It’s starting to look like the General Assembly’s Civil Union and Marriage Issues Committee (Committee 10) wants the assembly to take some action regarding same-sex marriage – although it’s not clear yet exactly what.
On the morning of Tuesday, June 17, the committee voted down two proposals that would have resulted in the committee deciding not to attempt any change in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s policy regarding same-sex marriage. If those measures had been approved, the committee would have essentially been voting not to approve either an authoritative interpretation giving PC(USA) ministers the discretion to perform same-gender marriages, or a proposed amendment to the PC(USA) constitution to change the denomination’s definition of Christian marriage from being between “a man and a woman” being between “two persons.”
The committee defeated two proposals on Tuesday.
One was a motion made by Randy Hess, a ruling elder from the Presbytery of the Pacific, recommending that the committee answer seven overtures before it regarding same-sex marriage with a comment stating in part that “this assembly believes that the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is not in a position to recast its teaching on marriage. Our understanding of God’s good gift of marriage is deeply rooted, based on the Scriptures” and discussed further in the Book of Confessions.
The Advisory Committee on the Constitution (ACC) has recommended that the assembly not approve either an authoritative interpretation or a constitutional amendment on same-sex marriage. The proposed authoritative interpretation to allow pastoral discretion in performing same-sex marriages in states where such marriages are legal “suggest an interpretation contrary to the clear statement” of the section of the Book of Order defining marriage as being between “a man and a woman,” the ACC has written.
And changing the definition of Christian marriage in the Book of Order could create “perceived tension between Scripture, the Confessions and the Book of Order,” the ACC’s advice to the assembly states.
The committee voted 15-53 against the motion to answer the same-sex marriage overtures before it with the comment Hess had proposed. To approve it would mean “we are fearful to address the issues” and consider them “too controversial,” said Scott Overacker, a young adult advisory delegate from the Presbytery of the Peaks.
The committee also defeated, by a voice vote, a proposed amendment to ask the assembly to create a task force on marriage to consider the perceived tension between Scripture, the confessions and the Book of Order described by the ACC. The proposal was that the task force report back to the 223rd General Assembly (in 2018), and that it be composed of 14 theologically diverse members, including two global partners.
Some committee members clearly are leery of the PC(USA) making some sort of change to allow its ministers to perform same-gender marriages. “In my world, it would be radical” to change the definition of Christian marriage, said Jo Ann Thetford, a ruling elder from Palo Duro Presbytery.
Others contend it’s time to act.
Wendy Neff, a teaching elder from the Presbytery of East Tennessee, said she sees the PC(USA) Book of Order and Book of Confessions as “illustrating lived realities” in the church today.
While the authors of the confessions may never have imagined the idea of same-sex marriage, Presbyterians today know it is possible for people of the same sex to have committed relationships and to desire the church to bless those relationships in marriage, Neff said. It is time for the PC(USA) “to reflect the lived reality of our lives,” she said, recognizing there is “a tension we know how to live with because of other parts of our life together.”