Biblical and Theological Rationales on Marriage
Biblical and Theological Rationale
Proposed Constitutional Amendment on Marriage
The following are portions of rationales from the presbyteries that proposed or concurred with the proposed amendment to W-4.9000. For full texts and other rationale go to http://www.pc-biz.org/PC-Biz.WebApp_deploy/(S(eqybuduwyc20fpk2yja05epl))/IOBView.aspx?m=ro&id=4593
Presbytery of Albany
Grounded in the Reformed understanding of marriage as covenant, the proposed substitute text for W-4.9000 lifts up the values of love, mutual support, and lasting faithfulness both for the married couple and for the faith community, thus answering the call in the recent study document issued by the Office of Theology and Worship: “a proper Christian understanding of marriage will claim again the role of the church as a fundamental approving and supporting community in which a marriage of two persons may not only make an appropriate beginning but in which also that marriage may be supported. Without making marriage a sacrament or supplanting the state, the church may offer, as it does in infant baptism, a community in which covenants are made and publicly acknowledged, are nurtured and brought to fulfillment” (“Christian Marriage in the Presbyterian Church [U.S.A.],” p. 26).
“The biblical vision of doing justice” summarized in the Book of Order includes “supporting people who seek the dignity, freedom, and respect that they have been denied” (W-7.4002c), and surely this category includes people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. Whether support for these people should include the right to marry depends in part on whether biblical references to marriage between persons of different gender are to be taken as definitions of marriage or rather as examples. The latter interpretation is supported by the early use of marriage as an example of the type of relation promised between God and the people of God (Hosea 2:14–23), some of whom, of course, are male and some female. The Confession of 1967 recognizes this principle of exemplification: “The relationship between man and woman exemplifies in a basic way God’s ordering of the interpersonal life for which he created mankind” (Book of Confessions, 9.47). Extending the gift of marriage to same-gender couples offers a means of “ordering of the interpersonal life” as an act of pastoral care. Having made a commitment of lasting faithfulness to each other before God and the community of faith, the couple who have entered into Christian marriage have a solemn responsibility to uphold that commitment. The faith community, in turn, has responsibility for continuing spiritual support and pastoral care for the couple. In its mission to society as a whole, the church thus helps to create a culture of faithful, loving, lasting relationships. Real meaning is given to the opening statement in the current text of W-4.9000, and preserved in the proposed substitute text: “Marriage is a gift God has given to all humankind for the wellbeing of the entire human family.”
Presbytery of the Cascades
The Presbytery of the Cascades stands with those in the PC(USA) who believe that the teachings of Jesus call for radical inclusion of all people and that the actions of Jesus, passed down in scripture, showed unconditional love and equality for all people. We believe that God created each of us with many differences, including sexual preferences, and that those differences are to be celebrated as part of the creative plan of God.
Support of marriage equality is consistent with our faith tradition. The covenant of marriage requires love and commitment; qualities that are in no way gender specific.
Failing to allow for marriage equality continues to have negative consequences for the body of Christ, the Church, in that it gives some of our members fewer rights than others, treating them as second-class members. This is inconsistent with the teachings of Jesus. Valuing the worth, health, and happiness of our children and youth, requires that they are allowed to grow wholly and holy in a church that embraces them and their visions of their future loving relationships.
Presbytery of Cayuga-Syracuse
The report of the Special Committee on Civil Union and Christian Marriage, which the 219th General Assembly (2010) approved and commended to the church in 2010, offers important background to the biblical, theological, historical, cultural, and pastoral issues involved here.
* The Bible and the Reformed tradition reflect many patterns and forms of legal, religiously approved marital relationships.1
* The understanding of marriage has changed through the years and was often geared more to property rights or political advantage than to a mutual, loving relationship.2
* Marriage is a contract regulated and licensed by the state.3 This was recognized in the ancient church and in Protestant churches since the Reformation.4
* There are legitimate differences of interpretation of the passages regarding homosexual relationship in the Bible.5 The present regulation forces Presbyterian elders to act based on one interpretation, with which many disagree as a matter of conscience.
