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Connecting Faith and Practice, Correcting Misunderstanding

The theology, constitution and policy of our church, in concert with the church universal and ecumenical, teaches that sexual expression belongs only within the covenant of marriage. The polity of the church is to conform to the profession of the church, as our Preliminary Principles say: "We are persuaded that there is an inseparable connection between faith and practice, truth and duty."

The question Amendment O addresses is whether the church’s practice in marriage ceremonies will reflect its confessional profession: “The distinctive contribution of the Church in performing the marriage ceremony is to affirm the divine institution of marriage.”

Our biblical and confessional standards regarding marriage are stated simply in the Book of Order: “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.” (W-4.9000). Amendment O honors that understanding of marriage. It brings integrity to the moral authority of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in a society in desperate need of a strong voice on these matters.

Our polity must serve biblical and confessional standards. The recent Outlook editorial suggests that Amendment O should not be necessary and is bad polity. The editorial also “qualified” its position. In fact, its qualifications show why Amendment O is necessary and is good polity. It correctly recognizes that same-sex unions are sinful. It incorrectly asserts that current church law already prohibits same-sex union ceremonies. The recent decision of the church’s highest judicial body (the General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission) in the Hudson River case, dealing with this precise issue, refused to prohibit same-sex union ceremonies under current church law, and would not prohibit same-sex unions ceremonies without amendment to the Book of Order.

Amendment O is necessary for the integrity of our standards and our public witness. Without Amendment O, our polity will conflict with the theology, constitution and policy of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Contrary to the editorial’s “qualifications,” same-sex ceremonies are occurring. The General Assembly passed Amendment O knowing this practice was continuing.

Contrary to the editorial’s “warning,” defeating Amendment O will be seen as permission for pastors to begin performing public ceremonies which are inconsistent with the standards of the church. Ignoring the performance of such ceremonies puts our denomination in conflict with the clear teaching of Scripture and the confessions.

Contrary to the editorial’s opinion that same-sex union ceremonies can be distinguished from Christian marriage, the testimony of pastors and others involved fail to make, or even want, this distinction. In the news reports that started the Hudson River case, those performing the ceremonies freely stated that they were unable to distinguish them from wedding ceremonies. One admitted to the New York Times that the ceremonies are “a shell game.” Jane Spahr, lesbian activist, said at the Long Beach General Assembly, “These are marriages and these are weddings and let’s call them what they are!”

Contrary to the editorial’s assessment that Amendment O is “too much” and that current church law already covers same sex unions, the judicial commission of our highest governing body disagrees. In the Hudson River case, the GA PJC found that none of the provisions of the Directory for Worship explicitly and effectively prohibit the conduct of same-sex ceremonies, and concluded that same-sex unions are currently permissible. The General Assembly, therefore, concluded that Amendment O is necessary.

Without Amendment O, the church would be understood to be both condemning and blessing sinful behavior. A theology that says one thing and a practice that does another is hypocrisy. Amendment O is good polity because it provides a means by which to effect discipline, correct error and offer public witness with integrity.

And it is helpful — pastorally helpful. The open letter from the Korean Presbyterian Caucus to the whole church says it well, “Pastorally, we recognize that all people are ‘in process’ moving toward the goal of conformity to Christ’s image. It is inconsistent with this goal for church officers to counsel folks to remain outside the will of God. It is not pastoral to bless behavior that is contrary to God’s revealed will.”

Fear-mongering

Unintentional consequences can occur, even when the church amends its own constitution. But the consequences imagined by the editorial engender fear and are not remotely possible.

Amendment O does not prohibit any child from baptism. If a child is not baptized it will have to be for some reason other than Amendment O. Amendment O explicitly applies to “any relationship that is inconsistent” with the will of God as expressed in Scripture and our confessions. Baptism is a sacrament applied to individuals, not relationships. The relationship between adults is not involved in baptism. The mere fact that prayers are said for parents in the service of baptism does not imply that the nature and quality of their relationship is blessed by the sacrament. The argument that Amendment O would prohibit a same-sex couple from presenting a child for baptism misses the point of both baptism and the church’s responsibility. Our pastors and sessions know this.

Amendment O does not “fence” the table. Amendment O does not address the Lord’s Supper. The table is “fenced” by the Scripture and existing provisions of the Constitution, as when, for example, the Directory for Worship already proclaims that those unwilling to repent ought not approach the table. Again, only the public blessing of a relationship is the subject of Amendment O, and is not the purpose of the Lord’s Supper. Our pastors and sessions know this.

Conclusion

The editorial suggests that the church can, in its practice, permit, ignore or bless behavior that is condemned in the standards of the church, including the Scriptures. This is bad polity.

The theology, Constitution and policy of our church, in concert with the church universal and ecumenical, teaches that sexual expression belongs only within the covenant of marriage. Our polity requires that our practice reflect that teaching. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) needs Amendment O. Vote Yes.

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Jerry Andrews is moderator of the Presbyterian Coalition and pastor of First church, Glen Ellyn, Ill.

Robert H. Bullock and William Stacy Johnson’s response to Andrews.

 

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