Thursday: Plenary Marriage Live Blog
More Light Presbyterians will be live blogging the plenary marriage discussion starting on Thursday (6/19) at Business Meeting 6 (8:30 a.m. ET) and Business Meeting 7 (1:30 p.m. ET). To learn more about legislation passed out of committee , visit our legislation page. We invite you to join us throughout the day to track the progress of plenary conversations and voting.
Business Meeting 6 (8:30 a.m. ET)
Special Order: Council discussion of recommendations concerning Middle East and Marriage (90 minutes)
Business Meeting 7 (1:30 p.m. ET)
Civil Union and Marriage Issues (10)
TEC= Teaching Elder Commissioner
REC= Ruling Elder Commissioner
YAAD= Youth Advisory Delegate
BOC= Book of Confessions
BOO= Book of Order
AI= Authoritative Interpretation
TSAD= Theological student advisory delegate
EAD= Ecumenical advisory delegate
MAD= Mission advisory delegate
TEC Paul Roberts: Asks the Moderator to pray, especially to pray for churches and pastors who will be discerning whether or not they can continue to be part of the denomination.
Moderator Rada asks commissioners to join hands where they sit and pray.
The floor sits in silence until Moderator Rada closes with an Amen. “And let’s commit to each other that that’s not the only prayer, it’s just the first one since this decision has been made.”
Moderator Rada turns the mic over to Vice-Moderator Larissa Kwong Abazia, who invites commissioners to stand and stretch where they are. Commissioners stand, many file out — carrying empty water bottles, cell phones, smiles and frowns. It feels like everyone is inhaling and exhaling a deep breath.
Vice-Mod Kwong Abazia calls the assembly back to order, “The Lord be with you!”
As the assembly begins again, with other business, we bid you all a good night.
Moderator Bridgeman expresses gratitude to all 71 members of committee 10 and the committee leadership, says, “this ends the business of committee 10.”
There is applause that starts in the gallery and spreads to the floor; commissioners are standing. Observers are standing. There are cheers from the back.
Motion passes 94% to 6%.
TSADs, EADs, MADs: 100% yes, YAADs 94% yes
Question has been called, unanimous by voice vote among commissioners.
Voting in progress.
Stated Clerk: We don’t have that information yet, because the overture gives us some discretion. “But I would say, the cost of not doing this is higher.”
TEC Barbara Todd: “I would appeal to the commissioners for a more pastoral approach.” Can we find a way for it to be pastoral, not top-down visitation?
REC Zampella, in favor: “We are hurting” in conservative circles. “We need reconciliation, we’re in this together.”
TEC Jim Houston, question: I don’t know how to vote for this, because PC-Biz does not have it up in our section. We can’t vote for what we can’t see.
Stated Clerk reading the recommendation to the assembly. It’s also up on the board. This is our photo from yesterday:
Bridgeman (cont): This overture grows out of this committee’s work on marriage issues, but we recognize there are many issues which divide us and on which we need reconciliation. “This is our job.”
TEC Bobbi White, in favor: “I know I am going home, when it comes to a vote, to a Presbytery that will be very divided.” Encouraging commissioners to go home and be part of the reconciliation work, their work as a GA does not stop on Saturday but continues over the next to years.
TEC Trip McKinnon, in favor: “My conservative brothers and sisters, I value you in this denomination. My liberal brothers and sisters, I value you in this denomination. My moderate brothers and sisters, I value you in this denomination. One thing we have in common is our faith in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, and living out his call in our world. May no hot button issues stop us from doing that.”
TEC Barbara Lucia, in favor: “Because I’m serving at a church that would not agree with what is going on at the assembly, I really appreciate your care in […] helping us find ways to work for reconciliation.”
There are no commissioners who want to speak against this overture.
REC Harry Wright, in favor: “The first comment I wish to make is to honor the moderator of this committee. He did an incredible job of helping us work through this issue.” Also honoring Stuart Broberg, “who was really an important part of helping us put this recommendation together.”
REC Bill Trautwein, question: Is there a financial stipulation for this?
The Stated Clerk is checking.
Moderator Bridgeman: 10-NB, new business. Speaking on the importance of reconciliation, the loss of churches, and the pain on all sides of these issues. “We cannot take steps to be more inclusive, and ignore the exclusion that others feel. There must be steps taken, from the highest level, to restore this increasingly fragile and broken fellowship.” This overture calls for the creation of a task force on reconciliation.
Motion has passed 75% to 25%.
Bridgeman: Move to answer 10-05 with action on 10-02.
No one rises for discussion, voice vote to call the question.
All advisory delegates vote yes except EADs, 100% vote no.
Motion passes 71% to 29%.
Stated Clerk: The question is the amendment to the BOO, as recommended by the committee.
