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Marriage Equality in the PCUSA

Biblical, theological and constitutional perspectives

Daniel Saperstein

on 7 August 2013

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Transcript of Marriage Equality in the PCUSA

Your Presenter
The Rev. Dr. Daniel M. Saperstein

Executive Presbyter, Presbytery of Plains and Peaks
Former Member, GA Advisory Committee on the Constitution
Former Member, GA Permanent Judicial Commission
What is often referred to as the "biblical model" of marriage is not at all what marriage looked like in Biblical times.
Covenant Network Regional Conference
Denver, Colorado
January 27, 2013


church and state
Marriage in the Bible is inextricably linked to its cultural context. Countryman (1990) and others point out that marriage in Ancient Israel and the New Testament Palestine was sociologically defined by:
- an anthropological social construct that separates "clean" and "unclean". Creates "ick" response.
- women were regarded as property of their fathers until they become property of their husbands
- power relationships dominated by men.
The Law of Moses regarded rape and adultery as property crimes against the father/husband (owner) of the woman. In cases involving the rape of a virgin, the rapist must pay the father a fine and "purchase" the bride in marriage. In cases of adultery, rape "in the city," or failure to issue proof of virginity at marriage, the woman was subject to death by stoning. (Deut. 22:13-30)
Polygamy and Polyamory were signs of male wealth and prestige. David had at least seven wives and unnumbered concubines. Solomon boasted 700 wives and 300 concubines.
Witte (2012) suggests that the "biblical" model of mutual monogamous fidelity emerged from the assimilation of the Semitic model to the ideal promoted in Greek and Latin philosophy. But even this has changed over time in the church. Since the late middle ages, marriage has been variously understood in the church as:
conferring a permanent and irretractable grace (Roman Catholicism)
social institution
blessed in the church (Lutheran)
divine covenant
with both civil and ecclesiastical roles (Reformed)
representing in miniature the divinely appointed monarchy of the state (Anglican)
social contract
between two persons (post-Enlightenment)
Principles, Politics & Pragmatics
Pro-change factors
Anti-change factors
Marriage a more
volatile issue than
Changing definition of
marriage will push
moderate right to schism
Biblical command to protect
the weaker conscience (1 Cor. 8:13)
Lack of denominational consensus about sexual ethics and biblical interpretation
"Justice delayed is justice denied"
No moral equivalence between suffering of the marginalized and discomfort brought about by just change
Principle of accommodating conscience when theological consensus is lacking
Pastoral needs
arising from
changing laws
Strategies for
Option 1: Amend W-4.9001
Change the definition of marriage
from "a man and a woman" to "two people" (along with other enabling amendments).
Option 2: Authoritative Interpretation
A. Authoritatively interpret W-4.9001 to permit
same-sex marriages where civil law permits
B. Authoritatively interpret W-4.9001 in light of G-2.0105 to accommodate freedom of conscience (i.e., declare heterosexual-only marriage does not constitute a "necessary and essential" article of faith).
C. Authoritatively interpret W-4.9001 to permit discretion in pastoral judgment regarding same-sex weddings
Option 3: Constitutionally Protect Pastoral Discretion
Amend W-1.4005a on rights of the pastor as worship leader by adding the following (or similar):

"Teaching elders, and ruling elders commissioned to pastoral service, shall have the freedom to exercise discretion regarding the conduct of worship as pastoral care except where explicitly proscribed in this Constitution.  The exercise of this freedom may not infringe on the session’s responsibility to control the use of church facilities and to authorize the celebration of the sacraments, or the presbytery’s responsibility to validate and oversee the ministry of the Word and sacrament."
“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.”
Issues of interpretation:

Which clause governs which?
Prescriptive or descriptive?
Mandatory or merely normative?
Tensions with other provisions, e.g., G-2.0105 (freedom of conscience)
Authority of scripture and confessions
So, "traditional" or "biblical" marriage are malleable terms that have historically been adapted to changes in society and social mores. The pastoral enforcement of what has been normative has similarly accommodated social realities and compassionate regard for persons involved (e.g., divorce, single parents).
Recent History of Same-sex Marriage in PCUSA

