FPC Marriage Policy Update
June 24, 2015
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
You may be aware that the Presbyterian Church, USA, has changed the definition of marriage in its Book of Order. Beginning with a motion passed at last year's General Assembly, and then with the concurrence of a majority of the presbyteries, the Book of Order changes the definition from "between a man and a woman" to "between two people, traditionally a man and a woman." By doing this, the church makes it clear that all our members are eligible for the covenant of marriage. However, the General Assembly leaves it up to church's Session to say who may be married in its sanctuary.
Our Session began its deliberation on this issue six months ago. We shared with each other our convictions, our questions, our hopes, and our doubts. We studied Scripture. This motion was put before the Session in May and then voted on at its meeting on June 17th: We affirm that a marriage as defined in the PCUSA Book of Order may take place in the sanctuary or chapel for our members.
I was deeply moved by the thoughtfulness and respect that the elders showed to each other and to this congregation as they sought the mind of Christ together. We all have the same goal--to listen for the guidance of the Holy Spirit and to do what is right and good for the church. But because we "see through a glass darkly" we have differing views on how to do this. That is why we make our decisions together. No one person in the church (including the pastor) can tell us what to do.
During Session's discussion, elders made various statements that were thoughtful and candid. One pointed out that nowhere in Scripture is homosexual behavior endorsed. One described this whole topic as divisive for the church. The marriage of a man and a woman was named as the traditional understanding of marriage.
Another elder said that in his mind he thought the motion was right, but in his heart he was not in favor of same sex marriage. Another talked about how much he loved his very young children, and that however they turned out, gay or straight, he wanted them to grow up in and be welcome in the church. One elder pointed out that his childhood home church refused to let people divorce and remarry because they saw it as against the Scriptures; he did not want us to be so rigid that we shut out people who belonged to our fellowship. One elder talked about visiting churches during his business travels. He said that at some churches they condemned homosexuality from the pulpit; at others, they welcomed all people, including gay people, and one even had a gay preacher. He said that he felt much more welcome and at home in the second kind of congregation.
After thoughtful discussion, the elders voted 16 in favor, six against, with one abstention. The motion carried and is now the wedding policy of this congregation.
I think this motion to support the Book of Order has an even deeper value. It reminds us that we are in this together with other sisters and brothers of the Presbyterian Church, USA. We make our decisions together, and then we go forward together, even when we may not like the outcome of a particular vote.
Some will rejoice at this decision for First Presbyterian Church, seeing in it a clear openness to welcome all in the name of Christ. Others will mourn this decision, seeing it as a loss of some key traditional values.
Whatever one feels about this particular issue, our ministry is much larger and deeper than any one topic. Our primary goal continues to be the command of Christ to love one another as he has loved us.
Yours in Christ,
Charlie Summers, Pastor