Advisory delegates: TSADs, YAADs, MADs in favor, EADs 100% against
TEC Brenton Thompson, in favor: Talking about his personal journey in growing toward an expanded definition of marriage. “I ask that we change the description of marriage to fit the loving reality that Paul calls us to live in.”
TEC Steve Wilkins, against: “My heart breaks that in the PC there are whole classes of people who are yearning for a level of inclusion that we have not given them.” Wants to be more inclusive, but “I don’t think this is the way.” Certain passing this amendment will cause some churches to “walk away.”
YAAD Kaylinn Crowl: “I know the debate has gotten awfully repetitive, and most of you are focusing on Solitare and the Twitter feed…” Sharing a story of her aunts, discovering that they are “more than friends.”
REC Evan Hansen: “I call the question.”
Advisory delegates by voice vote, in favor of calling the question.
Commissioners by voice, in favor of calling the question.
TEC Quinn Fox: My understanding that all of 4.9000 is replaced by this motion (which is less extensive than the section is now), is that accurate?
Stated Clerk: Yes, this would become the new section in all directories of worship moving forward. This new section would be the section on marriage.
Fox: Could the next assembly consider it for that?
Stated Clerk: Yes.
Fox: If that happens, what happens to the AI we just passed which references the current w-4.900?
Stated Clerk, shifting in his seat: “That’s a good question… we would have to figure that out.” “When we passed the revised form of government, those AIs that refer to outdated sections are removed from the list at the discretion of the assembly.”
Advisory delegates: in favor of amendment, EADs by 75%, MADs by 100%, YAADs and TSADs by only 50-56%.
Commissioners pass the amendment 85% to 15%.
Rada calls the assembly back to order, thanks them for singing.
Bridgeman: “Our next overture has to do with amending BOO Directory of Worship 4.9000 and its definition of marriage.” It’s item 10-02, as amended. Calls the assembly’s attention to the amendments to the overture offered by the committee, especially those preserving pastoral discretion.
TEC John Wilkinson: move an amendment to 10-02, to add the words “traditionally a man and a woman” after “two people” (as we mentioned earlier). Seconded.
Wilkinson: “I think it’s helpful if we acknowledge that the church has traditionally used the phrase ‘a man and a woman’ in the definition of marriage, even as we move toward a more flexible definition.” This amendment respects the more conservative churches and allows for interpretation to vary in different contexts.
TEC Janet Edwards, in favor: “God has opened our eyes to couples like my uncles, who were together for 52 years. […] This amendment speaks to what the church has seen traditionally.”
Procedural motion from TEC Carol Fleming: motion that moderator limit debate for individuals not to be heard more than once while there are still others waiting to be heard.
Stated Clerk: That is already guidance in our stated rules, we just need to keep to it.
Moderator: Thank you for pointing that out, commissioner, I’ll try to be sensitive to it.
Question to Bridgeman: If we accept the amendment, will someone be able to, in full conscience, express either understanding without prejudice?
Bridgeman: I think Gradye has a comment on that.
Stated Clerk Gradye: It is up to churches to accept people into membership and Presbyteries to ordain people.
Paul Roberts, TEC and President of John C Smith Theological Seminary, in favor: This language will support unity.
YAAD Kyle Coombs, against: Saying marriage is traditionally between a man and a woman says that SGM are “untraditional”, which makes those couples feel unwelcome.
TEC Steve Rhodes, in favor: Wanted to thank Rev Roberts for his wisdom, support the amendment.
Bridgeman: Move that 10-06 also be answered by action on 10-03.
Advisory delegates: all groups in favor except EADs, split 50% for and 50% against.
Commissioners: approved 76% to 24%.
Moderator Rada: Before we move to the next item, let’s stand and sing the first verse of “God of Grace and God of Glory.”
The moderator didn’t ask for an accompanist for this, it seems like an off-the-cuff decision. He asks all present to focus on the words. Instructs everyone to hold their hands up to God, and then out in love to one another. Taking a moment to greet each other.
Bridgeman: We turn to 10-04, moved to be answered by action on 10-03.
No discussion on this motion, Moderator assumes we’re ready to call the question.
Advisory delegates: again, all groups in favor except EADs (unanimously opposed).
Commissioners: motion passes 76% to 24%
Motion passes 61% to 39%.
Advisory delegates: by at least 75% each group in favor of motion, except for EADs.
TEC David Smith, in favor: The church puts up walls, God tears them down. Wants to be married to his fiancee by their Presbyterian pastor.
REC Karen Williams: call the question. Seconded.
Advisory delegates in favor of calling the question, with only a few nay’s.
Commissioners loudly in favor of calling the question, the question has been called for.
Stated Clerk clarifies the question: You are voting to approve 10-03, which offers an AI to W.4-9000
Advisory delegates voting.
