In the continuing series on same sex marriage promoted by the Covenant Network of Presbyterians and placed on the ecclesio.com site, Tricia Dykers Koenig, national organizer of the Covenant Network has written “A Pastoral Emergency: the polity crisis that engulfs teaching elders, sessions and couples around same sex marriage.”
Koenig writes with a focus on polity and pastoral care as seen, not from the biblical text or the faith of the church, but as they relate to equality. But biblical equality can only be defined as the use of equal Christian care for those who belong to Christ—which means Christian faith is strengthened by the word, sacraments and proper discipline.
Koenig attempts to make a case for teaching elders having to choose between keeping the vow of “being governed by our church’s policy” or their vow to “seek to follow the Lord Jesus Christ, love your neighbors, and work for the reconciliation of the world,” to “pray for and seek to serve the people with energy, intelligence, imagination, and love” and to “car[e] for people… and try to show the love and justice of Jesus Christ.”
But a Christian and a pastor do not need to choose between these two vows. The denomination’s polity is biblical and caring. When one follows Jesus Christ as a pastor the word is proclaimed which includes the admonition to be holy as God is holy. The sinner is corrected, disciplined, loved and forgiven. To insist on marrying same sex couples is neither loving nor does it honor Christ. In these cases the choice is really between keeping one’s ordination vows and going the way of a decadent culture.
Koenig writes her brief history of the church’s struggle by looking at the cases involving same gender marriage since the Authoritative Interpretation of 1991 which allowed for the blessing of same sex couples. She insists that the GAPJC, in the case of (Spahr v. Redwoods, Disciplinary Case 218-12) is what actually ruled against teaching elders marrying same gender couples. The Directory of Worship consequently has no real authority.
Quoting part of the dissent to the ruling from (Spahr v. Redwoods,(Disciplinary Case 220-08), Koenig also insists that the Directory of Worship has no real legal authority. Reading the quote one finds that the dissent is based on the changing of public morals. They write, “it reflects conventions of a time when same-sex unions presented little, if any, cultural concern or attention…” and also on the fact that that section of the Directory of Worship is simply biblical instruction. As those who dissent state:
W-4.9001 is an introductory narrative for a distinctive, introductory section on marriage, outlining its biblical and theological characteristics as background to provisions of pastoral practice and nurture… As a fourfold theological outline of Christian marriage in narrative form, in no way is it clear or obvious that it proposes regulatory imperative or legal intention.
Two glaring issues arise out of this. For the Christian, what the Scripture text calls sin is always sin and is not about “conventions” but about walking faithfully in union with Christ. Because the issue of same sex marriage has arisen in this our time what is written in the Directory of Worship, is now more important than when originally written. Secondly, the idea that the biblical and theological characteristics of marriage when placed in a Book of Order have no binding affect on the Church is illogical. Is the Christian community only to be ruled by legal terms and not by God’s word?
Koenig goes further, insisting that a change in the Directory of Worship would not affect those who for conscience sake could not marry same sex couples, writing, “Both civil law and the Book of Order have always granted ministers discretion to refuse to perform a marriage against their better judgment or convictions; there is no danger that Presbyterians who disapprove of same-gender marriage will be forced to participate in such a service contrary to their conscience.” Koenig is being disingenuous. There are two probabilities if the Directory of Worship is changed.
If same sex marriage becomes a national civil right, it is possible that pastors who refuse to perform such marriages while they are (hypothetically) members of a denomination which allows such marriages could be sued for discrimination.
Secondly, since the Covenant Network, of which Koenig is a leader, is working toward a time when candidates for ministry would be refused ordination because they could not for, conscience sake, ordain LGBT persons, and that refusal is based on the idea that they could not, in every respect, fulfill their duties as a minister of word and sacrament, the same will undoubtedly be true on the issue of same sex marriage. (Please see Guidelines for Examination of Church Officers: Covenant Network of Presbyterians .) Surely since the CN is looking toward that time when all must ordain LGBT persons they would also insist that all teaching elders must perform same sex weddings.
picture by Ethan McHenry