13-01 East Iowa Marriage Overture to Amend W-4.9000

Concurrences: Des Moines, Utica, Baltimore, Heartland

The Presbytery of East Iowa voted (54 to 35) on October 11, 2011 to overture the General Assembly to Amend W-4.9000 in the constitution of the PC(USA) as follows:
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 man. For Christians, marriage is a covenant through which a man and a woman two 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 other between two people, publicly witnessed and acknowledged by the community of faith. [W-4.9001]

a) In preparation for the marriage service, the teaching elder shall provide for a discussion with the man and the woman two people to be married concerning [W-4.9002]
The service begins with scriptural sentences and a brief statement of purpose. The man and the woman two people to be married shall declare their intention to enter into Christian marriage and shall exchange vows of love and faithfulness. ... In the name of the triune God the teaching elder shall declare publicly that the woman and the man two people are now joined in marriage. [W-4.9004]
A service of worship recognizing a civil marriage and confirming it in the community of faith may be appropriate when requested by the couple. The service will be similar to the marriage service except that the opening statement, the declaration of intention, the exchange of the vows by the husband and wife two people, and the public declaration by the teaching elder reflect the fact that the woman and man are two people are already married to one another according to the laws of the state. [W-4.9006]

Since April 2009, Iowa has been allowing two people of the same gender to marry. Although some Iowa pastors in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) have declined to perform such marriages in keeping with their conscience, many others are caught in an untenable position: their conscience tells them to exercise their pastoral responsibility and perform the marriage but the church tells them to fear prosecution. Such prosecutions have already placed tremendous financial burden on presbyteries, diminishing the church’s ability to effectively evangelize and perform necessary mission work.
We Are Called to Make Disciples

According to the Book of Order, we declare,

“The good news of the Gospel is that the triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—creates, redeems, sustains, rules, and transforms all things and all people. … proclaiming the Lord’s favor upon all creation. … In Christ, the Church participates in God’s mission… by proclaiming to all people the good news of God’s love, offering to all people the grace of God at font and table, and calling all people to discipleship in Christ. Human beings have no higher goal in life than to glorify and enjoy God now and forever, living in covenant fellowship with God and participating in God’s mission” (F-1.01).

“… No person shall be denied membership for any reason not related to profession of faith. The Gospel leads members to extend the fellowship of Christ to all persons. Failure to do so constitutes a rejection of Christ himself and causes a scandal to the Gospel” (G-1.0302).

“The invitation to the Lord’s Supper is extended to all who have been baptized, remembering that access to the Table is not a right conferred upon the worthy, but a privilege given to the undeserving …” (W-2.4011).

According to this, Presbyterians call all people to discipleship in Christ, live to glorify God, extend the fellowship of Christ to all people, and recognize that none of us earn or deserve God’s grace.
The Marriage Ceremony Is Worship

In our order for worship, we listen to the Word, proclaim the Word, and respond to the Word. Responding to the Word is a demonstration of the love of God for God’s people.

“The response to the proclamation of the Word is expressed in an affirmation of faith and commitment. … Response to the Word also involves acts of commitment and recognition … acts of commitment which may appropriately be included as response to the Word are (a) Christian marriage, …” (W-3.3500, W-3.3502, W-3.3503).

According to this, Presbyterians view Christian marriage as an act of worship.
Our Polity

One part of our current Presbyterian polity specifically excludes a group of people when it comes to worship: those people in loving, committed, Christian relationships who are also of the same gender and wish to marry. However, elsewhere in our polity, we hold up the words of Jesus Christ:

“‘… There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise’ (Gal. 3:27–29). … The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) shall guarantee full participation and representation in its worship, governance, and emerging life to all persons or groups within its membership. …” (F-1.0403)

We are all trying to discern God’s Word for us. And as surely as we are all unique creations of the loving God, we will each of us disagree from time to time. But if we profess to call all people to Christ, to call all people to proclaim God’s love for us in worship, to guarantee full participation in worship to all persons, we must give teaching elders and sessions the discretion to choose to recognize the covenant of Christian marriage for two people of the same gender just as we allow teaching elders and sessions the discretion to choose otherwise. To do anything else unfairly denies this group of our membership the opportunity to fully worship our God.

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