretty building, right?
But if it is then a pastor is just a “witness” like everyone else.  They don’t actually perform a role in a worship experience or act with God’s participation.  They just agree with the uniting procedure these people are doing in front of other people who are there to see these folks do it.  God is not a necessary part of the experience.
This seems to allow the participants of the ceremony now described to shift from the solemnity or high standard of making vows to each other to that of simply making a promise.  It’s been my practice in weddings to point out that vows are different.  Like, a promise can be, “I’ll see you next Thursday.”  That’s different from the particular bond or covenant inherent in a vow.

So, yeah, I voted against this change.  I’m willing to extend the benefit of the doubt that those who crafted the words didn’t realize what the implications were.  But I do realize the words were crafted and I do feel the implications are impactful.


10 responses to “Voting

  1. Thank you for the explanation and your vote!

  2. Geoff,
    I think one of the foundations for your argument against this rule change is based upon some flawed logic. You state that because a pastor is allowed to perform marriages that are legal in the state in which they live, the church stands under the government. You cite the resistance to the Nazi Germany government’s proclamation that the state is the head of the church as support for this position. However, I fail to see how one supports the other. I think it is a stretch to say that allowing pastors to conduct state-legal marriages means the church is now somehow under the state’s control. The church is merely authorizing (under the church’s rules) pastors to perform a marriage ceremony that might not have been authorized before. I’m not aware of any state law proclaiming dominion over the church. I think a far better argument for the church standing under the government is IRS Code 501(c)3. Try running a church without that in its charter.
    Also, what about Romans 13:1:
    Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.
    One could argue that under Romans 13:1, both the American Revolution and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s civil disobedience were sinful acts. Furthermore, we’d have to condemn even the actions of German Christians who resisted the Nazi government, yet you seem to praise their behavior (and rightfully so, I might add). My point is, submitting to governing authorities does have a biblical basis. That being said, I still don’t think that a church’s decision to allow pastors to do something that the state law proclaims as legal can be tantamount to placing the church “under the state.” The church remains fairly autonomous when it comes to matters at the core of their faith.
    Removal of the requirement of at least one participant be a professing Christian is kind of a head-scratcher to me too, though I think these rules are like sausage….you don’t want to know how they were made. Can’t wait to read about the first devil-worshipping couple married in the Presbyterian Church.
    The other two points are semantics, window dressing, really, more sausage-making and compromise than anything else would be my guess.
    So there is no misunderstanding, I’m sure we both recognize this change was a response to the growing movement for same-sex marriages. Ultimately, Geoff, even if I accept the proposition that this latest action taken by the church places it under the state, it’s Romans 13:8-10 that speaks the loudest to me (emphasis added):
    Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. The commandments, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not covet,’ and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
    Two people in a loving, Christian, monogamous relationship that want to be married should be welcomed and encouraged by the church to do so. To do otherwise fails to love them and there’s really no need to look under the hood. You don’t do that with outwardly appearing heterosexuals and you shouldn’t with any other couple either.

    • Hey Scott, Always a delight. Thanks for the response.
      This is how I see our situation. The church has put itself in the position of following the state. Although the ramifications of choices made in our society don’t, in any way, compare to what was faced by our friends in Barmen, the position remains the same. When the “throuple”(3 women) married in Massachusetts it was deemed legal. A Presbyterian church in that state should then necessarily be put in the position of having to decide whether they will also marry 3 women. The state now dictates what the church must determine about its own policies. Although we are not at the place where the state demands we follow their lead, in my last post I linked the NYTimes editorial that said that Christians will need to be “forced to accept homosexuals.” So, there’s something in the air.
      Regarding tax breaks… If the church lost its 501(c)3 status, we would just move back to being the church as we were for centuries or how our brothers and sisters are in other countries in the world.
      When we read Romans 13:1 we sometimes think that submitting means subjugating but this was not the experience of actual Romans, like Roman soldiers. It was a call to become participants, freely aligned contributors and responsible members of society. It’s like a soldier who does his/her job responsibly but not in “just following orders.” The government didn’t have any expectation that their soldiers were at their beck and call. They knew that if they didn’t support the soldiers well, the military could turn on them in a minute. Paul is telling Christians, in military terms, to participate in the well-being of the state. We do the same thing when we talk about wives submitting to their husbands. Instead of aligning for the well-being of the relationship, we’ve turned it into being subservient slaves. Many in the church have been misappropriating that thought which doesn’t align with the rest of what Paul says about women or marriage.
      I realize that you enjoy the church getting roasted when it screws itself, but the true sense in our heritage is that, because of God’s participation in a marriage, at least one believer, knowingly, enters into the marriage commitment when it is part of the worship service that includes a wedding. So I don’t look forward to the devil-worshipping couple coming or even suing a church.
      And, loving our neighbor does actually mean “looking under the hood” of any couple that comes seeking marriage. I talk over some of the most intimate issues with couples that you can probably think of, because I have an enormous responsibility to express love as thoroughly as I can. Sometimes that means saying “no” to a couple. That is what I have to determine with any couple, but now I need to expand that consideration and so I’m in prayer.
      And along this line…there used to be seven guidelines for what should be included in the work pastors do with a couple preparing for marriage. Those were all removed as well with the new wording and replaced with us just having a “discussion.” I’m assuming that those who crafted these words thought that would benefit a same-gender couple. Do you think that would be the preference of two seriously loving human beings? It feels like we’ve moved to “you don’t have to be that thorough. Just chat it over unless some real red flag unexpectedly pops up.”

