Some commissioners argued that the assembly should keep going. “We’ve already made a giant leap,” said Meghan Keller, a youth advisory delegate from Winnebago presbytery, arguing for the assembly to take this step too.
But others asked the assembly to recognize how difficult the earlier decision would be for some Presbyterians.
“If you want to completely shatter this denomination,” vote for the change, said Marj Carpenter, a former General Assembly moderator.
John Hamilton, who described himself as a “bruised and bleeding commissioner” from Blackhawk presbytery, asked the assembly to “not push these churches beyond the tipping point. Commissioners, in your pursuit of justice, please remember to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” – echoing the theme of this assembly, from Micah 6:8.
Timothy Havlicek, a minister from Coastal Carolina presbytery, said he’s from a small, mission-loving, casserole-eating church in which people see this issue as being about “the reconstitution of the biblical, confessional definition of marriage.” To approve this, Havlicek said, would “destroy our moderate church.”
The PC(USA)’s Book of Order currently reads that “marriage is a civil contract between a woman and a man. For Christians marriage is a covenant through which a man and a woman are called to live out together before God their lives of discipleship. In a service of Christian marriage a lifelong commitment is made by a woman and a man to each other, publicly witnessed and acknowledged by the community of faith.”
The overture from Baltimore presbytery proposed to change the language to say: “Marriage is a covenant between two people and according to the laws of the state also constitutes a civil contract. For Christians marriage is a covenant through which two people are called to live out together before God their lives of discipleship. In a service of Christian marriage a lifelong commitment is made between two people, publicly witnessed and acknowledged by the community of faith.”
The assembly voted 540-161 on June 27 to reject the Baltimore overture, declining to change the definition of marriage the church uses.
But it did approve an overture from Denver presbytery to reaffirm the PC(USA)’s commitment to equal protection under the law for same-sex partners, and to instruct moderator Bruce Reyes-Chow to appoint a special committee to study issues related to same-sex partnerships.
The committee is to represent “the broad diversity and theological balance” of the PC(USA), the measure states, and is to report back to the next assembly in 2010. It will study, among other things, the history of laws regarding marriage and civil unions; the current policy debate over same-sex marriage; and the theology and practice of marriage.
The overture, which passed 516-151, seeks to strengthen the denomination’s commitment to equal protection under the law, and to emphasize pastoral care to nontraditional families, it states. And it adds: “This overture advocates for equal rights and does not seek to redefine the nature of Christian marriage.”
The same-sex marriage issues were considered by the assembly’s Polity committee – whose work also involved questions on thing such as congregational meetings and the rules of discipline.
One issue that drew some discussion was a commissioners’ resolution “urging a gracious, pastoral response” to congregations leaving the PC(USA) for the Evangelical Presbyterian Church.
In dealing with departing congregations, the resolution urges synods and presbyteries to use the following principles: consistency, pastoral responsibility, accountability, gracious witness, openness and transparency. The assembly approved the resolution 519-157.