Marriage Progress Proceeds to Plenary: MLP #GA221 Committee Summary from Tuesday, June 17
From the onset of marriage committee deliberations on Tuesday, the observer gallery was packed. The mood had shifted from the first day, as folks moved from testimony and reflection, information and meditation, towards actions addressing the status of marriage in the Presbyterian Church (USA).
Before the committee could approve its docket of business for the day, it dealt with a motion to pause for a 20- minute Bible study on yet-to-be-determined passages from scripture addressing marriage. This motion failed after much discussion that went as far to consider the difference between “reading the Bible” and “studying the Bible.”
Next, a robust proposal from a commissioner and Ruling Elder urged the committee to reject the entire slate of marriage legislation, claiming its conflict and tension with the Book of Order and Book of Confessions. After a thorough debate of the proposal to disapprove everything on the anticipated docket, it was voted on just before lunch and defeated by a vote of 53-15. The commissioner who pursued this will be preparing a minority report.
After the lunch recess, the committee moved efficiently into its stated business. The major actions of the day, as anticipated, were the proposed Authoritative Interpretation (AI) of the Book of Order, allowing freedom of conscience to address a pastoral crisis, and the proposed Amendment to the Book of Order, changing the description of marriage in the PCUSA church constitution from a relationship between “a man and a woman” to that between “two people.”
Although multiple AIs addressed the issue in a similar fashion, the committee settled for debating and moving on 10-03, with amendments, as the best motion to move towards the plenary floor of the General Assembly later this week. A commissioner explained, “10-03 has the most energy behind it, so I recommend that one for approval.”
Moving forward through the amendments and toward the vote, a teaching elder from Arkansas stated in favor of unity, no matter the outcome of these issues: “I think the biggest danger is that we continue to break into smaller factions until we’re only in groups that agree with us.”
AI 10-03 passed with 51 in favor and 18 opposed. If approved at plenary, this AI would give teaching elders (pastors) immediate relief and authority of conscience in states with civil marriage equality.
The other AIs were considered and voted as being answered by the committee’s response to the first AI, thus making 10-03 the piece of business the committee recommends to the larger assembly.
Next under consideration came 10-02, which would be an Amendment to the Book of Order changing the description of marriage. As the afternoon hours progressed at a good clip, movement was swift to get a motion on the floor and seconded to approve 10-02. Next came the amendments to protect conservative PCUSA pastors who may choose not to perform same-gender ceremonies.
The committee voted with 49 in favor and18 opposed to amend the Book of Order of PCUSA to change marriage language allowing inclusion and equality for same-gender covenants and a freedom of conscience amendment, allowing pastors who oppose same-gender marriage as a matter of faith, the discretion to not preside at said marriages. Due to some conservative pastors living in states with more liberal views on LGBT issues, this motivated one commissioner to call this amendment his “Get Out Of Jail Free Card.”
The moderator Jeff Bridgeman reminded everyone that these actions are still advisory and now must go to the entire General Assembly later this week. In the case of a Book of Order amendment, even if it passes the General Assembly, it must then be ratified by a majority of the Presbyteries before taking effect.
At a press conference later, Bridgeman and his vice moderator Rebecca Tollefson explained the process of the committee and reviewed the possible changes in PCUSA if the General Assembly adopts the changes proposed by the marriage committee.
In other committee news, Social Justice Issues moved on “Commissioner Resolution 9-20. On the Global Crisis for LGBT People and Their Families: A Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Response.” This was passed and referred to the General Assembly Consent Agenda. This Resolution was spearheaded and shepherded by Rev. Janet Edwards, a former More Light Board member.
Also, the Polity Committee recommended disapproval of both 06-01, “On Amending G-2.0104b by Replacing ‘Guided by’ with ‘Obedient to’ in Reference to Scripture and the Confessions” and 06-09, “On Amending F-2.05, G-2.0105 and W-4.4003c to Clarify What is Meant by Essentials of the Reformed Faith.”
As we move to the floor of #GA221, the More Light movement on the ground in Detroit is experiencing momentum and hope.