  3. As always, Geoff, thank you for the thoughtful discussion. The Church (big C) is in need of thought without such emotion. you are missed, my friend.

  4. Thank you Geoff. I am so disappointed in PCUSA. Many people are looking at this from a secular point of view instead of Biblical. The ‘C’ in PCUSA used to stand for ‘Church’, now must stand for Culture Club (yes, I know that would be PC2USA).

  5. Hey Geoff,

    Thanks for your thoughtful reply. A few thoughts. It’s my contention that the Bible (not the NYT) compels Christians to accept homosexuals. Their sin (if you believe it is sinful, which I do not) is no different than ours. We should not single them out for simply being different nor should we stand in the way of their wish to be married, legally under state laws, or spiritually through the church. I don’t believe it is God’s wish for us to make the Bible a rule book. It is inconsistent if viewed in that light and certainly not what a loving Jesus would want us to do. The adulterous woman would have been stoned if Jesus viewed the Bible as a rule book. Jesus himself would have met this fate as well for violating the laws proscribing working on the Sabbath. As a Church, we have either decided or interpreted the teachings of Jesus to mean that the OT rules in the bible that are not related to loving God or your neighbor are no longer applicable. (I wonder how the 4th commandment plays here? Are we still bound?) The rules regarding hair length, slaves, head coverings, food laws, mixing fabrics, sowing different seeds, etc. are no longer binding upon us because it is the current interpretation (dare I say societal transformation) that they do not relate to the command to love God or one another (we might be right, we might be wrong, after all Jesus himself stated that he did not come to abolish the Law). The reality is no Christian seems too concerned today with that interpretation of those OT laws.

    Taking this to its logical conclusion, a same-sex monogamous, loving, Christian, marriage does not violate the dictates of the Bible how it is interpreted after Jesus. In no way does that relationship dishonor, disrespect or prevent loving God. Nor does it get in the way of loving one’s neighbor. Romans 13:8-10 requires only that we love God and our neighbors. ALL OTHER RULES (and when I say rules it includes Commandments) NO LONGER BIND US! (For me, however, there’s still that sticky 4th Commandment issue.) I believe it is the steadfast opposition to gay marriage that fails to honor the dictates of the Bible as it is now interpreted. Such opposition fails to love your neighbor.

    While we seem to disagree on the Bible’s guidance related to same-sex marriages, I don’t fail to recognize how the Church’s new rules impacts your view of, and participation in marriage. I would be more surprised if it didn’t make you stop and consider the church’s role (and yours) in marriages. The new dictates apply to all marriages in your Church and clearly water-down the other critical aspects of a lifetime commitment. Why your Church felt it necessary to amend the other requirements boggles the mind. So I do agree with much of what you said.

    I am guilty as charged when you state that I get some satisfaction out of watching the church squirm when it takes actions that seem to be self-destructive. I should not seek pleasure or gain from other’s troubles. On this issue, however, I don’t look at it as a way of poking fun at some religion. I think there are serious and meaningful biblical reasons that support society’s recent enlightenment in acceptance of same-sex marriages. I wonder what the majority of Christians leaders will think about this issue 100 years from now. Interpretation of the Bible has changed significantly over time. I think it will change here too, and for the better.

    • Greetings, Scott.
      I will respectfully disagree with a few of your points. While Romans (from Paul to a church he was trying to start) demands us to love one another, it also exhorts us not to be consumed and subsumed by the culture around us but rather by God’s love and direction. The Gospels (the recorded word of Jesus) say that we should love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, and strength and love our neighbors as ourselves…AND on this all the other laws are hung. Jesus does not say that we should affirm sin and sexual immorality…he says we should love first. He also told the adulterous woman to go and sin no more…he loved but did not affirm. If you cannot read in both testaments that man and woman were made for one another then you are trying to prove a point without context. The Bible is what it needs to be…it is God-breathed, not dynamic and certainly not a legal brief or precedent for a trial.

      I guess I would just say that loving is not the same as affirming. Loving is sometimes gently correcting one another until we all walk in the way God set out in front of us.

      Blessings to you!

  6. This is great, Scott. Truly, truly (or verily, verily or even Amen, Amen) I wish you had visited worship more often when I was there. You would have heard me preach the same thing you say here… that is in regard to the Bible not being a rule book. Not only is the Bible not to be used as a rule book, but it isn’t actually a rule book.

    This would have been such an easier conversation face to face. You see, the 10 commandments should be read as the 10 Descriptions, like “This is who I am and what I’m like. And this is what you’re like in relationship with me. You shall not be the kind of people who… kill, commit adultery, lie, etc… You won’t be people who try to control me by knowing my name. You’ll be the kind of people who rest once a week and let everyone who works for you and every animal rest, one day a week. You’ll be the kind of people who get together with me regularly, so we can party over how life works, when it works, and invite in those who haven’t been able to gather the kinds of successes you have for whatever reason.

