The Church and [Gay] Marriage

Y’all, I rarely, rarely talk about heavy stuff here, and don’t worry – it won’t become a trend. This site is always going to be about creating memories and stories and posting pictures of my pets.

But right now, I think I’m going to create a little trouble.

First, I don’t even like the term “Gay Marriage.” It feels so silly. Marriage is a legal contract between two people. Some denominations regard it as a sacrament, but others don’t. The Reformed Church, in my understanding, does not.

gay marriage funnyLast week at General Assembly, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) approved a change to the church constitution to honor same-sex marriages by allowing clergy to perform ceremonies in states where the marriage is legal. They also voted to change the wording in the Book of Order from describing marriage as a civil contract between “a man and woman” to “two people.”

Friends, it’s important to note what the PC(USA) did not say that all Presbyterian clergy must perform same-sex marriages and all Presbyterian Church members must be okay with it.

Instead, it says that clergy are now allowed to use pastoral discretion – to act on their conscience – when asked to perform a same-sex marriage ceremony. It allows (but does not mandate) churches to openly embrace potential members in love and unity, with confidence that everyone’s family unit is equally valid. It says to the world, “We’re all worthy of enjoying the blessings and benefits of a committed, legal relationship and using the same word to describe it.”

Some Presbyterian clergy will perform same-sex marriage ceremonies, while others won’t. Some congregations will welcome such ceremonies in their sanctuaries, while others won’t. The beauty in this is the freedom to choose.

When I learned that the PC(USA) made this resolution, I got weepy. It made my heart swell. This issue is just one on a list of conflicts that prompted me to leave my former denomination. To be honest, what really prompted me to leave was the fact that the floor wasn’t even open for discussion. Possibly the thing I love the most about the PC(USA) is that I can ask difficult questions and not be called “Trouble” by my Sunday School teacher.

Because that really happened.

That being said, I know there are plenty of conservative Presbyterians who are uncomfortable with this vote. Some have written letters expressing grief, saying that this decision was made in haste and does not coincide with the Word of God. They are upset. They have theological whiplash. They are scratching their heads wondering where the church went wrong.

To those folks, I say this: I hear you. I know you’re struggling with the knowledge that your denomination entered the arena of gay marriage and decided to call a compassionate truce. Blessing the union of a same-sex couple by your pastor might go against what you’ve always believed to be right or true or Christian, and if that’s the case it might be a long hard road for you to reconcile what’s in your heart and what might be preached from the pulpit. You are not alone. However, let me challenge you with a few suggestions:

– If we believe that we are all made in God’s image, that we are all formed in His hand, that we are all loved and adored by Him, then let’s not continue to segregate ourselves from one another on account of matters we don’t fully understand. I encourage you to read Torn by Justin Lee. You may not agree with his theology in its entirety, but you can grow in understanding about how our Christian LGBT brothers and sisters may struggle with their place in church and within the body of Christ.

– The PC(USA) embraces intellectual and theological discourse. They don’t mind hard questions. In fact, they totally love that stuff. In every pew are members with a wide range of beliefs. Chances are, you’ll find people within your own church body who are either struggling like you or have settled their minds either way. Talk about it. Consult your clergy and elders. Pull together a study group and wrestle together. But, friends, above all things, do it with an open mind and heart. 

– Finally, consider your sources. As you study the Bible, you’ll likely consult outside resources to help you discern scriptural interpretation. Keep in mind that a general internet search may not warrant the best results. As always, when reading scripture, consider the author, the audience, and political and social climate of the time in which a passage was written. This goes for all of scripture, but it’s particularly necessary when grappling with social justice issues like gay marriage. People are quick to quote Leviticus when arguing against gay marriage, but that is neither helpful nor relevant

In the end, your mind may not be changed. You may feel even more confident than ever that marriage is indeed between a man and a woman and your church was wrong in its decision. Can you agree to disagree and still worship God with your church family? Or is this resolution a deal breaker and you need to find another church that better suits you? I trust you will make those hard decisions with deep sincerity.

Alternately, through your research, you may develop a new understanding of the church’s role in matters such as these. You may feel relieved and happy and proud that your church family has taken the next big step. If that’s the case, then let’s take that step together and throw open the sanctuary doors towards inclusion.

Regardless of where you stand, it’s worth noting that we are all working out parts of our faith, and for some, this one has been a doozy. Be respectful always towards those who are rejoicing and those who are mourning. There is room for everyone in the discussion as long as we mind our manners and speak in love.

speak the truth

Lastly, let’s not fool ourselves into thinking any of this is final. We are all “in progress,” aren’t we? As Presbyterians, we are reformed and always reforming. Just as soon as we’ve made a resolution, new questions are asked, new opinions are made, and new dilemmas arise. So let’s not lose heart in defeat or be overly boastful in triumph. Instead, let’s just keep moving forward and see what awaits us around the bend.

Red Letter Christians: An intelligent, respectful place to hear both sides of many denominational differences and conflicts.

PC(USA): Learn more about the Presbyterian Church and read transcripts/commentary from the General Assembly.

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