TEC Krystin Granberg, in favor: “Jesus didn’t die to take away our pain. In Jesus’ death, he entered in to our pain. Without that pain, there is no resurrection. There’s something new, there’s something dawning.”
TEC Steve Wilkins, against: “I believe that this AI will set a bad precedent because it is asking us to rule on something that would be in violation of our constitution.” “This Interpretation would open the door for” other AIs to contravene the constitution.
TEC Patty Snyder in favor: Our constitution allows both the GA and the PJC to make Authoritative Interpretations. “This is part of our job, to make Authoritative Interpretations.” Speaking of her personal experience of not being asked to perform congregants’ wedding, because they didn’t want to open her to disciplinary action.
Question, TEC Greg Bolt: This AI allows pastors serving in pastors where SSM is legal the latitude to say yes or no. Points out that the BOC is in disagreement withe the Scots Confession and the Bible on the question of women’s ordination.
Moderator Rada: When you come up for a question, it should be a question.
REC Zampella against: “I believe in a bottom-up process. That is our polity, that is the way things are done.” Zampella left the Catholic Church because he disagreed with how rulings were “handed down from on high.”
Moderator Rada, to the body: You will make this decision, this is your decision.
TEC Chris Neufeld-Erdman, in favor: Sharing his personal experiences about his own gay sons, and how having gay sons changed his formerly conservative mind about this issue.
YAAD Ethan Kester, against: “I believe we should oppose this overture, even if you agree with homosexual marriage.” Reads from BOO, “we should not interpret a portion of the constitution to say the opposite of what it actually says.”
REC Margaret Blankers, in favor: “Our numbers are declining, and fewer people under 30 are entering the ministry.” The church is not living up to its reputation for fairness.
YAAD Dan Kephart, against: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but the Word of God stays forever.” “For those inside the church, we are called to exercise [God’s] judgement. I think it does a disservice to the congregations” to not let them vote on this issue. Uses the word “hoodwink.”
REC Granger Odum in favor: “It is no coincidence that the baptismal font sits in the middle of our assembly space. Those baptismal waters draw us in to the body of Christ. We hear over and over about congregations who are leaving because of theological differences. I weep with the PCUSA over [those losses]. But I ask, what about the members of our congregations who are denied their baptismal vows?”
REC Ben Beres against: “A year ago I weighed 500 pounds.” Describing his hard work to lose 200 pounds through discipline and commitment. “I know this is painful and personal to my brothers and sisters of varied sexual persuasions [but] I cannot find Biblical support for the blessing of same-sex marriage.”
Question, YAAD Patrick Lane: “The debates are starting to get heated, I would like to suggest we take a minute or two to pray about this issue.”
Moderator Rada prays over the assembly.
REC Beau Weston: In the discussion in the committee, how did you discuss (specific advice of ACC)?
Bridgeman: “I don’t recall we discussed that specific advice.”
TEC Bryan Franzen in favor of main motion: Pastor of a congregation that “has split many times over the gay and lesbian issue.” “The pain is real, the reality (of the split) is real. As the body of Christ, we have to be welcoming to all people.”
TEC Jim Miller against : This is “perhaps the most troubling resolution we have before us tonight.” “I would urge the commissioners to vote against this motion. On this issue of such magnitude, where the fragile unity of the church is at such risk […] we need more wisdom than 585 commissioners.”
Stated Clerk: “If you agree with ruling of moderator vote yes, if you disagree, vote no.”
Motion carries 379-179, so we continue on.
TEC Daniel Vigilante: Reminding us we’re in the middle of a vote, calls the question. Seconded.
Advisory delegates vigorously and unanimously vote yes to calling the question.
A few dissenters in the commissioners, but the yes-es win and the question is called.
TEC Sue Nageotte: I want to make sure I understand the nature of this tension: is it between the new AI and the 5 places in the BOC where marriage is clearly defined as between a man and a woman?
Stated Clerk: Yes that is the tension, and also the tension with the Directory of Worship.
Follow up from Nageotte: Since there is an extended process for modifying the BOC, how can this body resolve that tension if there is conflict with the BOC?
Stated Clerk: Per the ACC, “when there is a tension, it is up to this council to resolve that tension. It’s up to you, and that’s the plain fact of it. It’s up to you for you to decide whether to pass this AI or not.” Parsons encourages the body to resolve this question quickly, to move on to considering the AI itself.
TEC Kristine Bottino: If we pass this AI, and then discover it’s in conflict, will we have to bring up new business?
Stated Clerk: “Historically, when an assembly has adopted an AI, and it goes out into the life of the church, the application of that AI has often been decided in the disciplinary process.”
Question YAAD Ben Falter: If 10-02, which would amend the BOO, were voted on first, would that resolve the tension in this AI?
