Friday, April 4, 2014

2014 Overtures on marriage

This year the elephant in the room is so obvious that no one will be able to ignore it.     One overture requests  to change the Directory of Worship to remove presiding over a legal marriage but leaves the definition including man and woman:

OVT-011 On Amending W-4.9000 Concerning the Church’s Role in Legal Marriage and Services of Christian Covenant—From the Presbytery of Lehigh.

Another wants to change the same paragraph to replace man and woman and substitute two people: 

OVT-021 On Amending W-4.9000, Marriage—From the Presbytery of the Cascades.

Then you have one that will just change the paragraph to add that Sessions and Presbyteries can change their own definition of marriage as a civil contract according to the local state law:

OVT-033 On Amending W-4.9001, Christian Marriage—From the Presbytery of Midwest Hanmi.

My thoughts on these overtures are that while I may not agree with some of the rationale, I will respect the thoughts of those who are bringing them forward for possible referral to the presbyteries for approval.

However, the overtures that are calling for an Authoritative Interpretation (AI) to impose a total revision of what the church considers as marriage are outside of the normal polity of any Presbyterian church.     If its one thing that the Westminster Confession recognizes is that councils ERR.   This is why overtures passed at GA are sent to the lower councils for debate and approval/rejection.      An AI bypasses all these checks and balances, and imposes an interpretation of the Constitution on the denomination that would force many to rethink their affiliation, and result in the loss of many more members and congregations.

This one replaces the existing AIs on marriage, with one that says that a Teaching Elder can perform a marriage for any couple, not mentioning gender.

OVT-024 On Issuing an Authoritative Interpretation of W-4.9000 to Affirm Pastoral Discretion in Performing Marriage Ceremonies—From the Presbytery of Heartland.

This overture requests an AI that basically does the same as above, but in different language: 

OVT-027 On Issuing an Authoritative Interpretation of W-4.9000 to Affirm Pastoral Discretion in Performing Marriage Ceremonies—From the Presbytery of East Iowa.

This one just wants to remove the entire 1991 AI that currently exists on SSM:OVT-036 On Rescinding the 1991 Authoritative Interpretation Concerning Teaching Elders Performing Marriages for Same-Gender Couples and Sessions Permitting Such Ceremonies in their Facilities—From the Presbytery of New Castle.

The problem with the rationale in this overture is that is says this:

The United States Supreme Court, in United States v. Windsor, ruled that the Defense of Marriage Act of 1996, which allowed states where same-gender marriage was illegal to discriminate against such persons, was unconstitutional.

The reality is that the ruling held that the FEDERAL GOVERNMENT  must recognize the validity of SSM performed in states where such marriages are legal, it does not state that other states must recognize those marriages.  The key part of the ruling is this:

Justice Kennedy noted that regulation of domestic relations is within states’ traditional authority, and that the sweeping nature of DOMA as applying to all federal laws had the purpose and necessary effect of treating differently a relationship that the state treated the same. This “demeans” the married couple that is treated differently. In concluding, the Court made it clear that “[t]his opinion and its holding are confined to those lawful marriages” under state law.

Will this legal nitpick hold any sway when this overture is debated in committee, I seriously doubt it.

I don't believe I missed  any, but then again I may have.      This year there will be another concerted effort at electioneering during the GA.  Commissioners will be offered swag that will signal a preference towards a certain point of view, those who refuse such things may then be intimidated to go with the flow.

While I believe that any such indicators from any interest group should be banned from the hall, I don't see that happening as some may yell about free speech.     I see it as the elimination of any external influences from the prayerful consideration of the work of the GA from any group left or right.

My previous thoughts on this issue are a matter of record, I see this is going to be an issue that keeps coming back again and again until those who are convinced that the traditional definition of marriage is correct either capitulate or have left the denomination.

.... and so it goes!

Update 05/16/2014:

PLEASE NOTE:  these thoughts were written way before I knew where I would be serving at GA.

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