On amending W-4.9000, Marriage, by striking the current text and replacing it with new language (to concur with overture 021 from the Presbytery of the Cascades

 

The Presbytery of Cayuga-Syracuse concurs with Overture 021 from the Presbytery of the Cascades to overture the 221st General Assembly (2014) to direct the Stated Clerk to send the following amendment to the presbyteries for their affirmative or negative votes:

 

Amend W-4.9000 by striking the current text and replacing it with the following:

 

Marriage is a gift God has given to all humankind for the wellbeing of the entire human family.  Marriage involves a unique commitment between two people to love and support each other for the rest of their lives. The sacrificial love that unites the couple sustains them as faithful and responsible members of the church and the wider community.

 

In civil law, marriage is a contract that recognizes the rights and obligations of the married couple in society.  In the Reformed tradition, marriage is also a covenant in which God has an active part, and which the community of faith publicly witnesses and acknowledges.

 

If they meet the requirements of the civil jurisdiction in which they intend to marry, a couple may request that a service of Christian marriage be conducted by a teaching elder in the Presbyterian Church (USA), who is authorized, though not required, to act as an agent of the civil jurisdiction in recording the marriage contract.  A couple requesting a service of Christian marriage shall receive instruction from the teaching elder, who shall agree to the couple’s request only if, in the judgment of the teaching elder, the couple demonstrate sufficient understanding of the nature of the marriage covenant and commitment to living their lives together according to its values.  In making this decision the teaching elder may seek the counsel of the session, which has authority to permit or deny the use of church property for a marriage service.

 

The marriage service shall be conducted in a manner appropriate to this covenant and to the forms of Reformed worship, under the direction of the teaching elder and the supervision of the session (W-1.4004-.4006).  In a service of marriage, the couple marry each other by exchanging mutual promises.  The teaching elder witnesses the couple’s promises and pronounces God’s blessing upon their union. The community of faith pledges to support the couple in upholding their promises; prayers may be offered for the couple, for the communities which support them, and for all who seek to live in faithfulness.

 

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 statements made shall reflect the fact that the couple are already married to one another according to the laws of the civil jurisdiction. 

 

 

Rationale of the Presbytery of Cayuga-Syracuse:

 

At issue is the Presbyterian understanding of the nature of Christian marriage and a pastor’s and session’s responsibility and ability to extend appropriate pastoral care.  As more and more states (14 at this writing) authorize marriage between same-gender partners, pastors and sessions trying to be responsible in providing pastoral care to church members by officiating at marriages in the church building find themselves increasingly constrained by the provisions of section 4.9000 of the Directory for Worship as interpreted by the 1991 General Assembly and subsequent decisions of the General Assembly's Permanent Judicial Commission. 

 

In light of the increased flexibility offered by the new Form of Government for conducting the mission of the church, it is time for the Presbyterian Church to amend the Directory for Worship to provide comparable flexibility in extending pastoral care to church members in same-gender partnerships.

 

The report of the Special Committee on Civil Union and Christian Marriage, which the 219th General Assembly approved and commended to the church in 2010, offers important background to the Biblical, theological, historical, cultural and pastoral issues involved here.

 

The following brief observations support the Amendment to the Directory for Worship requested above:

 

* the Bible and the Reformed tradition reflect many patterns and forms of legal, religiously approved marital relationships.[1]  The nostalgically remembered pattern of marriage of 1940's America cannot be taken as normative from a Biblical or theological point of view.

 

* the understanding of marriage has changed through the years and was often geared more to property rights or political advantage than to a mutual, loving relationship.[2]

 

* marriage is a contract regulated and licensed by the state.[3]  This was recognized in the ancient church and in Protestant churches since the Reformation.[4]

 

* there are legitimate differences of interpretation of the passages regarding homosexual relationship in the Bible.[5]  The present regulation forces Presbyterian elders to act based on one interpretation, with which many disagree as a matter of conscience.

 

  • Jesus in his public ministry broke down the barriers that separated people.  He identified with those who were outcasts and marginalized by society.  Gay and lesbian individuals are considered outsiders by many today. The church needs to witness to the inclusive love of Jesus for all people.[6]

 

* to prohibit clergy and congregations from fulfilling a legitimate request for pastoral services binds the conscience of clergy and prevents them from fulfilling their pastoral responsibilities.

 

* in 2010, the presbyteries approved Amendment A allowing persons in same-sex relationships to be ordained.  These church members should be allowed to be married if the state issues them a marriage license and their teaching elder determines that their marriage is advisable.

