In Response to the Draft of the Special Committee – 11/09

To the Special Committee to Study Issues of
Civil Union and Christian Marriage

from the Board of the Covenant Network of Presbyterians

November 15, 2009

 

Sisters and brothers in Christ: We thank you for your effort to guide the church into faithful consideration of a complex and important issue. As you draft your final report, the board of the Covenant Network respectfully offers the following suggestions.

We encourage you to give a fuller response to the urgent questions facing Presbyterians in states that recognize same-gender civil marriage, and in congregations where the joyful and unapologetic blessing of same-gender partnerships is an indispensable exercise of pastoral care. If we are to honor the covenant you propose, what does mutual forbearance mean in practice?

You were charged to consider “the place of covenanted same-gender partnerships in the Christian community.” We submit that it is not enough simply to “acknowledge the presence of same-gender partners in our communities and congregations”; we call on you to affirm unequivocally that there is a place at Christ’s “welcome table” – and in the PC(USA) – for Christians in same-gender partnerships and their children. We are convinced that “failure to do so constitutes a rejection of Christ himself and causes a scandal to the gospel” (G-5.0103).

While we recognize that Christians disagree concerning blessings for same-gender partnerships and civil marriages, the church nonetheless can affirm, with Genesis 2 and John Calvin, that it is not good for humans to be alone. If our experience and study of Christian marriage have shown us anything, it is that lifelong, covenanted partnerships yield rich benefits for spiritual formation and nurture, not only for the individuals themselves, but also for their families, their communities, and their churches. Accordingly, as members of Christ’s body, we celebrate same-gender partners and their families, and welcome them, their gifts, and their witness to us.

We in the Covenant Network affirm your call to the PC(USA) to exercise mutual forbearance while we study, debate, and pray about the complex issues related to civil and religious recognition and solemnization of same-gender partnerships. We urge your support for the following understanding of true mutual forbearance.

True mutual forbearance means that, while remaining together at Christ’s table and continuing to dialogue with one another, we do not seek to initiate disciplinary or remedial actions against pastors or sessions who exercise a different expression of conscience. As you observe, the right to perform marriages is given by the state. Mutual forbearance at minimum must mean that pastors in states that recognize marriage equality must be able to perform civil marriages for all their congregants, without fear of ecclesiastical charges. If in your judgment constitutional interpretation or amendment is necessary, we urge you to recommend it.

Mutual forbearance further means respecting the discretion of pastors to extend needed pastoral care, counsel, and support to all congregants, following their own biblically-informed conscience. Mutual forbearance demands assurances that no pastor will be compelled to officiate at a marriage ceremony in violation of his or her conscience. Though it is our hope that more states will legalize same-gender marriages, changes in civil law do not and should not create enforceable mandates on religious officers or bodies.

The positions on same-gender relationships of our ecumenical partners form an important part of the context for the PC(USA). We would highlight that two of our “full communion” partners, the United Church of Christ and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, as well as the Episcopal Church (with whom we also have an Agreement) have made decisive shifts towards the full recognition of families with same-gender partners. We hope the Presbyterian Church will shortly join them.

Thank you for your important work. We in the Covenant Network continue to hold you all in prayer.

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