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.[1]

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.

            [1] 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.



10 Responses to “Spahr Decision Contains Arguments for Change of Marriage’s Definition”

  1. Steve N. Says:

    You are correct to be concerned by some of the dissents and concurrences of the court. I do take some solice that in this case the GAPJC at least ruled in accordance with the Book of Order.

  2. Eleanor Duffield Says:

    In Virginia same-sex marriage is likely NEVER to be legislated or adjudicated as such by the courts. Our congregation in Fairfax, however, last Sunday welcomed a lesbian “married” couple following session’s reception of the membership of each one. Seems like an oxymoron. Being inclusive is of Jesus and I support that but same-sex marriage and ordination of practicing homosexuals are not borne out by Holy Scripture as God’s will. It seems to me that whoever said “Jesus invites us as we are but loves us too much to leave us there” has given us convicting words. Is it likely the progressive proponents have dear friends and or family who are gay/lesbian and since they are good people then their respective lifestyles are to be blessed?

    Thank you Rev Mary for your astute and theologically sound reflections. Please keep ’em comin’!

  3. Jeff Winter Says:

    Since homosexual people do not exist then the PJC made the right decision. Why should we give the right to two people who claim to be homosexual the right to marry, if they don’t exist? God never has and never will create homosexual people. People with same sex attraction exist but innately born gays or lesbians do not exist. Where did we ever get the idea that because someone has sexual inclinations toward someone of the same sex that they are born homosexual?

  4. Paul Says:

    Once again the “leaders” of the church show they are out of tune with scripture, the Spirit, and the remaining members of PCUSA. I read something Francis Schaeffer wrote in 1968 that directly predicted this state of affairs

  5. I agree with your assessment of the Spahr decision. When I initially read the decision, I was heartened by this early on comment, “Although counsel for both parties confirmed that state law recognizes the legality of these [same sex] marriages, the change in state law did not and could not change what is permissible for marriages to be authorized by the PC(USA).” Unfortunately, that was the closest encounter to clear-headed, theological insight in the entire decsion. The prevailing culture doesn’t define truth for the church. Anchored to God’s Word, we — to use John’s language — “test the spirits” to determine the good, the bad and the ugly. The language of the concurring and dissenting opinions seems to me to be a not very subtle invitation to GA to get rid of the current marriage language in the Directory for Worship. How’s that for legislating from the bench? (Well, sort of.)

  6. David Stearns Says:

    No wonder I was confused yesterday when I read the decision. As was said, at least they held to the current BOO, and let’s hope that the next GA doesn’t AI it the other way.

  7. We’re currently in a weird position. Conservatives don’t like the position, so I’m not surprised that they wouldn’t like the suggestion.

    But consider this: we allow minsters to bless a same-sex union. In some states such unions are civil marriages. So a minister wanting to bless such a union in those states ends upon conducting a ceremony that the State will consider a marriage, but he has to do so without implying that the service is in fact a marriage.

    I think that’s the real reason the PJC thinks there’s a problem. Obviously you’d prefer us to prohibit blessing same-sex unions in the first place, but you’ve got to admit that the current position is strange, and probably wasn’t what anyone who participated in setting the rules intended.

  8. Michael Neubert Says:

    Instead of revising Scripture to allow “gay” marriage, why don’t we re-examine the notion that ministers may bless a same-sex union? How is it that the church gave permission to bless institutionalized sin?

  9. The “Statement on the Gift of Marriage” in the 1993 Book of Common Worship (the most recent) is a profound statement on the nature of Christian marriage. Read that statement and then contrast it with the sophistry of those wanting to “redefine” marriage. For all the odd, even non-Reformed, things that make appearance in the 1993 BCW, the marriage service is perhaps the best service in it, and the statement on marriage is in direct contradiction to the wills and wishes of the majority on the GAPJC who want to reimagine marriage.

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