* Jesus in his public ministry broke down the barriers that separated people. He identified with those who were outcasts and marginalized by society. Gay and lesbian individuals are considered outsiders by many today. The church needs to witness to the inclusive love of Jesus for all people.6
* To prohibit clergy and congregations from fulfilling a legitimate request for pastoral services binds the conscience of clergy and prevents them from fulfilling their pastoral responsibilities.
* In 2010, the presbyteries approved Amendment A allowing persons in same-sex relationships to be ordained. These church members should be allowed to be married if the state issues them a marriage license and their teaching elder determines that their marriage is advisable.
* The statement restricting marriage to “one man and one woman”7 addresses polygamy in 17th century England.
1. Report of the Special Committee on Civil Union and Christian Marriage, pp. 1–2 and 25–27.
2. Ibid., pp. 3 and 27
3. Book of Order, Directory for Worship, W-4.9000 “Marriage is a civil contract … .”
4. Report of the Special Committee on Civil Union and Christian Marriage, pp. 3–4 and 27–28.
5. Ibid., pp. 11, 13 (item 3), and 20–21.
6. Book of Confessions, The Confession of 1967, 9.44 and 9.47; Book of Order, Foundations of Presbyterian Polity, F-1.0302c, F-1.0404, and F-1.0405.
7. Book of Confessions, The Westminster Confession of Faith, 6.131.
Presbytery of Hudson River
Let us remember that it is Jesus who gave us the example of welcoming all to fellowship and ministry with him. It was our Lord who stood against the tyrannical bias of his day when he welcomed Mary to sit at his feet as a disciple, and when he ate with Zacchaeus and declared that salvation was his, and when he healed the Roman centurion’s servant even though he was Israel’s enemy.
In the spirit of Jesus, it is time to say to those in the LGBT community that you are welcome, that you are fully members of the PC(USA).
Presbytery of New York City
We Are Called to Make Disciples
According to the Book of Order, we declare,
The good news of the Gospel is that the triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—creates, redeems, sustains, rules, and transforms all things and all people. … proclaiming the Lord’s favor upon all creation. … In Christ, the Church participates in God’s mission … by proclaiming to all people the good news of God’s love, offering to all people the grace of God at font and table, and calling all people to discipleship in Christ. Human beings have no higher goal in life than to glorify and enjoy God now and forever, living in covenant fellowship with God and participating in God’s mission. [F-1.01]
… No person shall be denied membership for any reason not related to profession of faith. The Gospel leads members to extend the fellowship of Christ to all persons. Failure to do so constitutes a rejection of Christ himself and causes a scandal to the Gospel. [G-1.0302]
The invitation to the Lord’s Supper is extended to all who have been baptized, remembering that access to the Table is not a right conferred upon the worthy, but a privilege given to the undeserving … . [W-2.4011]
According to this, Presbyterians call all people to discipleship in Christ, live to glorify God, extend the fellowship of Christ to all people, and recognize that none of us earn or deserve God’s grace.
The Marriage Ceremony Is Worship
In our order for worship, we listen to the Word, proclaim the Word, and respond to the Word. Responding to the Word is a demonstration of the love of God for God’s people.
“The response to the proclamation of the Word is expressed in an affirmation of faith and commitment. … Response to the Word also involves acts of commitment and recognition. … acts of commitment which may appropriately be included as response to the Word are (a) Christian marriage, …” [W-3.3500, W-3.3502, W-3.3503]. According to this, Presbyterians view Christian marriage as an act of worship.
