I was unable to attend this weeks presbytery meeting due to illness. I had prepared remarks for the floor discussion of the marriage redefinition amendment. They are included below.
I rise to speak against the amendment offered which would redefine marriage in the Book of Order. I do so in the knowledge that the amendment has surpassed the number of presbytery affirmations required to be adopted and will become the practice of our denomination. My reason for speaking against this amendment, and in full knowledge the futility of so doing, is not simply to register my conviction regarding the nature of Christian marriage as between a man and a woman. On a larger level, it is to register my belief that–at a fundamental level–the work of pastoring and indeed the work of this presbytery is theological task. For that very reason it is important that this conversation be engaged in Lehigh Presbytery regardless of the outcome of the legitimate political process that has caused this amendment to be adopted.
When the church gathers in its council it does so in full knowledge that a variety of opinions and convictions are represented and, as a result, we have each of us, pledged to practice mutual forebearence, a pledge that I hope will extend to my comments here.
I recognize that in passing this amendment our church has attempted to preserve unity in the face of strongly opposing views. I further acknowledge that the amendment that is before us is, on a practical level, just about the only thing our church could do in order to attempt to achieve that goal. I disagree, however, on the primacy of unity over against other factors like truth.
Ultimately, this intent will not be realized.
When the church speaks of something as deep seated as our sexuality, it doesn’t do well to affirm a contradiction, or worse, to assert that we cannot agree and therefore will “decide not to decide” as Barry Ensign-George and Charles Wiley argue in their paper, “Our Challenging Way: Faithfulness, Sex, Ordination, and Marriage”. [I think we can be glad we weren’t asked to write that paper.]
If, as so many of my progressive friends contend, the ability for GLBT+ persons to serve in the ordered ministry in the church and to enter into Holy Matrimony is an issue of fundamental fairness and justice, then how are we to approach this amendment, which essentially preserves (in the minds of those who disagree with me) my fundamental ability to discriminate against poeple whose theology and understanding of sexuality differs from my own?
The only plausible way in which such an accomodation to traditionalists can be taken seriously is as an intermediate step toward a national standard that does not allow teaching elders who share my convictions to follow our/their consciences. As you might guess, this concerns me. It is a well-worn pattern in our church over the last one hundred years: the “mays” eventually become “shalls.”
With Calvin I am both wary and weary of division within Christ’s church. It is a mistake to conclude that division doesn’t exist.
Since this amendment has passed the only remaining question is whether this “decision to not decide” is egregious enough a departure from the witness of Scripture and the practice of the church to warrant departure? I am unclear about the answer to this question. One thing upon which I am clear: this amendment constitutes a significant abdication of the church’s responsibility before God to shepherd Christ’s flock.