Stated Clerk: If the BOO amendment was passed by this assembly, it would not go into effect until a year from now if the majority of Presbyteries affirmed it. There might be tension until then.
Advisory delegates vote yes, to sustain the decision of the moderator that this is in order (minus EAD, who vote unanimously against).
Question from TEC Bill Ward: It sounded like the ACC was saying this is an amendment, but it is actually an AI. Still confused, want to make sure everyone understands the nuance.
Sent back to the ACC
Julie MacLemore Wells, ACC: “An AI is an action of the GA which is binding on all councils. This would mean that if we had an AI that seemed to be in contradiction to the constitution, it would be this council’s obligation to resolve that tension.”
Question from REC Zampella: “I am very emotional about this for a number of reasons. Has an AI ever been used previously other than an explanation or clarification of what is in the constitution? Here we are getting an AI coming from on high with a proclamation that is not going through the normal Presbyterian polity of going through the Presbyteries”
Stated Clerk: “again, that would be a question for ACC.”
Julie, ACC, dryly: “Thank you Mr Stated Clerk, we really appreciate that.” “It is our opinion that it is within the rights of this council to consider taking this action. If there is tension created by this action, it is the responsibility of this council to resolve that tension.”
Moderator Rada: “I hope you understand, folks, this is your responsibility to resolve.”
Committee moderator Bridgeman introduces item 10-03, the AI that the committee recommended for approval.
Bridgeman notes a correction in the language that did not originally appear when the overture was posted on PC-Biz. (The current posting should be up-to-date.)
“On behalf of the committee, I move the approval of 10-03 as amended.”
Question from REC Zampella: Again suggesting that this motion is out of order according to Roberts Rules of Order, which say that a motion cannot contravene an organization’s constitution. (If you read Tuesday’s liveblog, you will remember that Zampella made this point there, and it was rejected.)
Stated Clerk: Let’s consult the Advisory Committee of the Constiutution (ACC).
ACC says it’s actually in order to bring a motion that is in conflict, it is up to the council to resolve the tension.
Stated Clerk: Mr Moderator, I suggest you follow the recommendation of the ACC.
Zampella: I challenge the ruling, not based on constitutionality, but because it is out of order.
Challenging the ruling requires a vote. The question is, do you wish you sustain the motion.
When Moderator Rada says, “Do you understand what you are voting on?” There are no’s and laughter.
Rada says, Based on the advice of the ACC and the Stated Clerk, I am declaring this item in order. You now have the opportunity to disagree with me and declare it out of order.
Question from Commissioner: is this a simple majority or 2/3rds vote?
Question: If the committee got a ruling from the ACC that this is unconstitutional, why is the ACC’s interpretation today different?
Julie MacLemore Wells, ACC: The advice that was given to the committee was that this is in fact in order, to vote on a motion that is in conflict with the constitution, it is just then the responsibility of the council to resolve the conflict.
Stated Clerk: If the members of this body believe there is a conflict between this motion and the constitution, they should disagree with your order.
Commissioners 77% in favor, 23% opposed, concur with committee’s recommendation to disapprove 10-01.
Reminder from Stated Clerk, “If you agree with the committee’s recommendation to disapprove, vote yes.”
Advisory delegates overwhelmingly in favor of motion, except for EADs: 80% opposed.
Vice-Mod Tolleson moves for disapproval of 10-01. No second required. Any discussion?
One commissioner slowly approaches mic.
TEC Steve: “As a stated clerk, I don’t really understand why this was not put on the consent docket. But as the writer of the overture, I’m glad to have the opportunity to speak against the committee’s recommendation.” Steve arguing we have an opportunity here to claim our identity as the church as ambassadors of Christ, not the State. (10-01 is the overture that would separate civil marriage and church blessings of marriages. -ed.)
No other discussion.
Advisory delegates vote first.
68%-32%, motion approved (which mean the assembly concurs with the committee’s recommendation to disapprove 10-07)
Moderator: “Is everyone clear on what we’re voting on?” Scattered “NO”s from the floor. Stated Clerk Parsons makes it clear.
Advisory delegates vote in favor of the motion.
TEC Stephen Blonder Adams: His two uncles in committed long term partnership have had to make many end of life decisions. Adams tells a story about his two uncles; is cut off because of new time limit
YAAD Lauren Roberts, against: “I do understand justice to be a process, not a sought-after end.” “The church, if anything, is to remain set apart from the world, impelled only by Christ and the Scriptures.” Seeking more study.
REC Zampella: “I call the question.”
Advisory delegates vote by voice in favor of calling the question.
Commissioners vote by voice in favor of calling the question, it sounds unanimous.
82% yes; speeches will be limited to 1 minute.
When Stated Clerk Parsons corrects Moderator Rada, Rada snarks, “I wonder if he wants to stand up here and do this!” Laughter and applause, appreciation of a breath of levity cutting the tension.