One part of our current Presbyterian polity specifically excludes a group of people when it comes to worship: those people in loving, committed, Christian relationships who are also of the same gender and wish to marry. However elsewhere in our polity, we hold up the words of Jesus Christ:
“… There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise” (Gal. 3:27–29). … The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) shall guarantee full participation and representation in its worship, governance, and emerging life to all persons or groups within its membership. … [F-1.0403]
Biblical and Theological Rationale
Authoritative Interpretation of W-4.9000
The following are portions of rationales from the presbyteries that proposed or concurred with the proposed authoritative interpretation of W-4.9000. For full texts and other rationale go to http://www.pc-biz.org/PC-Biz.WebApp_deploy/(S(qx2ovzwoyro3wbgkliro3hyt))/IOBView.aspx?m=ro&id=4599
Presbytery of Maumee Valley
We must continually be open to hearing the new things God is saying to us through the Word. It was this ever-renewed, ever-revealing light that led us away from the scriptural interpretations once used to keep slavery in place, to justify anti-Semitism, to limit the role of women in society and in our denomination, to justify the despoilment of the environment, to authorize physical punishment of children at home and school, and to rationalize homophobia. In fact, the Book of Order is designed to be very fluid, constantly open to amendment, change, and reform. Procedures for modifications are understood as a means to faithfulness as God leads us in discernment.
Presbytery of Santa Fe
In the matter of same-sex marriage, as in all matters of faith and practice, Presbyterians seek the Spirit’s guidance in understanding the witness of Scripture to the issues of our day. We also turn to the confessions of the church, seeking guidance in their historical witness. Yet, as the confessions themselves acknowledge, these documents were the products of their day and time and do not necessarily speak directly to the matters now before us. (See Book of Confessions, The Confession of 1967, 9.02–.03, and 9.43.) The confessions speak descriptively, but not necessarily prescriptively.
Where charity and love abide, there God is found. From the beginning the church has struggled as it has encountered new peoples, times, and circumstances, with the issue of what is required of Christian disciples versus what is permitted in the freedom of the Gospel. (As in Acts, Galatians, etc.) This has always caused tensions within the covenant communities of disciples we are called to be, and the wisdom of the church has been to seek to balance commitment to the truth of God with mutual forbearance in love for those with whom we may disagree.
Presbytery of Southern New England
The church is now in a state of disunity regarding same-gender marriage. Such disunity is costly to the church’s treasure, time, and more importantly, its witness to Jesus’s call to loving covenant.
During such a time, we must be humbly conscious of the work of the Holy Spirit through Christian conscience. Teaching and ruling elders and their congregations have come prayerfully to recognize that some faithful same-gender couples are asking to be held to the same standards of mutual love and commitment as heterosexual couples. To deny the availability of Christian marriage for otherwise qualified same-gender couples is to reject their equal inheritance through Christ. That rejection denies our traditional belief that marriage is a gift God has given to all humankind.
Throughout Scripture marriage is used as a metaphor for Christian unity, for God’s love and covenant with us, for the union of Christ and the church. May the church act to make this metaphor ever more evident.
Presbytery of Western Reserve
Ministers whose study of Scripture, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, has led them to affirm same-gender marriage, are following their understanding of Jesus Christ, who placed himself on the margins with people others considered unclean, unworthy, and immoral, and lifted up love and compassion. They note that the Bible reflects many patterns and forms of legal, religiously approved marital relationships. They appeal to Presbyterian principles of biblical interpretation, including reading in context, the use of knowledge and experience, the centrality of Jesus Christ, interpretation of scripture by scripture, the rule of love, and the rule of faith (Presbyterian Understanding and Use of Holy Scripture…). They believe that turning away same-gender couples harms gay and lesbian persons and their families, creates injustice, hinders evangelism, and violates their understanding of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
These ministers are seeking the freedom of conscience to act on their convictions that are safeguarded in our Historic Principles of Church Order, and the mutual forbearance required for maintaining the unity of the body (F-3.01).
The same principles protect those whose study of scripture leads them to a different conclusion. No minister can ever be required to participate in a marriage service against his or her conscience.