Shuck and Jive

Opinions expressed here are my own and do not represent the views of the congregation I joyfully serve. But my congregation loves me!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Presbyterian Paranoia

The Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) finished its 37th General Assembly in paranoid fashion. The PCA is a different denomination from the one I serve, the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (PCUSA). When the two main branches of the Presbyterian Church finally decided the Civil War had ended in 1983, they reunited. Ten years prior to reunion, some congregations of the then "southern branch" broke away and formed their own denomination. The larger church had become too liberal for their tastes. The PCA doesn't ordain women and it accepts only the Westminster Confession. You can read the history from their point of view here.

It is no surprise then that they would be opposed to equal rights and rites for glbt folks. It would be a safe bet that few if any of their clergy would be inclined to officiate at a same-gender wedding ceremony. Of course, no clergy is ever, ever, required to officiate at any wedding.

That is such an obvious truth. As a clergyperson I am not required to officiate at anyone's wedding. Even though every state in the union allows previously divorced people to be married, no clergyperson is required to marry them. Allowance does not mean requirement.

Why then, did the PCA need to take "dramatic steps" to protect "their religious freedom?" It is a ploy based on fear-mongering.

During floor debate, a pastor from Iowa punctuated the group’s concern when he said he could potentially face discrimination claims under the state’s new policy of permitting same-sex marriages.

“If we fail to change the language today … you will leave me without protection,” said Allen McClure of Faith Presbyterian Church in Ackley, Iowa. “I would like to get the protection now, so that if the lawsuit comes next week or next month, I will have the protection.”

“I don’t want to go to jail,” McClure says. “I like being with my family.”

But if necessary, some PCA pastors say, they would go to jail rather than perform same-sex marriages.

I don't lose sleep over the superstitions of a religious body that is not my own. I highlight this article to show the lengths the religious right will go to make America dumber.

Now I am curious. Has there ever been a case in which a minister has gone to jail because s/he refused to marry someone?

This debate over same-gender marriage illustrates the larger concern whether or not churches and clergy should be in the marriage business at all.

I might be in favor of couples suing clergy and churches. Not same-gender couples necessarily, but anyone. If your local priest, rabbi, or preacher has the privilege of signing a civil marriage contract, should that person be required to sign it? If previously divorced Bob wants to marry atheist June and have the local priest sign the contract, should the priest be required to sign it? Is it not discrimination to refuse?

The issue of same-gender marriage and the church has nothing to do with same-gender marriage. The issue is the meddling of the church in civil affairs. I don't think clergy should have any business signing civil contracts, but it will be a long time before the church lobby gives up that privilege.

In the meantime, no church or clergy will ever be forced by anti-discrimination laws to marry anyone. For clergy and church bodies to make a big stink over same-gender marriage is nothing more than fear-mongering. It is a bullying attempt to deny people civil rights under the cover of religious persecution.