YAAD Logan Ellis against: “I feel that we need more time to discern this properly.” “I feel it would be improper to act hastily.”
Advisory delegates in favor of the motion. “Commissioners, be advised.”
Commissioners voting on the motion.
TEC Bryan Franzen, in favor of motion: He and his husband have been partners in life and in ministry for 25 years. “We find ourselves in a crisis in our ministry.” “How is it that we are prevented from showing equal love and pastoral care to those who are just like us? Please allow us to provide for the pastoral care of all our parishioners, as our conscience leads us.”
TEC Paul Kim: “It is not my intent to be insensitive, but I move that we limit our discussion to 1 minute not two minutes.” (One minute for each comment.)
It will take a 2/3rds vote to pass this motion.
372-237, motion defeated. There will not be a 2 year study.
TSADS and YAADs vote no, EAD vote yes, MAD evenly split.
86%-14%, question has been called.
Stated Clerk Parsons reminds body that the question is, “Should the minority report become the majority report?” If you’re in favor of a two year study vote yes, if you’re opposed, vote no.
TEC Quinn Fox: If we approve the minority report, what might happen to the other two recommendations still before the body?
They would still be considered. If this passes, the body could have the task force, and the AI, and the BOO change, or the task force and not the AI and the BOO change, or could have the task force answer the other items.
Now voting on whether or not the minority report should be the main motion.
Advisory delegates overwhelmingly in favor of calling the question.
TEC Joe Bettridge, in favor: “I was on committee 10. It was beautifully moderated, but it was intense. I want a way that gives us peace. The Belhar confession teaches us that unity is a gift and an obligation. I believe this unity takes time and patience.” “I don’t believe that imposing a new definition of marriage on the church by the will of this body alone is the way to go. Many will be alienated.” His Presbytery had 30 churches and now has 13; repeats the concern that many congregations will be alienated.
TEC Beth Freese Dammers against: “I come from the great state of IL, where recently it was made the law of the land that those of the same gender can be married. As a pastor in that state, I urge you to allow me to follow the calling of my heard and minister to those couples. […] We have been studying marriage, we have the tools we need. 36 Presbyteries have come together to offer this assembly AI and amendments, and they deserve to have action taken.”
TEC John Shuck calls the question. Seconded.
TEC Linda Stewart-Kalen against: “I am grateful that when Peter was asked to go to Cornelius, he did not first go to Jerusalem and hold council there.” “I was born in the year that we ordained women. And it wasn’t until much later that we put into our BOC that that was a good and proper thing. Both Scripture and the Confessions sometimes lag our felt experience of the Spirit breathing.”
YAAD Michael Barconey in favor: Referencing Genesis 1 and the creation of Adam and Eve. “I am proud to be a 5th generation Presbyterian. I want to be a Teaching Elder in the church some day, and if we redefine marriage, it will be very hard for me.”
Teclu cut off when his time ends, Mod. Rada apologizes but says he must stick to policy.
TEC Bruce Jones in favor: “I often describe that I am on the fringe of our Presbytery, both geographically and theologically. […] My church is one that, in the years since we were requested to study this issue, has not done so. So we would request that the assembly give us another two years, with everyone at the table, [to discuss]. I am in strong favor of this minority report so we can have a discussion and a strong consensus on the definition of marriage.” From the Presbytery of Milwaukee, TEC talks about confusion in his community and state as marriage changes based on judge’s decision.
Question for clarification from REC Sharon Cely: “If this minority report is passed, everything else that is coming from this committee is over and done?”
Parsons: No, you would still have the opportunity to discuss and vote on the other items.
REC Bill Gray: “What would be the impact on our programs if we broke relations with these 17 partner programs?”
Hunter Farrell: “It would be those 17 partners’ decision to break with us.” “After our church’s decision to ordain gay and lesbian pastors, 3 churches around the world broke relations with us:” Presbyterian Church of India (“recent and weak relationship”), PC Ghana (decided to break but haven’t acted out that decision), National Presbyterian Church of Mexico (forced to end some programs, find alternate ways for US/Mexico border ministries to share mission/ministry across the border).
YAAD Kyle Coombs, against minority report: “In this week I’ve been witness to a discernment process of the Presbyterian Church that has deepened my faith. As a denomination, we research to deepen our own faith — even when it means delaying our passions.” The research already exists, “is twice as old as I am.”
TEC Bill Norton in favor: There should be a way to draw everyone into God’s presence — “Thanks be to God that His kingdom is a safe place for all of us. Where there are no labels, except one: redeemed.” “Scripture and the Confessions teach that God established marriage. The State didn’t do it, the Church didn’t do it. So for Christians, redefining marriage is no small matter. We are laying hands on something holy, so we need to be sure” we are doing the right thing. “We need to consider carefully.”
