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!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Love and Marriage

According to the Presbyterian Outlook, the Committee on Civil Unions and Christian marriage has released a preliminary report. The report has some interesting things in it regarding the history of marriage and how different religious and secular traditions view marriage. You can read the 31 page report here.

In lieu of recommendations they offered a covenant. It is about exercising mutual forbearance in times of disagreement. Within that framework, they offered these nine points:
Exercising the "mutual forbearance" to which we are called:

1. We agree that Christ calls all kinds of persons into fellowship with him, regardless of race, sex, occupation, ethnic origin, sexual orientation, or any other worldly condition, and that congregations are to welcome all persons who respond in trust and obedience to God’s grace in Jesus Christ and who desire to become part of the membership and mission of his church.

2. We acknowledge that the 218th General Assembly (2008) acted to “renew and strengthen the long-standing Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) commitment to equal protection under the law for lesbian and gay persons and the 216th General Assembly (2004)’s affirmation of the right of same-gender persons to civil union and, thereby, to all the benefits, privileges, and responsibilities of civil union.”

3. We confess that we are brothers and sisters bound together in Christ, and that while these conversations are difficult and intense, our disagreements do not negate our unity. Threats of departure or coercive ways of achieving uniformity are ultimately unhelpful and do little more than draw lines and force us to become more deeply entrenched in our positions and prejudices.

4. We agree that God alone is the source of all blessings. By the grace of God and through the power of God’s Spirit, individuals and congregations are able to bless God, receive God’s blessings, and praise God’s glory. Contrary to popular piety, neither a minister nor the church blesses a person or a relationship. When ministers conduct services of blessing, they bear witness to the blessing of God on that couple and testify publicly to that blessing in the congregation of believers.

5. We agree that Christian marriage is not a “right” conferred upon anyone, but a gift given to us by God to nurture and form human beings into the kind of sacrificial, self-giving love that we see in Jesus Christ. To speak of someone’s “right” to be married is to confuse God’s free gifts with human entitlements.

6. We acknowledge that our interpretations of Scripture lead us to different conclusions regarding homosexual behavior and same-gender partnerships. We all confess that Scripture holds out a transforming hope of radical change in Jesus Christ that requires us to be dead to sin and alive to all that is good. However, for some of us, that makes faithful, mutually loving, marriage-like unions of same-gender couples unacceptable; for others of us, that makes faithful, mutually loving, marriage-like unions of same-gender couples acceptable.

7. We acknowledge that there is no consensus within either the scientific community or the Christian community about the roots of homosexual orientation. Is sexual orientation coded into our DNA, or is it influenced by our environment? Since we do not have agreement regarding those questions, let us lay them aside and move forward.

8. We acknowledge that current law, in which clergy act as agents of the state, is a source of confusion. On behalf of the state, ministers are granted the authority to officiate at marriages, and yet no authority is granted them to dissolve such unions. Some argue that the church should relinquish its state-sanctioned power to marry. Others feel that, even in confusion, it should be retained to further the cause of the gospel.

9. We acknowledge the presence of same-gender partners in our communities and congregations. Together, we are members of the body of Christ and joined by the reconciling work of Christ. As the body of Christ, we affirm the call of the church, in its ministry and mission, to offer to all persons God’s gracious provision of redemption and forgiveness, calling all persons into loving obedience to God’s will.
It is a start. It doesn't answer the questions that are pressing such as whether or not the church will strip me of my ordination if I perform a marriage for a same-gender couple in my congregation or whether or not we are going to create updated liturgies and forms of worship for same-gender marriage services.

Like I said, it is a start. This is the first time a committee has wrestled with the complex question of same-gender marriage and so it is appropriate that it include a lot of history, definitions, the variety of approaches ecclesiastical bodies have taken toward marriage, and the history of civil law. It is also appropriate that we emphasize how important it is to be nice to each other and civil in our discourse.

But this report (and the existence of this committee) should not dilute the responsibility to advocate for justice for LGBT people and their families. I am all for mutual forbearance. However, in a condition of imbalance of power, to state that both sides need to exercise mutual forbearance can serve to keep unjust structures intact. The problem is not that we are not polite to each other. The problem is that we have injustices in the church and in society that need redress.

This report and the existence of this committee does not substitute for legislative action at the 2010 General Assembly on behalf of marriage equality. Let us work on those resolutions for justice.


11 comments:

  1. My understanding is that recommendations have simply not been fully developed and agreed upon by the task force. I don't believe that the covenant was developed in lieu of recommendations. The Presbyterian Outlook article has some information about that http://pres-outlook.org/news-and-analysis/1/9222.html

    Agreed, we are not done advocating for justice, and mutual forbearance is not a fix all. But I did feel that the committee's report extended hope and a hand of friendship in Christ to all.