 

* the statement restricting marriage to “one man and one woman"[7] addresses polygamy in 17th century England.  The statement that marriage is “between a man and a woman”[8] reflects conventions of the mid-20th century and is descriptive, not prescriptive.

 

In light of the above we believe positive action on this overture is warranted.

 

 

 

Current Text of W-4.9000:

 

                                                                                                                 Book of Order 2011/2013

 

[text in brackets appears as marginal notes or footnotes in printed edition]

 

 

W-4.9000    9. Marriage [2 Helv.Conf. 5.245−5.251; West.Conf. 6.131−6.139]

 

[W-4.9001 Christian Marriage]

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 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, publicly witnessed and acknowledged by the community of faith.

 

[W-4.9002 Preparing for Marriage]

a. In preparation for the marriage service, the teaching elder shall provide for a discussion with the man and the woman concerning

(1) the nature of their Christian commitment, assuring that at least one is a professing Christian,

(2) the legal requirements of the state,

(3) the privileges and responsibilities of Christian marriage,

(4) the nature and form of the marriage service,

(5) the vows and commitments they will be asked to make,

(6) the relationship of these commitments to their lives of discipleship,

(7) the resources of the faith and the Christian community to assist them in fulfilling their marriage commitments.

This discussion is equally important in the case of a first marriage, a marriage after the death of a spouse, and a marriage following divorce.

 

 [If the Marriage Is Unwise]

b. If the teaching elder is convinced after discussion with the couple that commitment, responsibility, maturity, or Christian understanding are so lacking that the marriage is unwise, the teaching elder shall assure the couple of the church’s continuing concern for them and not conduct the ceremony. In making this decision the teaching elder may seek the counsel of the session.

 

[W-4.9003 Time and Place of the Service]

Christian marriage should be celebrated in the place where the community gathers for worship. As a service of Christian worship, the marriage service is under the direction of the teaching elder and the supervision of the session. (W-1.4004−.4006) The marriage ordinarily takes place in a special service which focuses upon marriage as a gift of God and as an expression of the Christian life. Others may be invited to participate as leaders in the service at the discretion of the pastor. Celebration of the Lord’s Supper at the marriage service requires the approval of the

session, and care shall be taken that the invitation to the Table is extended to all baptized present. The marriage service may take place during the Service for the Lord’s Day upon authorization by the session. It should be placed in the order as a response to the proclamation of the Word. It may then be followed by the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. (W-2.4010; W-3.3503)

 

[W-4.9004 Form and Order of Service]

The service begins with scriptural sentences and a brief statement of purpose. The man and the woman shall declare their intention to enter into Christian marriage and shall exchange vows of love and faithfulness. The service includes appropriate passages of Scripture, which may be interpreted in various forms of proclamation. Prayers shall be offered for the couple, for the communities which support them in this new dimension of discipleship, and for all who seek to live in faithfulness. In the name of the triune God the teaching elder shall declare publicly that the woman and the man are now joined in marriage. A charge may be given. Other actions common to the community and its cultures may appropriately be observed when these actions do not diminish the Christian understanding of marriage. The service concludes with a benediction.

 

[W-4.9005 Music and Appointments]

Music suitable for the marriage service directs attention to God and expresses the faith of the church. (W-2.1004) The congregation may join in hymns and other musical forms of praise and prayer. Flowers, decorations, and other appointments should be appropriate to the place of worship, enhance the worshipers’ consciousness of the reality of God, and reflect the integrity and simplicity of Christian life. (W-1.3034; W-1.4004−.4005; W-5.5005)

 

 [W-4.9006 Recognizing Civil Marriage]

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, and the public declaration by the teaching elder reflect the fact that the woman and man are already married to one another according to the laws of the state.

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 



[1]    Report of the Special Committee on Civil Union and Christian Marriage, pp. 1-2 and 25-27  

[2]    Ibid., pp. 3 and 27

[3]    Directory for Worship, W-4.9000   “Marriage is a civil contract . . . .”

[4]    Report of the Special Committee on Civil Union and Christian Marriage, pp. 3-4 and 27-28

[5]    Ibid., pp. 11, 13 (item 3), and 20-21

[6]    Confession of 1967, 9.44 and 9.47;  Foundations of Presbyterian Polity  F-1.0302c, F-1.0404 and F-1.0405

[7]    Westminster Confession, 6.131

[8]    Directory for Worship, W-4.9000