The Significance of an Authoritative Interpretation on Marriage

By Tricia Dykers Koenig: “It has been claimed that an authoritative interpretation of W-4.9000, the marriage section in the Directory for Worship, is an attempt to amend the Book of Order without votes from the presbyteries. On the contrary, an authoritative interpretation does not aim to amend what the Book of Order says about marriage – there are other overtures that would do that. An authoritative interpretation simply states that decisions made about pastoral care and worship that do not conform in every detail to the words of W-4.9000 do not necessarily constitute an offense subjecting a minister to discipline.”

Marriage and the Book of Confessions


Would it be permissible for the PCUSA to interpret and/or amend the Book of Order section on marriage to reflect the reality of same-gender marriage, even though The Book of Confessions uses the language of “a man and a woman”?

Based on the way the Confessions have functioned in the church – especially since 1967, when a collection of documents was substituted for the Westminster Confession – yes. The Book of Confessions is not a compilation of proof-texts from which to glean answers to questions not contemplated by the authors, and contains numerous examples of assertions that are no longer appropriate or necessary expressions of our faith. General Assemblies have taken actions in the past that are directly contradictory to the letter of the Confessions.

Why an Authoritative Interpretation Matters

Brian Ellison

Clergy confidentiality. The uses of church property. Voting by email or on a conference call by presbyteries or sessions. How candidates for ordination are to be examined. The meaning of marriage.
They’re all more or less important pieces of church life and governance. They’re all matters where contemporary practice outpaced what was anticipated when the church’s constitutional documents were written. And they are all areas where General Assemblies have made statements—known as authoritative interpretations—about how the Book of Order is to be understood in light of new situations and changing realities.
This summer, we at the Covenant Network are encouraging the 221st General Assembly to make decisions that will deepen and enhance the church’s understanding of marriage—clarifying that its blessings are available to all people, including couples of the same gender. One way we hope the assembly does this is through an authoritative interpretation—a binding ruling by the church’s highest council about what the constitution does and doesn’t say. There’s a fair amount of confusion in the church about what an AI is… but there doesn’t need to be.

Queer Clergy

Obie Holmen 2 (2)

R.W. Holmen, a Minnesota author and ally, chronicles the journey of gay and lesbian Christians to be fully accepted and fully included in the congregations of mainline Christianity in Queer Clergy: A History of Gay and Lesbian Ministry in American Protestantism, published by the Pilgrim Press.

General Assembly Preview – Tricia Dykers Koenig


The Saturday morning plenary at the 2013 Covenant Conference, “Marriage Matters,” included a look at the Covenant Network’s work leading up to the 221st General Assembly (2014), to be held in Detroit June 14-21. With a focus on marriage equality, the CovNet Board is supporting both an authoritative interpretation of the current language of the Book of Order to clarify that officiating at a same-gender marriage is not an offense subjecting a minister to discipline, and an amendment to the Directory for Worship to make it more accurate now that marriage equality is spreading in the United States.

Celebrating the Ordination and Installation of Dan Vigilante

Dan delivers the benediction wearing his new robe and the three stoles given him during the service.

On the afternoon of Sunday, August 25, 2013, the Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area ordained Daniel Vigilante as a Teaching Elder and installed him as Pastor of Grace-Trinity Community Church and Associate Pastor of Westminster Presbyterian Church, Minneapolis. Dan is a member of the Board of Directors of the Covenant Network, and we rejoice with him as he has, at long last, reached this stage in his ministry. Read more…