Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,
Grace and peace to you in the name of our risen Lord Jesus Christ. As of this evening, enough presbyteries have ratified an action of the 221st General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to make that action effective across our denomination. This action is already being reported by the national media, and it’s possible that some of your friends and neighbors might ask you about it in the coming days. I have prepared the Q&A below in hopes that it might be a helpful conversation partner. As always, my door is open to you if you’d like to discuss these or any other issues.
Q: What was the action?
A: At its meeting in June 2014, the General Assembly proposed an amendment to our church Constitution regarding marriage. As of this evening, a majority of the 171 presbyteries in our denomination have ratified the amendment, making it effective. The new language now reads:
Marriage is a gift God has given to all humankind for the wellbeing of the entire human family. Marriage involves a unique commitment between two people, traditionally a man and a woman, to love and support each other for the rest of their lives. The sacrificial love that unites the couple sustains them as faithful and responsible members of the church and the wider community.
In civil law, marriage is a contract that recognizes the rights and obligations of the married couple in society. In the Reformed tradition, marriage is also a covenant in which God has an active part, and which the community of faith publicly witnesses and acknowledges.
Q: What does the amendment do?
A: The amendment grants freedom of conscience to pastors in jurisdictions where permitted by civil law to perform wedding ceremonies for same-gender couples, and it also allows sessions to authorize the use of church facilities for such ceremonies. It does not require pastors to perform or sessions to authorize such a service if it would violate their conscience.
Q: What is the General Assembly?
A: The General Assembly is the highest governing council in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) It is made up of equal numbers of pastors and elders who are sent as commissioners from their regional presbyteries. Unlike our civil government, commissioners are not sent only to represent their constituencies, but to seek and represent the will of Christ for Christ’s church.
Q: How did our presbytery vote?
A: Ridglea is a member congregation of Grace Presbytery, which is made up of over 150 congregations in North, Central, East, and Northeast Texas. On March 7, pastors and elders from Grace Presbytery ratified the proposed amendment with 214 for, 87 against, and 4 abstentions. Rev. Ryan Baer and Elder Susan Maxwell were Ridglea’s commissioners.
Q: How does this amendment affect our church?
A: At present, same-gender weddings are not permitted by Texas law, so the effect is largely symbolic for now.
No matter how you feel about this news, please remember that the polity (government) of our church presupposes the fellowship of women, men, and children united in covenant relationship with one another and with God through Jesus Christ. The organization rests on the fellowship and is not designed to work without trust and love.
Over the years, the issues have come, and by the grace of God, some have gone – slavery, women’s rights, Vietnam, etc. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and its predecessor denominations have been wrestling with issues of sexuality for literally my entire lifetime, and I do not believe that this one vote will make that stop. The great challenge for the church in this or any age is to not allow itself to be defined by any one “issue” except the saving grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.
May God bless you and keep you,