If you’ve ever seen the movie The Princess Bride, you’ll recognize Peter Cook’s iconic line, “Mawiage: mawiage is what bwings us togetheh today.” The laughing will stop, however, when “marriage” comes up on the docket at the General Assembly this summer. Deep disagreement over exactly what God intended to be a “holy mystery—a gift for the wellbeing of human society, the ordering of family life, and the birth and nurture of children” (BCW) is poised to sever the remaining treads of unity within the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Anxiety over this debate is increasing in congregations and among many denominational leaders. For those of us who are in the accountable community of the Fellowship, it is vitally important to be clear about what is happening and how we must be prepared to respond.
Author’s Note: If you are reading this from beyond the PC(USA), I beg you not to stop. This is not a PC(USA)-exclusive issue. At this moment we just happen to be standing furthest out in the surf—closest to where the wave will break that will eventually saturate the rest of the Western Church.
WHAT NO ASSEMBLY CAN DO
The General Assembly will very likely be asked to “redefine the PC(USA)’s interpretation” of Christian marriage. Let’s be clear—they/we cannot “redefine” Christian marriage. That is God's prerogative, not ours. Civil authorities can and have redefined secular meanings of marriage. But Scripture speaks with one voice: God created the covenant of marriage between one man and one woman. This covenant provides a way to live in the comfort and consolation of a relationship held together by something greater than our attractiveness to each other, a purely moral commitment, or the desire to not be alone. It establishes the foundation for society, and provides the framework for fully experiencing God’s gift of human sexuality. A PC(USA) General Assembly can vote to depart from Scripture’s teaching, acquiesce to the culture and, in so doing, break with the global Church, but God’s design and God’s intent cannot be “redefined.”
Although many actions coming to the Assembly would broaden “marriage” to include two people of the same gender, it has been argued that none of these would overtly require teaching elders (pastors) or ruling elders (sessions) to abide by this reinterpretation. Time will tell. We who are part of the Fellowship are and will continue to be committed to biblical teaching on marriage irrespective of any General Assembly action. This may eventually become a costly decision—so be it. That said, we’re still only playing with the symptoms of the real problem and, as a result, playing at being Christ’s Church.