This is a copy of the letter I sent to Monmouth Presbytery in response to the passage of Amendment 14F on marriage.
While not all presbyteries have voted yet, as of tonight more than the 86 presbyteries needed have approved the constitutional amendment to W-4.9000 regarding the definition of marriage. The new wording defining marriage as a “unique commitment between two people, traditionally a man and a woman, to love and support each other for the rest of their lives,” will be a part of our Book of Order on June 21, 2015. The full wording of the amendment can be found here.
We, the members of Monmouth Presbytery, voted on February 24th; the vote was affirmative, 55-32-1. 63% is a majority, but it is not “of one mind.” Friends, while our constitutional vote may be complete, the Holy Spirit still has a great deal to say to us on this subject. This is a time of trial in the PCUSA … our mission now, more than ever, is to be listening to the Spirit of Christ speaking in and through all of us, even, most importantly, through those with whom we disagree.
“If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus …” [Philippians 2:1-5]
I am again reminded of my late friend and ruling elder who, after debating long and loud over the ordination amendment 10A, gave me a hug, and whispered to me in all humility, “we won’t be judged as much by our decision, but by the way we treat each other in the process.”
The new wording allows every elder to listen to the Spirit in making decisions about marriage; it explicitly states that there is nothing that compels any pastor or session to participate in a wedding between two people of the same gender:
“Nothing herein shall compel a teaching elder to perform nor compel a session to authorize the use of church property for a marriage service that the teaching elder or the session believes is contrary to the teaching elder’s or the session’s discernment of the Holy Spirit and their understanding of the Word of God.” [last paragraph of the new wording of W-4.9000]
This language underscores our shared value of mutual respect when we, as faithful followers of Jesus Christ, disagree. But we need more than a constitutional provision of mutual forbearance; we need a graciousness of compassion and humility of spirit. We need to remind ourselves that, in the end, we are judged not so much by our rightness or wrongness, but by our compassion and our ability to set aside our own opinions and hear, really hear, what Christ is saying through each other.
As your General Presbyter, I promise to listen. No doubt your congregation is also divided, and you will be dealing with telephone calls and visits of people who are angry as well as those who are elated. Pastors, I will be calling and you and checking on you. I will be here to take your calls, read and answer your emails, or have lunch or coffee with you. Sessions, if you’d like me, or our stated clerk, to visit with you and help you understand what is and what is not a part of this decision, we will happily do that.
In the meantime, please know that I am praying for each of you. I have the directory open in front of me and I’m praying for each congregation and each pastor by name.
Let the same mind be in us that was in Christ Jesus …
So that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.