1978: Policy statement on homosexuality
("definitive guidance") rejected "genital sexual expression" outside "the covenant of heterosexual marriage" BUT affirmed:
"There is no legal, social, or moral justification for denying homosexual persons access to the basic requirements of human existence...." AND
"Vigilance must be exercised to oppose federal, state, and local legislation that discriminates against persons on the basis of sexual orientation...."
1991: Keeping Body and Soul Together
(received but not adopted):
"Marriages exhibiting generosity and grace demonstrate the moral substance of justice-love.... The moral quality of these covenants are not a function of age, gender, race, or culture, but are rather dependent on the maturity and integrity of the partners, as well as the sustaining grace of God.
"For this reason, the right to participate in and receive church, community, and legal support for an enduring, publicly validated partnership in justice-love should be available to same-sex couples as well as to heterosexual couples...."
1991: General Assembly issues authoritative interpretation of W-4.9001
that same sex marriage not sanctioned by Book of Order, that sessions should not permit use of facilities for same-sex unions deemed same as a marriage and ministers should not perform such. All subsequent attempts to amend or further interpret W-4.9001 have been rejected or defeated.

2010: Special Committee to Study Issues of Civil Union and Christian Marriage
reports, "our interpretations of Scripture lead us to different conclusions regarding homosexual behavior and same-gender partnerships." Report (and minority report) received but not adopted.
The GAPJC has, however, issued several authoritative interpretations via judicial process:

Benton v. Pby of Hudson River (2000)
reaffirmed 1991 AI, clarified distinction between same sex unions and same sex weddings as the "declaration of a new status." Refused to dictate conduct of pastoral care ("should not" vs. "shall not") but reversed Synod PJC decision.

Spahr v. Pby of Redwoods (2008; "Spahr 1")
reaffirmed "... officers of the PC(USA) authorized to perform marriages shall not state, imply, or represent that a same sex ceremony is a marriage."
Southard v. Pby of Boston (2011)
declared changes in civil law do not alter church polity on same-sex weddings, and "Officers of the PCUSA... shall not state, imply, or represent that the same-gender ceremony is an ecclesiastical marriage ceremony as defined by PCUSA polity, whether or not the civil jurisdiction allows same-gender civil marriages." Reaffirmed in
Spahr v. Pby of Redwoods (2012; "Spahr 2")

Pby of Newark v. McNeill (2012)
refined Benton by ruling that prohibitions regarding participation in a same-sex wedding do not apply to those being wed, provided that the union is not represented as recognized by the PCUSA as a marriage.
Obstacles to Change with Options 1 and 2
Political: Resistance to changing the definition of marriage. Solution: Retain heterosexual definition as normative but not exhaustive.

Theological: Lack of consensus on biblical witness regarding same-sex relationships. Solution: Reframe the debate around pastoral rights and responsibilities.

Strategic: Concern about using authoritative interpretation to effect a fundamental change in polity. Solution: Offer constitutional changes that create space but don't mandate action (similar to 10-A).

Achtemeier, Mark. The Plan-B God. Paper presented at Covenant Network Regional Conference, Minneapolis, MN, October 27, 2012. http://covnetpres.org/2012/10/the-plan-b-god/

_____________. The Redemption of Our Bodies. Paper presented at Covenant Network Regional Conference, Kansas City, MO, November 16, 2012. http://covnetpres.org/2012/11/the-redemption-of-our-bodies/

Countryman, L. William. Dirt, Greed, and Sex: Sexual Ethics in the New Testament and Their Implications for Today. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press. 1988.

Knust, Jennifer Wright. Unprotected Texts: The Bible’s Surprising Contradictions about Sex and Desire. New York: HarperOne. 2011.

Office of the General Assembly, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). The Annotated Book of Order 2012-2013 (CD-ROM ed.) Louisville, KY: Office of the General Assembly. 2012. [Includes 2010 report of Special Committee to Study Issues of Civil Union and Christian Marriage in linked footnote of W-4.9001]

Office of the General Assembly, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). “Keeping Body and Soul Together: Sexuality, Spirituality, and Social Justice,” Minutes, 203rd General Assembly (1991). Louisville, KY: Office of the General Assembly. 263-350.

Office of the General Assembly, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). “Minority Report of the Special Committee on Human Sexuality,” Minutes, 203rd General Assembly (1991). Louisville, KY: Office of the General Assembly. 350-377.

Rogers, Jack. Jesus, the Bible, and Homosexuality: Explode the Myths, Heal the Church. Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press. 2006.

Witte, John Jr. From Sacrament to Contract: Marriage, Religion, and Law in the Western Tradition (second ed.). Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press. 2012.
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