Moderator plans to alternate yes and no advocates, so he’s going to take two “yeses” now to even it out.
Tekeste Teclu, ecumenical advisory delegate from Ethiopia, in favor of minority report: “Our church has already decided on this issue, how can we partner with churches who accept this new phenomenon?” Comparison between homosexuality and polygamy.
YAAD Scott (he was on committee 10), against minority report: “we have all been called from our churches to answer these issues. We have also been called to affirm the views of the PC(USA) in the face of a changing society. To me, voting in favor of this minority report says to our churches and the world that we are afraid to make a decision.” Scott’s hand is shaking as he reads from the paper he holds, but his voice is strong and firm.
REC Shelley Dahl, against task force/minority report: “I do not believe the church will benefit from a delay like this, and I believe, like Belhar, the time is now.”
Moderator: “Obviously this is a very emotionally packed issue, we will bring those emotions to hearing of comments as well as vote.” Suggests that we not “express those emotions” during comments and vote but rather stand and sing Doxology together after vote, as we remember that, no matter the outcome, there will be some who will be hurt.
Minority report is declared perfected with this amendment.
TEC Dave Markwell, in favor of min rep: “Marriage is defined throughout the Book of Confessions (BOC) between a man and a woman. Since our constitution is made up of both the BOO and BOC, changing the BOO alone will produce a direct conflict within our constitution itself.” “I also fear that redefining marriage will strain, and in some cases divide us, from our global partners.” Calls on Hunter Farrell to speak to the effect redefinition of marriage will have on global partners.
Hunter Farrell (Director, Presbyterian World Mission): “The Commissioner asks a complex question, and I’ll try to answer it in a succinct way.” Farrell says that World Mission has been consulting quietly with global partners on the issue, on what would happen if the PC(USA) redefines Christian marriage. This is their “best guess.”
Farrell notes large gulf between us and many of our global partners on homosexuality and LGBT issues. “Homosexual practice is illegal in several African and Middle Eastern countries.” Local understandings shaped by many factors, including their understanding of Scripture and local media. “I also want to say briefly that there is a changing landscape.” Mentions Uruguay and Argentina having, in the past few years, both legalized SGM and our partner churches in these countries affirming same gender unions.
In other countries, Uganda and Ethiopia mentioned, have moved toward greater criminalization of homosexuality.
According to their conversations, 17 global partners in 14 countries would break partnerships if we allow pastors to perform same-gender marriages. Largely in Africa and Latin America, “some of most active partners we have.” 28 mission coworkers and 5 young adult volunteers in these countries, joint mission projects worth several million dollars.
Moderator Rada doing a card vote of advisory delegates on this amendment: The amendment passes (by the advisory delegates) by a vastly visible margin.
Commissioners: huge number raise their cards in favor, only a handful opposed. Amendment passes.
Comm. Maria Studer: If we pass the minority report, do we get to vote on the majority report?
Stated Clerk Parsons: The question you’ll be asked first is, do you want to replace the main motion with the minority report. If you do that, it becomes the main motion.
Commissioner in favor of the amendment: “Marriage is defined throughout the Book of Confessions as…”
Rada interrupts the commissioner, “We’re just talking about the amendment now, hold that until we move back to the main motion.”
Question from floor: How much would this study change the Financial Implications?
Parsons: The financial implications would represent roughly 1 penny of additional per capita ($19K in 2016)
Comm. from National Capital Presbytery in favor of amendment: I think the assembly is not in the mood to wait for 4 years.
Gradye Parsons clarifies the process of how a minority report works.
Moderator Rada declares the main motion perfected. Turns to the minority report, asks if there are any amendments.
Commissioner Ben Sloan moves an amendment to change it from a 4-year task force to a 2-year task force. Many seconds heard from voices on the floor. Sloan says we need a short period of further reflection, to prevent the loss of more churches from the denomination.
Oglesbee (cont): We need to lean into the tension, not circumvent it. This report calls for a 4-year task force to work to resolve tensions between marriage equality, BOO, and Scripture. See text of minority report below, if it’s clear enough.
First recommendation of the committee is on 10-07: Bridgeman moves disapproval of 10-07 on behalf of the committee. It’s seconded Commissioner Steve Oglesbee will present a minority report. He moves the minority report.
Bridgeman invited to speak to the majority report: “As the majority report is in disapproval of the overture, we ask that you declare it perfected.”
Oglesbee: “The issue of marriage has come to a head. We have a pastoral dilemma and we have a theological dilemma. We need to find a way forward that addresses both of those with integrity and empathy for all. There are two ways forward. One way, represented by the overtures brought by the committee, would seek to affirm the church’s practice of marriage while disregarding the Biblical and theological basis for this practice. This is not the right way.”
