By Tricia Dykers Koenig
The 221st General Assembly took two steps toward honoring the covenant of marriage for all couples regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity – an authoritative interpretation (AI) of the current section W-4.9000 in the Book of Order, and a proposed amendment to that section.
The AI makes clear that the Book of Order as it currently stands does not prohibit a Presbyterian minister from officiating at the marriage of a same-gender couple in civil jurisdictions where such marriages are legal. Proposed Amendment 14-F revises the Directory for Worship to reflect the reality that marriage in a growing number of U.S. states is no longer restricted to “a man and a woman.”
Through the AI, the 221st General Assembly affirmed that the choice of a minister to lead a service of worship celebrating the marriage covenant of a same-gender couple is a proper exercise of pastoral discretion – an expression of “freedom of conscience with respect to the interpretation of Scripture” [G-2.0105] demanding the “mutual forbearance toward each other” that is one of “the historic principles of church order.” [F-3.01]
Some have claimed that the passage of the AI renders the outcome of the amendment voting in the presbyteries irrelevant. That is true only if one views the Directory for Worship merely as a disciplinary document, the sole purpose of which is to establish prohibitions and permissions for Presbyterian behavior.
If, instead, the Directory for Worship witnesses to what Presbyterians believe and expresses our commitments as a faith community, then the approval of Amendment 14-F still makes a difference – not in whether teaching elders and ruling elders commissioned to pastoral service may use their discretion in ministering to the people, but in whether our Book of Order will reflect a gracious and expansive understanding of marriage that embraces, supports, and honors all families.
Originally published on Ecclesio.com.
Tricia Dykers Koenig has been the national organizer for the Covenant Network of Presbyterians since 2000.