I’m Scott Clark, Teaching Elder from Redwoods Presbytery and chaplain of San Francisco Theological Seminary. I’m also an attorney who has done hours pro-bono work defending cases like John’s, in which the only offense committed was love.
While Scripture and the confessions guide our lives as Christians, as Presbyterians we order our life according to the Book of Order and the constitutional process of interpreting it. Since states began recognizing the marriage of same-gender couples in 2004, the relationship between civil contract and covenant has come into question.
Because previous General Assemblies have failed to act, resolution of the question has fallen to the sixteen members of General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission (GAPJC). This is the least representative process for addressing constitutional questions.
On the question of marriage, the church’s inaction has forced the GAPJC not merely to interpret the constitution, but to create policy. In February 2012, a sharply-divided GAPJC held, by an 8 to 6 vote, that PCUSA ministers are prohibited from celebrating the marriages of same-gender couples, thus creating prohibition of these marriages by judicial decision.
The six dissenting members the GAPJC wrote passionately about the injustice of the narrow majority decision. AND SEVEN of the members of that Court, including one who voted with the majority, implored this General Assembly to amend the Book of Order to correct this injustice.
Even one member of the majority opinion wrote, “By retaining that definition of marriage excluding same-gender couples despite the increasing number of jurisdictions recognizing same-sex marriage, the church creates a form of second class citizenship for faithful Christians, despite all the other places in the Book of Order where the full equality of persons regardless of sexual orientation is affirmed.” A member of the majority wrote that. (Spahr v. PCUSA, GAPJC, No. 220-08. Feb. 20, 2013, pp. 5-6)
The current policy forbidding the marriage of same-gender couples in the PC(USA) is contrary to the expansive and inclusive gospel of Jesus Christ, and to important principles of non-discrimination in our Book of Order. In its “Foundations of Presbyterian Polity” section, the Book of Order affirms that the church is to reflect the rich diversity of all people, specifically stating “there is therefore no place in the life of the Church for discrimination against any person” (F-1.0403). Rather, the church is to become:
in fact as well as in faith a community of women and men of all ages, races, ethnicities, and worldly conditions, made one in Christ by the power of the Spirit. (F-1.0404)
The church’s current policies excluding same-gender couples from the church’s pastoral care in marriage are contrary to these fundamental, constitutional principles of inclusion and non-discrimination.
You—on this committee and as General Assembly Commissioners— have the constitutional authority to correct these harmful policies. An Authoritative Interpretation affirming the Book of Order principle of pastoral discretion will bring immediate relief by reducing the threat of judicial action. Ultimately, however, the Book of Order needs to be amended. The process of amendment ratification by each presbytery’s vote is lengthy, so the General Assembly needs to begin now. Accordingly, with half the members of the GAPJC we ask you to recommend an amendment to the Book of Order that will clarify that the marriage of same-gender couples is not prohibited, and that pastors may – but are not required to — extend the church’s pastoral care in marriage to all people.