Forget Football and Politics! GA Is Around the Corner

January 9, 2012

While the rest of American culture is fixated on football trophies and political primaries, Presbyterians are ramping up to the PCUSA’s early July eight-day General Assembly (GA). This year, the Assembly will be held in Pittsburgh, PA. I have a personal interest in preparations for GA, since my name has been entered in nomination as a commissioner from San Francisco Presbytery (TBD January 31). Whether I am elected or not, I will be attending the Assembly, because that is what I do every even-year summer.

Business is starting to appear on PC-BIZ, and so far, seventeen overtures have been registered and will later be assigned to particular committees for ecclesiastical mastication. I am often asked to comment on overtures submitted to the Body, and just today was asked whether a resolution that would allow Presbyterian pastors to conduct same-sex ‘marriages’ was up for discussion this year. If you go to the PC-BIZ website, you can see that overtures 009 and 010 from East Iowa Presbytery provide two alternative means for accomplishing this goal. One would be to change the wording in the Book of Order (W-4.9000) to refer to marriage as between two persons (instead of between a man and a woman). This constitutional change would require a majority of presbyteries to ratify it before it could be enacted. The second means for allowing same-sex marriage is for the GA to issue an “authoritative interpretation” (AI) of the current Book of Order to allow pastors to marry two persons based solely on their own discretion. An AI does not require presbytery ratification, so if the GA enacted this, it would be effective immediately. The change is a subtle one, because even now, a pastor has discretion about whom he or she will join in matrimony. It is the advising pastor who becomes aware of impediments and strengths between a couple and is in the best position to ascertain whether such a marriage is in order. However, the game-changer with Overture 010, very cleverly worded, is to reinforce this general prerogative around marrying “two persons,” again avoiding the limiting vocabulary of “a man and a woman” and otherwise reinforcing the complete freedom of a pastor to marry whoever produces a valid marriage license. So PCUSA clergy in several states—Connecticut, District of Columbia, Iowa [from whence these overtures came], Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Mexico, and Vermont—would be allowed to conduct same-sex marriages in their churches with the blessing of the session.

These items of business will come before the Assembly, and even though the Covenant Network has indicated it will not lobby in support of a change in constitutional language,  it would support an AI of the type East Iowa has submitted. Commissioners will be lobbied heavily on these matters, one can be sure.

In fact, the lobbying has already started. This fall the Office of General Assembly announced the morning worship preachers slated for the Assembly. Among them, two—Tony de la Rosa and Margaret Aymer, public proponents of gay ‘marriage’ on the Civil Union Task Force—will be adding their two-cents worth on the same-sex marriage issue as the week unfolds. It is my experience from several previous assemblies that the politics of the meeting creeps, if not bursts, into morning worship; 2012 appears to be no different.

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