    If you read the actual nature of God into the Word of God you learn the Spirit of God and obedience becomes an easy thing, a desired thing because it makes life work as it should. One way of looking at this is to consider that the Bible is the history of people getting God wrong.

    Jesus is the actual nature of God expressed. This is why he makes sense even to people who don’t follow him. He came and taught that we had misinterpreted the Law as rules instead of as an expression of love for us, as you have probably told your children to do or not do things because you love them. “Don’t cross the road now.” “Listen to what I’m telling you.” “That’s not a good place for you to hang out.” If you read the prophets in the Old Testament you see this heart expressed.

    The Law is not abolished because the Law is good and trustworthy. What is not good is us. We decide that vaccinations cause autism. We decide that we can build a ship that “even God cannot sink.” We decide that homosexuality is based on genetics. We decide that our newspaper, internet, television report of a scientific exploration is the basis of enough information for us to create doctrine, classroom requirements, or lawsuits. We do these things because we want what we want.

    Here’s an interesting thing – about 18,000 same gender couples were married in California immediately after it was allowed in 2008. Since then only about 18,000 same gender couples have married in California. Obviously we are not facing a flooding river. However, 10 % of married, same gender couples from any state in which it is now legal all live in one place… Washington, DC. What would draw 10% of that community to that town? It’s kind of like the Higgs Boson, don’t you think? There’s got to be something represented by what we’re experiencing. My point is that human beings come with agendas. The hatred spewed on one side and the dismissive assurance on the other side fit into the work of the agenda.

    There is no passage in the Bible that speaks positively about homosexuality. We can argue over what they actually say, but suppose we just removed them all. Would the Bible have nothing to say about people who live in a homosexual expression? It would still say to love my neighbor as I love myself. That does not tell me to build doctrine, institutions or laws. It tells me to put my physical self and resources into the way of anyone who would bring damage down on my neighbor. That’s what Jesus tells me to do. That, and loving God, will fulfill the Law, he tells me.

    The agenda is telling me to do much more than that. The agenda is telling me to say that these people are just like me. The trouble with that, Scott, is that it only brings them to the place of being sinful bastards in need of a Savior. It doesn’t make them good, which is what I’m pretty sure the agenda wants.

    The sticky wicket in which I find myself is that no couple of any stripe needs me to make them committed in love or somehow better. But what it feels like is that, within this moment, I’m being told to bow my head to an agenda that someone is bringing. And as one of my master’s sheep… it just doesn’t sound like his voice.

  7. Thank you Geoff and Chuckie. I truly enjoy a respectful discussion on matters that we don’t agree upon. I find it fascinating that people on both sides of an issue can cite the same source as support for their position. So much more could be said on both sides (I haven’t even raised the problem of intersexuals and marriage), but I think we have all made our points.

    I admit to being a not-so-smart ass on the Bible’s direction related to same-sex marriages. I feel like the rebel or biblical fool in what I consider a biblical discussion, but still vehemently maintain my convictions. I know it is conclusory and filled with conceit, but I am right. That doesn’t mean your beliefs wrong, they are only wrong for me. I think there is room for Christians relying upon the Bible to maintain either position. I believe certain questions require us to decide what is right for each of us individually. The real difficulty comes (as it does here) when our decisions affect others in a significantly manner.

    While we’ve already addressed each other, what guides your responses? Proverbs 26:4 or 5? Maybe both are right? Maybe we are both right?

    • Thanks to you as well, Scott.
      There’s probably one more thing to say on my part. I feel I should point out that I worked with your assumption but I have not said that I disagree or agree with you. I’m in a season of discernment and so must push edges and seek dialogue partners. You have been stellar.
      What Paul was talking about in Scripture is probably not what we speak of today regarding homosexuality. At the same time what we speak of today we speak of too quickly. Although TV shows and Lady Gaga will tell us we’re “born this way,” Queer theorists, gay bloggers, and others (that I read) who have no interest in faithfulness but are seeking to understand are now saying that homosexuality presents because of a natural proclivity combining with environment factors – nature and nurture. We started by delineating people L-G and then L-G-B and then T and now LGBTQIA and P. You see, my problem is that instead of being human we are demanding people assign themselves a letter. We may be able to describe 17 different experiences of snow, but it is still snow. When we add to that the growing determination that sexual identity is more fluid and may take the first 21 years to settle, but may be more than that, I am being asked to step into a mishmash of opinion and speak for God.
      That’s what I find most disturbing. You and many others may feel like saying what is right can be done easily and cleanly. I feel like that’s a bit above my pay grade. When I talk, I am supposed to express God’s true heart as closely as I am able. You see, I’m not supposed to provide an opinion but to help people walk into truth. I recognize that Proverbs 26:4&5 are both correct, though I do not believe you are a fool.
      I already live to provide shelter and welcome to anyone who comes to my door regardless of whether they give themselves a letter or have no idea. That’s where I start. From here, I move to prayer.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s