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.