Presbyterians move closer to full inclusion
July 6th, 2010
The Presbyterian Church (USA) is meeting in Minneapolis this week and high on the agenda is how to deal with gay and lesbian Presbyterians in committed relationships. And two decisions made so far give promise that this year may result in steps towards greater inclusion.
The first action was the election of gay ally Cindy Bolbach as Moderator of the 219th General Assembly (2010).
Only one question from the floor touched upon any of the several controversial issues that this Assembly will tackle in the coming week: whether to change the constitutional definition of marriage from “between a man and a woman” to “between two people.”
Four candidates – Leeth, Nielsen, Kim and Belle – endorsed support for the traditional definition. Though same-sex marriage is not legal in her native North Carolina, Lauterer said “in states where it’s legal, the church should have a part in that union … Covenant makes the community stronger.”
Only Bolbach expressed unqualified support for same-sex marriage. “Who poses the greatest threat – Larry King, who’s been married seven times, or a gay couple [friends of hers] in Washington, D.C., who have been together for 62 years and who got married two weeks ago?” Same-sex marriage is legal in the District of Columbia and five states.
Bolbach, who is a lawyer and legal publishing company executive in Washington, acknowledged, “I don’t think our denomination is ready for [changing the definition of marriage], but what do pastors do in jurisdictions where same-sex marriage is legal?”
Bolbach lives in just such a jurisdiction.
Yesterday, the church addressed correcting a 1960’s mistranslation of the Heidelberg Catechism which included language not in the original German. This additional language (in part of the response to Quetion 87) made anti-gay theological interpretations a matter of catechism. In 2008 the church directed a panel review the issue and respond this year.
Additionally, the Belhar Confession came out of South Africa as a consequence of apartheid and calls for racial equality. It declares that God is on the side of those who been oppressed or who have had injustice engaged against them. It is a strong call against segregating groups or treating people unequally and has been used as support for full inclusion of gay men and women, a connection made stronger by opposition to the Confession from those who oppose gay equality in the church.
The Committee on Theological Issues and Institutions furthered the effort to revise the Heidelberg Catechism and to adopt the Belhar Confession.
The committee concurred, 51-4, with the report to appoint the presently constituted Special Committee to recommend to the 220th General Assembly (2012) a new translation of the present Heidelberg Catechism in The Book of Confessions in cooperation with the Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRCNA) and the Reformed Church of America (RCA), and to consider inclusion of appropriate scriptural citations and/or textual references that correspond to each article.
Following a lengthy and thoughtful process, the committee concurred, 43-11-1, with the Special Committee’s recommendation that the 219th General Assembly (2010) approve the inclusion of the Belhar Confession in The Book of Confessions, and that the amendment be sent to the presbyteries for their affirmative or negative votes by June 2011.
The 219th General Assembly Committee on Civil Union and Marriage Issues voted 47-8-2 Monday to approve a report that urges Presbyterians to further study the issues and stay in covenant with each other while they do so.
The report of the Special Committee to Study Issues of Civil Union and Christian Marriage, signed by 10 of its 13 members, passed the Assembly committee with minor amendments.
The committee rejected a minority report submitted by three members of the special committee. The minority report, which stated that “only marriage between a man and a woman is ordained by God,” was defeated 40-15, with one abstention.
Additionally, the Committee on Civil Union and Marriage Issues seems to be making some astonishing adjustments to church language. For example,
1. Shall W-4.9001 be amended as follows: [Text to be deleted is shown with a strike-through; text to be added or inserted is shown as italic.]
“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 mantwo people. For Christians marriage is a covenant through which a man and a womantwo people 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 otherbetween two people, publicly witnessed and acknowledged by the community of faith.”
The vote was affirmative 34 to 18 with two abstentions.
The decisions are not all going in the favor of gay Presbyterians, but there is plenty to be happy about. More Light Presbyterians are providing live-blogging and other coverage from their facebook site.
We must keep in mind that these committee decisions do not, in themselves, place gay people on an equal standing in the Presbyterian Church; there are still a number of hurdles to clear. But they are steps towards that standing and are encouraging signs of what the future holds for gay Presbyterians and gay Christians on the whole.