How Then Shall We Live? – Post Same-Sex Marriage Approval
“Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer…Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another…” (Romans 12:12, 14-16a).
Friends in Ministry,
On Tuesday, March 17, the Presbytery of the Palisades became the 86th presbytery of 171 to approve Amendment 14-F. W-4.9000 of the Book of Order (“Marriage”) will be amended accordingly.
Other amendments have passed or soon will. At least one, to my mind, has farther-reaching implications; I’ll say more in a later column. But for today, if you say “Presbyterian Church,” most people will think “same-sex marriage.” So I address it now.
The definition of marriage in the Directory for Worship will change on June 21 from “a civil contract between a woman and a man …[and, for Christians,] a covenant through which a man and a woman are called to live out together before God their lives of discipleship” (W-4.9001, Book of Order 2013/2015) to “a unique commitment between two people, traditionally a man and a woman, to love and support each other for the rest of their lives.” The apparent dissonance between the language of the Directory for Worship and the Authoritative Interpretation of 2014 has been resolved.
The new language is not prescriptive. It explicitly retains pastors’ and sessions’ authority over marriage: “Nothing herein shall compel a teaching elder to perform nor compel a session to authorize the use of church property for a marriage service that the teaching elder or the session believes is contrary to the teaching elder’s or the session’s discernment of the Holy Spirit and their understanding of the Word of God.”
Several of the sessions and pastors of our presbytery will quite likely exercise their consciences in just such a manner. A majority of you voted against the amendment on February 26 (58Y/71N/1A). Acting as your Stated Clerk, I have conveyed the Presbytery’s disapproval to the Office of the General Assembly.
When I consider that 14-F has passed in spite of the vote of Los Ranchos Presbytery, it occurs to me that some of us are at least a little disappointed, perhaps deeply so. And some of us are at least a little relieved, perhaps even elated.
You who lament the change may take comfort in belonging to a presbytery that does not support it. You who regret the Presbytery’s vote may rejoice to have the Book of Order on your side.
Today I urge you to consider your colleagues’ reactions. Remember that your fellow servants in the Lord are both delighted and dismayed. Remember our common bond, even when we vehemently disagree.
And when the disagreement becomes painful, remember that every pastor, elder and deacon among us has committed to being “a friend among [our] colleagues in ministry” (W-4.4003e). Not just a colleague among our colleagues. A friend.
Why do I remind us of our commitment? Because the written Word of God speaks of much more than sexual ethics. It also speaks of mutual love.
Consider Romans 12:10, for instance: “Love one another with mutual affection…” A literal reading brings out the force of the line: “…being devoted to one another in philadelphia” (traditionally, “brotherly love”).
Mutual love, according to Paul, is no vague sentiment. It carries concrete expectations. One of the immediate applications of Paul’s desired philadelphia, for instance, appears in verse 15: “Rejoice with those who rejoice [and] weep with those who weep.”
Often enough, we gladly and easily follow that command. With a few tragic exceptions, we “rejoice with those who rejoice” at weddings and “weep with those who weep” at funerals.
But Paul’s command omits any conditions. Paul does not tell us only to weep, or only to rejoice, when we can do so gladly and easily.
Following Scripture here means weeping even when we are inclined to rejoice, and rejoicing when we are inclined to weep—not in response to our own dismay or delight, but in response to the dismay or delight of our fellow believers. Mutual love sometimes means that, even when we feel like weeping, we are to rejoice in our brother’s joy. Even when we feel like rejoicing, we are to weep for our sister’s sorrow.
My hope is that we will do exactly that. At a moment when we could split into factions, I pray that we will demonstrate mutual love for one another. I pray that each of you will do so in such a concrete, tangible way that someone who until now has been something of an opponent becomes more of a friend.
Somewhere along the Way—
P.S. For those of you who find it helpful: the national leadership of the PC(USA) have provided several resources in response to the vote.
A video message from the PC(USA) Stated Clerk, Gradye Parsons, on the approval of Amendment 14-F. Spanish Korean
The Moderator and Vide-Moderator of the 221st GA issue letter on marriage amendment.
Advisory Opinion on the amendment of W-4.9000.