By the Rev. Dr. Kenneth Cuthbertson
My thoughts as we approach our presbytery vote on Amendment 14-F this Saturday are focused in two directions. First, I hope for passage. Historically we have tended to vote strongly in support of such items. A second issue is the delicate balance within a couple of congregations.
My memory of last year’s debate on our endorsement of the Authoritative Interpretation is that those who spoke against asked us to address how we see our position in the light of scripture and tradition. That truly is a slippery slope to try to address, but I do think that (if need be) we can clearly answer that what made Christian marriage unique from the outset was not that it was “between a man and a woman” but that Christians were called to be “subject to one another out of reverence for Christ” in their marriages. What makes a marriage Christian is the “love, honor, cherish, for better/worse, in sickness/health, joy/sorrow, etc.” relational emphasis. Many other arguments can be made about biology and such, but “covenant” and “commitment” are at the heart of Christian marriage, and of Amendment 14-F.
Another issue that could arise is the “need to amend the Confessions” argument made in some presbyteries. My read is that the Confessions simply do not speak to same-sex unions, either “pro” or “con.” Period.
The confessional statements about marriage between “one” man and “one” woman were directed at the issue of polygamous “free-love” sects and groups at the time they were written. I could go into a long discussion of the historical contexts, but it’s already there in the Covenant Network resource list: “A Man and a Woman”: A Look at the Presbyterian Confessions in Context.”
The point is, neither the Bible nor the Confessions clearly speak to “committed” “covenantal” “loving” life-partnerships between two people of the same gender. Bottom line: the Confessions are speaking to other issues, not committed same-sex unions. We may choose to address marriage equality in some future confessional statement — as we did the issue of gender equity and ordination in the Brief Statement of Faith in 1991 — but we have not yet done so.
We may also hear some who say, “I don’t know if I can stay PCUSA if this passes.” My honest response is that I personally have stayed PCUSA for all these years because I trusted God to be at work in it, so that — win or lose on a specific issue or day — the outcomes were/are ultimately in God’s bailiwick. I have worked hard, spoken my truth, and trusted God for the ultimate outcome. I have always endeavored to play fair, and hold those on the other side in love and esteem. We are leaning over backwards to respect the scruples of those who oppose this, in ways they have never respected ours in nearly 40 years of debates. (It is 37 years since the original report on “Homosexuality and the Church” in 1978. I was a college senior at the time.) If such arguments arise, I hope we can once again be respectful, loving, and understanding, but firm.
My intention — BIG surprise, I know! — is to say a few words in the discussion. I hope to speak to having been at GA and how deeply impressed I was/am at the care taken to move into a newly worded description of marriage while endeavoring to honor and hold space for those who differ. We are “one in the Spirit” and “one in the Lord.”
What we need on Saturday is for our folks to show up, and — as needed and as moved — to speak our truth.
Thanks so much for your stalwart commitment over these many years. If this prevails, we still will have much to do, but we may never have to vote on this as “polity” again. I’ll see you at presbytery!
The Rev. Dr. Kenneth L. Cuthbertson is a member-at-large in Santa Fe Presbytery, and a Parish Associate at Las Placitas Presbyterian Church. His book The Last Presbyterian? was published in May 2013.