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Letter from the Moderator and Vice Moderator of the PC(USA) on the Marriage Amendment


Statement from the Covenant Network Board on the Marriage Amendment

At its 2014 meeting in Detroit, Michigan, the 221st General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) overwhelmingly approved an amendment to Part 2 of the denomination's constitution, the Book of Order, that added language to the Directory for Worship which opened up the traditional definition of marriage. The proposed amendment describes marriage as “a unique relationship between two people, traditionally a man and a woman.” Such proposed amendments, however, must then be voted on and approved by the appropriate majority of presbyteries across the nation in order to become ratified as church law. In the months since, people across our denomination have been engaged in conversation, discernment, and prayer on the matter.

On March 17, 2015, a majority of the 171 presbyteries of the Presbyterian Church (USA) had approved an amendment to the church’s Book of Order with the final tally showing affirmative votes from over 70% of our presbyteries.The PC(USA) becomes the largest Protestant group to formally allow for same-sex marriage churchwide. The change will become effective at the June 21, 2015, General Assembly.

I believe the change points our denomination in the same direction the Christian Church was headed when it was fresh and new. The Book of Acts tells the remarkable story of the Apostle Peter receiving a fresh new vision that distinguishes between what he had been taught about what is or isn't acceptable in God's sight and the new truth God revealed to him - a truth he later proclaimed by saying: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality" (Acts 10:34). With those words, the growing spiritual movement that had sprung up around the person and teachings of Rabbi Jesus began to accept gentiles into their fellowship, and the wheel of history was forever and dramatically changed.

But this change in our constitution also marks a kind of New Beginning in the denomination, one where we can cease our divisive and resource-draining bickering over one issue on which the Bible has very little to say and focus on the scripture's frequent attention to the ills and evils that plague humanity, such as poverty, inhospitality, and greed.

The new language in the constitution opens us up to the possibility of real dicernment in church affairs, extending the invitation to prayerfully seek the will of God in the issues and for the people that come before us, rather than arbitrarily and unilaterally dismissing them from possibile consideration. The language also provides balance and restores us to a way of functioning in the Presbyterian Church that I first experienced and grew to love as a younger man – a way that leaves the necessary room for people of faith to disagree agreeably on important matters of life and faith, and for the Holy Spirit of God to go to work on us.

This change to our constitution will not force any pastor or church council to adopt or engage in any actitities which go against their faithful understanding of God's will. It does open each of us, however, to acknowledge the truth that we have experienced in our own lives and in the lives of our friends and families, the truth that leads us and guides us to our best selves and our authentic calling. Just like in the vision received by the Apostle Peter when the Spirit led him to welcome the first gentiles into the church: leave labeling what is “clean and unclean” to God; let us focus on our faith in God and the quality and fidelity of our relationships.

I truly believe that this shift places our focus and function where it ought to be and in-line with the great tome of the Bible and its overarching themes of love and community. Now, in the church, we’re freed from asking others, “Whom do you love,” to asking one another, “How do you love?” It also keeps us flowing in the same direction as that early Christian creed: "God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them” (1 John 4:16).

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-- Rev. Todd D. Shumpert, Pastor

Pleasantdale Presbyterian Church, West Orange, NJ