Moderator Bridgeman opens with two jokes. Hard to tell if he isn’t feeling the anxiety I’m feeling mount, or if he’s trying to cut the expectant tension in the room with levity.
Bridgeman: “Ours was a topic with deep emotions attached to it, and everyone knew it.” He’s describing the work of the committee and how they proceeded in their meetings.
Looking at the screen in front, it appears the order will be: 10-07, 10-01, 10-03, 10-04, 10-06, 10-02, 10-05, 10-NB (this last is the item on reconciliation proposed by the commissioner in committee).
Bridgeman talking about how the CR brought to the committee was voted as being out of order and dismissed.
Announcement about procedure; the clickers (electronic voting equipment) are working. Commissioners asked to vote more quickly, the vote reporting is delayed because some are waiting beyond the cut-off time to enter their votes.
Moderator recognizes Jeff Bridgeman, Moderator of Civil Union and Marriage Issues Committee.
Minute for Mission video, commissioners still coming in. The press section on the plenary floor is more crowded than ever. We’ve heard Fox News might be here later. They should feel free to consult this blog to catch up on anything they might have missed.
Moderator recognizes Area Coordinator from Africa Debbie Braaksma to introduce ecumenical guests who bring greetings.
Assembly called to order; open with a reflection/prayer led by Colleen Earp, a YAV currently serving in New Orleans.
I’ve just received word from a reliable source that 10-03, the Authoritative Interpretation will be up for discussion/debate first. After it is dealt with, 10-02 will be up — the overture that would amend the Book of Order (BOO). Expect an amendment to the motion that would add “traditionally a man and a woman” after two people.
Worship band leads songs while folks continue to assemble.
Listen, God is calling,
through the Word inviting,
comfort and joy.
The worship band is warming up as commissioners begin to return from the lunch break. We’re not sure yet if Marriage or Middle East Issues will come up for discussion first.
By unanimous voice vote, the assembly puts on hold the business of Committee 8 to turn to morning worship. After worship, the assembly will adjourn for lunch break. We’ll be back when the assembly reconvenes to continue business at 1:30pmEST.
The assembly has finished their discussion time on Middle East Issues. Now Committee 8, Mission Coordination, is presenting. Items on the docket:
- 08-16: Confirmation of PMA Executive Director Linda Valentine (passed by voice vote)
- 08-14: Resolution to Address Child/Youth Protection
- 08-08: The Gospel from Detroit
- 08-09: For-Profit Prisons
- 08-13: Report of the Special Offerings
“May we have respect and love and clarity, and be centered on you. Amen” – Moderator Rada.
The Moderator of the committee on Middle East Issues presents the committee’s findings.
It’s hard to tell what the commissioners talked about during their small group discussions. We will likely hear much about it during the debate time later this afternoon, during the session that begins at 1:30pm EST.
With little fanfare, the Moderator moves to introduce the moderator from the Middle East Committee. The assembly will spend the same amount of time on this business as we’ve just spent on marriage.
Moderator Rada offers a prayer before the Middle East discussion begins. “We recognize that the mantle that’s been placed on our shoulders is a heavy one, but we give thanks that we don’t have carry it alone.”
Here’s a link to the final report of the Marriage committee.
Moderator Rada calls the assembly back to order. Reports hearing, in one of the small groups he visited, “I don’t know that I’m hearing anything new.”
2 and a half minutes left of small group discussion.
Commissioners in small group discussion:
Now there will be 25 minutes for small group discussion. Moderator Rada directs commissioners to get into groups of about 8 people and discuss the following questions:
- What did you hear that might lead someone to support the committee’s recommendation(s)?
- What did you hear that might keep someone from supporting the committee’s recommendation(s)?
Rada: “Have a good conversation.”
A clock counts down on the screens in the front of the room while commissioners discuss. They lean in to each other across the tables, listening intently.
Comm question: Has there been any outside legal review on the pastor acting as an agent of the state, where there could be legal repercussions for a pastor who decides not to perform a SGM in a place where it is legal?
Bridgeman: We don’t think there is any legal problem there, we have tried to make the language of the overture really clear to ensure that that is true.
Comm. Question: Please let us know which of the 8 overtures did you approve and which did you disapprove?
Bridgeman: “So you want me to make my report that I am going to make in several hours, now?” “Yes.” “The committee disapproved 10-01, 10-02 is a restatment of W.4-9000 was approved and amended, -03 and -06 are answered by that. There are three overtures that have to do with Authoritative Interpretation (AI)… I do know our report is on PC-Biz. -07 had to do with a task force study, it was disapproved but there will be a minority report.”
10-02 and 10-03 are recommended
Question: “As a teaching elder, if I am asked and can perform a same sex marriage in a state where it is legal, but it is not legal in the state where my presbytery resides, would I still be using my own discretion to perform that or would I have to get permission from my Presbytery?”