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  2. Thanks Katie,

    Yes, this is a preliminary report. More concrete recommendations may yet come.

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  3. "Contrary to popular piety, neither a minister nor the church blesses a person or a relationship. When ministers conduct services of blessing, they bear witness to the blessing of God on that couple and testify publicly to that blessing in the congregation of believers."

    A good statement, I think. As a witness, one is responsible for one's own views, and no others', and should be allowed to act as his/her own conscience dictates.

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  4. Good point, Snad.

    Point 5 is interesting.

    "We agree that Christian marriage is not a “right” conferred upon anyone, but a gift given to us by God to nurture and form human beings into the kind of sacrificial, self-giving love that we see in Jesus Christ. To speak of someone’s “right” to be married is to confuse God’s free gifts with human entitlements."

    God language aside, I am not sure if it makes much sense. It sounds good for heteros who feel they have received the "gift" of marriage as if they are God's gift to humankind.

    This is the kind of language that is used to deny gay couples marriage because their relationship is not supposedly a "gift."

    If there is "entitlement" anywhere is it in straight couples who think they are entitled to own marriage.

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  5. John - yes absolutely, this is the most wishy-washy point in the piece, if you ask me. I suppose one can let the skittish heteros out there have this statement - to an extent.

    Regardless, "marriage" may not be a right as far as the church is concerned, but the benefits conferred upon married people by the state (and thus by clergy who act in that capacity) are rights, plain and simple.

    Point 5 also seems to suggest that the covenant of marriage must mean the same thing to all hetero couples, which I'm pretty sure it does not, and cannot.

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  6. So far I've seen a number of people note the preliminary nature of this report. Can you imagine such a report being written today about interracial marriage and hearing people note, "Well, it's only preliminary."

    Anyway, the fact that this is preliminary leads me to wonder when we might expect some actual ... you know ... action.

    How many more study committees will we need to form to create how many more of these reports before someone has the guts to make some recommendations?

    Just curious.

    After all, if I am being asked to practice forbearance (in other words, tolerate my own oppression while the anti-gay wing of the church continues to get exactly and everything it wants), I was just wondering how long the committee estimated it was going to take before we might see some actual statement about anything.

    I was getting angry about it until I realized that this is just another report that will be ignored by nearly everyone but the people who wrote it.

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  7. I am not sure when moderates and progressives will get that they need not (indeed cannot) appease the right wing and get justice.

    This is true for health care reform. This is true for civil rights. This is true for justice within the church.

    Here are my recommendations:

    1. Allow clergy in the six states (and in any future states) that have legalized same-gender marriage to sign marriage licenses and solemnize these marriages in the church.

    2. Affirm that clergy may consecrate marriages (in the eyes of the church) for same-gender couples even in those states that have yet to legalize same-gender marriage.

    3. Change the definition of marriage from one man and one woman to two people in all relevant documents.

    4. Modify the Directory for Worship to create marriage rites suitable for same-gender couples.

    5. Advocate for marriage equality throughout the United States.

    That is where we are going, is it not? That is the fair and just and holy and God-blessed and Jesus-loved thing to do.

    We don't need to settle for crumbs from the right wing's table. We don't need the right wing to agree. We can approve these things by voting them through.

    If moderates and progressives were not cowering before the Glenn Becks of the PCUSA and hand-wringing over what the conservatives might do, this is the solution they all agree is correct, just, and right.

    I am very polite and forbearing as I say that. : )

    Now...

    There is option B. Since the church is not of one mind regarding marriage. In times of disagreement, unity is achieved by mutual forbearance. Mutual forbearance is affirming freedom of conscience.

    Clergy and church sessions can make their own decisions. Let the PCUSA allow freedom of conscience for clergy and for sessions regarding pastoral care to LGBT people. This includes freedom of conscience regarding all rites and observances regarding marriage.

    In short: If ya don't wanna git gay married, then don't. Mind yer own bizness regarding those who do.

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  8. "Clergy and church sessions can make their own decisions. Let the PCUSA allow freedom of conscience for clergy and for sessions regarding pastoral care to LGBT people. This includes freedom of conscience regarding all rites and observances regarding marriage. "

    Exactly. And let's note that *this* is the Presbyterian position. Pastors have been deciding for whom they will (or will not) conduct marriage services for a very long time. That's their responsibility. Sessions have been deciding the appropriate use of church sanctuaries for a very long time. That's their responsibility.

    The just solution also happens to be the classically Presbyterian solution, as it turns out.

    If some minister somewhere doesn't want to conduct a service, there isn't any authority either religious nor civil that can force him or her. That has always been the case and should continue to be the case.

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  9. Rev. Margaret Aymer, Ph. DMonday, September 21, 2009 3:27:00 PM

    John,

    You can send your list of recommendations to the committee by emailing civilunion.marriage@pcusa.org

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