GA 223 Preview: Committee 6 – Supporting Marriage For All, Preserving the Church’s Unity

As we approach the 223rd General Assembly (2018) in St. Louis, the Covenant Network of Presbyterians is sharing some of our hopes for the business before this Assembly. We hope that commissioners, delegates and friends across the church will carefully consider the ways their discussion and votes can make for a more generous and just Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

With friends across the church, the Covenant Network rejoiced when the church opened the door to same-sex marriages in Presbyterian churches in 2015. Since then, congregations across the PCUSA have celebrated God’s gift of covenant love and witnessed the uniting of couples whose relationship the church would once have rejected. But a painful reality is that the church is still living into what that means, and the Assembly Committee on Church Polity and Ordered Ministries (Committee #6) is addressing one challenging aspect of that reality.

Questions persist about how – in 2018, in a church that continues to evolve – a Session is to go about considering whether to allow a particular marriage in its church. Some sessions have sought to ban all same-sex marriages in the church as a matter of policy (which is not mentioned in the Book of Order) rather than consider each one on a case by case basis (which the Book of Order clearly permits them to do). It is a tough question with which congregations are earnestly wrestling. And in response to one presbytery’s question, the Advisory Committee on the Constitution has proposed an authoritative interpretation (Item 06-23) of the Book of Order’s new provisions on marriage.

An Authoritative Interpretation on Wedding Policies

In response to the ACC’s recommendation (Item 06-23), the Board of Directors of the Covenant Network of Presbyterians has offered the following statement:

The Covenant Network of Presbyterians believes the proposed authoritative interpretation is unnecessary in that the Book of Order (W-4.0605) is already clear about the Session’s authority to make decisions on the use of church property for particular services of worship on a case by case basis.

We believe every Session should consider the use of church property for marriage services without regard to the gender (or gender identity) of the participants.

We oppose any Session policy that would categorically prohibit marriages on church property of same-gender couples in a time when such marriages are both legal and recognized as valid by the church’s Constitution.

That is, we hope that no session would want to ban all same-sex marriages as a matter of policy. We hope that just as they consider each candidate for ordination as the individual they are, Sessions would consider each couple and whether their marriage is wise and reflective of biblical principles of covenant love and mutuality (which they can do without this A.I.). And of course, we hope they would choose to recognize that love is love.

Other Polity Matters Affecting the Unity of the Church

We oppose Item 06-01, an overture that would dramatically weaken the church’s traditional view that property is held in trust for the benefit of the whole denomination. Some in almost every state have offered interpretations of state law—rejected by the PCUSA—that would differ from this historic understanding, and this change would open a truck-sized loophole, allowing individual presbyteries to give up resources that could be used to advance the church’s mission, and weakening the claims of presbyteries that would want to defend those resources. While we are sympathetic to presbyteries that have been stretched and strained by property disputes, the Covenant Network has always stood for doing the hard work of seeking unity and reconciliation through dialogue and discernment – not through making it easier for churches to leave.

We also oppose Item 06-06, an overture that would make it substantially more difficult to amend the Book of Order, requiring approval by two-thirds (114) of presbyteries, rather than a majority (86). On a certain level, we who have been pleased with constitutional changes over the past decade might want to enshrine those changes through this sort of change. But to do so would be unfair. The Book of Order was never intended to be carved in stone; it is a living, breathing document. And the church’s flexibility in mission and witness would be compromised by this unreasonably high bar, which the Assembly has repeatedly considered and rejected in the past.

If you have questions or ideas, let us know. To learn more about Covenant Network activities at this General Assembly, see this link. and for a preview of business in other committees, click here. Finally, we would be grateful if you would consider helping us make our G.A. witness possible with a donation. Thank you!

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