Paula R. .Kincaid, a Layman reporter, with her article “Same-Sex marriage advocates outline plans for 2014 General Assembly,” has truly opened our eyes to the damage that may pile on top of an already hurting denomination. The article clarifies the direction the two PCUSA organizations, advocating for same sex marriage, are headed as they ignore what it means to be Reformed. Both the More Light Presbyterians and The Covenant Network are willing, in their strategy to change the denomination, to leave behind reformed polity, reformed theology and reformed compassion. I will look at each of these departures.
Leaving behind reformed polity:
According to Kincaid, Brian Ellison, executive director of the Covenant Network stated that “it is absolutely essential” for GA to pass an authoritative interpretation. That would be an AI which allows same sex marriage and protects pastors who wish to perform such marriages. But is this how an AI is supposed to be used. The Presbyterian Book of Order states:
“The General Assembly may provide authoritative interpretation of the Book of Order,which shall be binding on the councils of the church when rendered in the manner described in this section or through a decision of the General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission in a remedial or disciplinary case.” (G-6.02)
An AI is meant for a time when there is confusion about the meaning of a Book of Order statement. But such an interpretation for the issue of so called same sex marriage would mean reinterpreting a section of the Book of Order, and even reinterpreting the clear meaning of the English language, since all educated people clearly understand what the words man and woman mean. That is, when one reads in the Book of Order “Marriage is a civil contract between a man and a woman.” & “For Christians marriage is a covenant through which a man and a woman are called to live out together before God their lives of discipleship (W-4.9000),” one does not need an interpretation to know the meaning of a woman and man. Nothing could be clearer.
So what is happening is a desire by same gender marriage advocates to bypass the constitutional rights of Presbyteries to vote on any change to the PCUSA' constitution.
Evidently Ellison has insisted that there is no place in the Book of Order where same sex marriage is addressed. (So it most be addressed?) But that is simply doublespeak; if the Book of Order states that marriage is between a man and a woman it has already addressed any new definition of marriage. Ellison, the Covenant Network and More Light Presbyterians are simply trying to bypass the reformed polity of voting by Presbyteries.
Leaving behind reformed theology:
As far as an amendment goes, Heidi A. Peterson, co-moderator of More Light, according to Kincaid, stated,“We didn’t look at what was in the book and think about how to change it … We thought about what is marriage in the Reformed tradition? Is it about gender identity or is marriage in our faith tradition about covenant, abiding love and commitment?”
Here theology gets fairly well flattened. Yes marriage in the Reformed tradition is about covenant and commitment. It isn't always about abiding love, at least not romantic love. Only that kind of love that sticks even when one is not sure of love, but that is another article. But marriage in the Reformed tradition is also about gender identity. It is about Jesus' love for the church reflected by the love a man and a woman have for each other. (Eph. 5:23-30) It is God's love pictured in the life of a man who rescued a sex slave and although marrying her forgoes sexual relations with her in order to bring her life into conformity with God's will. (Hosea 3)
It is Jesus reminding his questioners that God created them male and female so that the husband might cleave to his wife. (Matthew 19:3-6 & Genesis 2:18-25) It is the confessions of the church referring to marriage as a covenant between a man and a woman. The whole definition in the Book of Order and the Book of Confessions cannot be changed to fit a smaller, shallow definition that leads to sin. It is covenant, commitment and gender—a man and a woman. Anything else leads away from Reformed theology. Anything else is not Reformed theology.
Leaving behind Reformed compassion:
There are two areas where both More Light Presbyterians and the Covenant Network lack the kind of compassion that are marks of Reformed teaching. One is about transformation. Jesus lived, died and was resurrected that we might be both redeemed and transformed. The later is called sanctification. We are led in our new life to live out the life of Christ. That is transforming. As the apostle Paul puts it after naming prevailing sins which included homosexuality:
Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified I the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and the Spirit of our God. (1 Cor. 9:11)
But those advocating for same sex marriage are encouraging others to come to the birth, but stay broken as they cling to their old life. God wants to change and transform all of us through Christ. If we do not long for newness for the other we lack, in that area, compassion.
The second lack of compassion is compassion for the unity of Christ's body. Our denomination is already terribly broken—I experience that deeply in my own presbytery. If an AI passes or an amendment to the Book of Order passes which allows sin to enter our constitution the exodus from our denomination will be like that of the children of Israel from Egypt, and rightly so. Fellowship around the world, and fellowship at home will be broken, it must be so.
Jesus in his high priestly prayer prays not only for the unity of his body, he also prays that his disciples will be sanctified in truth which is the word of God. “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” (John 17:18.) If the truth is taken away as the word is dismissed for the sake of living a LGBTQ lifestyle there will be no unity. Who can minister where sin is embraced and transformation is checked. Reformed compassion will fall away as the sheep scatter.
Update: Here is a link to the MLP & CN statement for the upcoming GA: http://www.mlp.org/standing-for-love-in-the-pcusa/
Picture by Ethan McHenry