Bridgeman: “I appreciate that question, it’s a little beyond my pay grade.” Commissioner should bring question back during report when legal team is present.
Another question that I didn’t understand, Bridgeman replies: “That would be a great question to discuss in small groups.”
Committee member Larry Keith clarifying the number of states where SGM (same gender marriage) is not legal, says it’s 31.
Question from Dave Markwalder: In 10-01 you kept in “Christian marriage is between a man and a woman,” but added in another sentence that says it’s only one kind of covenantal relationship. How did this come about?
Bridgeman: “The committee disapproved 10-01, I don’t believe there was an amendment, I believe that language was in the original overture.”
Question from TSAD, what if the pastor and session disagree?
Bridgeman: Then the pastor could perform the marriage at another site.
YAAD: I can clarify the Q, it does stand for queer, the full acronym is much longer. One option is GSM, “gender and sexual minorities.”
Commissioner question: Is this a decision that each church would make individually, or is this a GA decision that would be passed down?
Bridgeman: There are actually 2 overtures, one is action taken by the Assembly, the other would be a change to the Book of Order (BOO) that would require Presbyteries to confirm.
Note: The action taken by the assembly is 10-03, the AI, Presbytery confirmation would be to 10-02
Comm. question: I’d like clarification on the provision for pastors to follow their conscience on these matters –“freedom of conscience”
Bridgeman: I’d encourage you to read the amendment to 10-02, which “speaks to the security of a pastor to make the decision and not be forced into any other decision. “
Comm. question: Would these overtures apply to all states, or just states where SGM is legal? Also, I understand GLBT and there seems to be an additional letter sometimes added, “I would ask for clarification on the letter Q”
Bridgeman: “I’m not sure I can give you clarification on the letter Q, it seems to stand for Q, and the meaning has changed over my lifetime, it was a pejorative term but it seems to have changed.” The overtures will apply in states where SGM is legal; “in the 33 states where it is not legal, it would not be within the church’s purview to perform a marriage.
Moderator Bridgeman of Committee 10 defers to Vice-Mod Tolleson to read brief statement from Committee on Civil Unions and Marriage.
V-M Tolleson: “Asking this assembly to consider changing historic definitions of marriage. While these definitions have changed in our society, they have challenged our long-held understanding” “As a result of these overtures, the church will be asked to reevaluate who can or should be married in their facilities, and by who, in accordance with the Book of Order.”
“With any significant changes, there is always the chance of the membership being confused, disenfranchised, and wounded.” Some will be hurt, while others will feel “at home at last.”
Now 10 minutes for questions for clarification: Moderator Rada letting people know it’s not time for debate, just time for ensuring understanding.
Moderator Rada clarifying how this is going to work.
5 minute presentations from the committee moderators, then 10 minutes for clarifying questions, then 25 minutes for small group discussion, then more small group discussion in other groups, then 5 minutes in prayer. Then move to the 2nd issue.
“This morning, we are being asked to testify to our personal experiences around divestment and marriage equality. This is a time for discussion, not debate. There is no vote. Listen to the passion of each individual, whether we agree with them or not.”
“Like a diamond, the truth has many facets. This morning, God calls us to uncover all the facets of the diamond. God calls us to speak the truth in love, so that the world may be set free. Amen.” – Former Moderator Andrews.
Ms Andrews is sharing her personal experience with “community conversations,” and speaking to their power to build trust and consensus around challenging issues.
Susan Andrews, moderator, 215th GA, is “setting the stage” for this morning’s discussions of Middle East and Marriage. “Friends, we are very good at being busy busy busy Presbyterians. […] but sometimes we need to pause, instead of rush, we need to listen, instead of think, we need to take a deep breath.” Explaining that the next 90 minutes will be small group discussion of “the two most controversial issues at this Assembly.”
David Neely brings update on Financial Implications.
Motion to reconsider has been defeated by a slim margin.
Report now from Gun Ho Lee, Vice-Moderator, Committee on General Assembly Procedures.
Commissioner Judy Hockenberry from Mid-Kentucky Presbytery moves that the assembly reconsider 03-13, on providing childcare at GA. This item was referred to COGA in yesterday (Wednesday’s) afternoon session.
Receiving greetings from ecumenical partners.
“As we move through foggy issues, may God’s presence and guidance and fog lights lead us through.” – Moderator Rada
Technology point from State Clerk Gradye Parsons — encourage commissioners to use PC-Biz Session Sync.
We’re going to hear from Bills and Overtures committee first this morning.
Commissioners still trickling in with cups of coffee.
Good morning, all. Liveblogging team here. We’ll update you periodically as the morning progresses, with comprehensive updates during discussion of marriage.
Members of the PCUSA Young Adult Volunteer program serving in Boston open the plenary with reflection and prayer.