The Difference between Same-Sex Blessings and Marriages

February 25, 2012

Yesterday I outlined the various arguments found in the GAPJC decision that came down this week. While the “Decision and Order” itself upheld the constitutional definition of marriage as between a man and a woman, several commissioners filed comments in support of gay marriage. These arguments have no force of law, but they do map out the strategy to secure a change in the definition of marriage at the upcoming General Assembly. Since that change appears to be the liberal goal this year, it is worth looking at each argument individually, examining assumptions, checking references, and answering them from a conservative/evangelical perspective.

The first argument:

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).

The theme of micromanaging has come up in recent discussions of the GAPJC, most recently in the case of Parnell v. San Francisco in which I have served as counsel for the Appellants/Complainants. A few commissioners have stated, when asked to make a ruling based on biblical and theological arguments, that they “are not theologians; this is above our pay grade.” I don’t know if this comes from weariness of the heavy burden they bear as judicial commissioners, inadequacies in their theological education, or misunderstanding about what their role actually is. But since the Rule of Discipline states that the role of the judicial process is to censure any act or omission that is contrary to the Scriptures or the Constitution of the PCUSA, judicial commissioners should be prepared to get involved in theological and biblical discourse. It is their job.

To do so is not micromanaging but upholding what the church has agreed are its rules, which are consistent with Scripture and well-established in practice.

The argument against “micromanaging the liturgies taking place in local congregations” is actually a pretty silly shell to hide under. It characterizes the GAPJC’s task unfairly and diminishes the importance of a Directory for Worship, which guides all such matters. The suggestion that same-sex blessing ceremonies might be indistinguishable from weddings makes the point by itself: some ministers in the guise of blessings are actually officiating at the weddings of two people who cannot be joined thusly within the church. What causes the real confusion and begs for judicial review is the intention to join two people in what constitutes a marriage (commitment, supposed monogamy, legal standing) without calling it that in order to stay within the rules. If the actions of a ceremony are that close in character to a wedding, then those actions constitute a violation of our agreed-upon rule.

Regarding review of worship and liturgies, memories of the Sophia worship services at the Re-Imagining Conference of 1993 come to mind: practices, vocabulary, and ceremonies foreign to Christian liturgy—even heretical— were used with Presbyterian blessing. The outcry that emerged out of that experience moved the 1994 GA in Wichita to reaffirm the denomination’s commitment to orthodoxy in worship. Was that micromanaging liturgy? No, it was a necessary, prophetic statement that helped the church get back on track. How about the attempts for decades to require “inclusive names for God” in worship? Those attempts failed, because the Body evaluated the scriptural rationale for such mandatory name-calling, and the arguments for it were found wanting. Frankly, liberal Presbyterians have been trying to micromanage worship for a long time to their ends. So I find it rather odd that in this case, they want to stay out of the business of enforcing the distinction between what is and is not acceptable liturgy.

But let me also be clear about one other aspect of this argument, the idea that blessing same-sex couples is actually acceptable, even if marriage is not. Why would a minister of the transforming gospel of Jesus Christ want to bless something God’s Word has said cannot be blessed? The gospel does not promote a blessing over sin but the transforming work of Jesus Christ by the power of his Spirit to forsake sin and undergo the radical life-change we all need. This need for change is concrete, real-life, down to the core of who we are and what we do. God’s blessing is found in a true, personal reformation.

When we get to argument number 3, I will address the appropriate forms of pastoral care all our members, including gay and lesbian people, need and should expect. But performing weddings, or even same-sex blessings, is not one of them.


One Response to “The Difference between Same-Sex Blessings and Marriages”

  1. Rev. Wilfredo Castro Says:

    Thank you for your wonderful interpretation of the Word of God. I find it refreshing to know that if we get to done to earth knowledge of the Bible, we see the truth in it. Since the dawn of time, man and woman God created to unite and be one. What is so dificult about that? Man’s sin will do anything to thwart God’s true message and his power to transform and make us new. He does that all to well. Praise his name forever more. Aleluya!

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