Yet the church, in obedience to Jesus Christ, is open to the reform of its standards of doctrine as well as of governance. The church affirms Ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda secundum verbum Dei, that is, “The church reformed, always to be reformed according to the Word of God” in the power of the Spirit. F-2.02
In 2005 I attended a small and beautiful state-sanctioned wedding of two women in Massachusetts. Though not the first same-gender wedding in that state, it may have been the first officiated by a Presbyterian Teaching Elder. This was a moment of risk and of prophecy. Acting with the power vested in him by the state of Massachusetts, the Teaching Elder professed that God’s gift of marriage was for these two women, and the community gathered that day joined in witness and committed to support the couple in their life together.
This was a private moment for the couple, their pastor, their family, and their community. It was not meant to be a challenge or a test case, and did not become one. It was at best unclear at the time how the Book of Order language that “marriage is a civil contract between a woman and a man” would ultimately be interpreted, given that in Massachusetts, marriage had in fact become a civil contract between two people.
Less than a decade later the Presbyterian Book of Order now affirms that “Marriage is a gift God has given to all humankind for the well-being of the entire human family. Marriage involves a unique commitment between two people….”
After decades of slow changes in the hearts and minds of Presbyterians regarding welcome and affirmation of LGBTQ people, it is in many ways remarkable that the PC (USA) has chosen to ratify these much-needed changes to the Book of Order, not only correcting statements of fact (marriage as a civil contract has changed in most states to allow two people to enter the contract regardless of their gender) , but also affirming marriage as God’s gift for the benefit of all humankind, not just heterosexual, gender-conforming couples.
Some look upon these changes and remark on how fast they are occurring in both church and society. However, this is the culmination of a much longer and hard-fought struggle for recognition of LGBTQ people and our relationships. Before Jane Spahr and the couples she married put so much on the line in their judicial cases; before this Massachusetts couple and their pastor took unknown risks to claim the full richness of their relationship, there were the struggles of prior General Assemblies over civil unions, holy unions, domestic partnerships, and commitment ceremonies; and before that the struggle to keep body and soul together with a Christian sexual ethics based in justice-love. And well before General Assemblies would even talk about any of this there was the love, one person for another, a constant steady stream of what God had joined together, queering our understanding of ourselves and each other, of who God is and what church can and should be.
Today we celebrate all of this; it is not just in the victory, but also in this journey of struggle that we learn what it means to be Ecclesia Reformata, Semper Reformanda: the church reformed, always being reformed.
Where do we go from here? Our movement has witnessed extraordinary policy change for Ordination Equality and Marriage Equality in the span of five years. We know from our involvement with other social justice movements that policy changes are seismic shifts in communities that call us to live into the hope they produce. So we continue now as we began, in our local congregations and communities of faith, striving to be the church we wish to see in the world, striving to live into the ideals we have affirmed as a denomination, and striving to realize the promise of the full participation of LGBTQ people in the life, work, and ministry of the Presbyterian Church.