Spahr Decision Contains Arguments for Change of Marriage’s Definition
February 24, 2012
The Spahr Decision came out early Tuesday this week, and if one took only the Decision & Order itself, a conservative/evangelical like myself could be encouraged. The GAPJC upheld the Constitution and the decisions of the lower judicial commissions to declare that teaching elders may not officiate at same-sex weddings even when legal in a particular state. The basis for this ruling comes from the “definition of marriage,” found in our Directory for Worship:
Marriage is a gift God has given to all humankind for the well-being of the entire human family. Marriage is a civil contract between a woman and a man. 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. In a service of Christian marriage a lifelong commitment is made by a woman and a man to each other, publicly witnessed and acknowledged by the community of faith. (W-4.9001)
While a majority of GAPJC commissioners voted to sustain the ruling of the Synod PJC, a majority of the members also decided to add comments in the form of concurrences and dissents. In each case, regardless of the rationale they used, seven commissioners advised the church to change the definition of marriage to include same-gendered couples.
Great. The GAPJC uses its platform and long-awaited airtime to decide one thing (because they have to) and counsel another (because they want to). In other words, it is as if they were saying, “Here’s what the Book of Order says, but change the Book because the Book is wrong.” In its assessment of what is right, just, or wrong, never once does the Commission use the Scriptures or the Confessions even as guides. Rather, they frame the case in a way—I guarantee—that will be heard all around GA next summer, urging the Assembly to change the definition of marriage. I outline their claims here, taken straight from the Spahr concurrences and dissents:
1. Higher judicatories do not have the right to “micromanage” the liturgies taking place in local congregations. In other words, it is unrealistic to expect judicial review to make a distinction between same-sex blessings (which are currently acceptable) and same-sex weddings (which are not).
2. By refusing to marry homosexual pairs, the church is declaring them second-class citizens contrary to the affirmations in the Book of Order where full equality of all people in the church’s life is affirmed (citing F-1.0403, F-1.0404, G-1.0302).
3. The definition of marriage found at W-4.9001 denies homosexuals their rights as full members of the PCUSA. Judicial precedent barring gays from marriage injures individuals and interferes with the church’s dialogue about how to celebrate the lives of homosexual people.
4. A definition of marriage as between a man and a woman does not, by its presence in our Directory for Worship, prohibit marriage of same-sex couples. It was wrong for a previous PJC (in Benton) to expand a mere definition of marriage into an actual prohibition of gay marriage.
5. It is wrong for the church to perpetuate the idea that LGBT couples are “children of a lesser God.” They are the “ethical and spiritual equals of heterosexual couples” in God’s eyes. By emphasizing the traditions of heterosexual marriage, the church has done a great injustice to the LGBT community.
6. The right to marry is afforded to all persons, regardless of their sexual orientation. It is a matter of justice and pastoral care that the church must redefine marriage to reflect this basic right and end the discrimination directed at homosexual people.
To those who care about God’s Word—which teaches the male-female prerequisite for marriage—and the faithful exercise of ministry in the PCUSA, take note of what you will hear and prepare your counter arguments. These assertions must not go unanswered. Much is at stake to get this right at the 2012 General Assembly. The definition of marriage must not change, or we will see a mass exodus of members and the dismissal of dozens of congregations within a matter of months. We should fear far more the judgment of God if we discard his design for humanity and teach people to do what he has forbidden.
In coming blogs, I will provide answers to these six claims and others as they come to light.
 It should be noted, with appreciation, that three other commissioners filing a concurrence state (but do not advise) that the proper way to change the church’s practice in this matter is by constitutional amendment, not by defiance or individual interpretation.