Friends in ministry:
I’m sure you’re aware that at tomorrow’s meeting of Heartland Presbytery, we’ll be voting on a number of proposed amendments to the Book of Order, including the amendment to the Directory for Worship that started here, in Heartland. That amendment, 14-F, if ratified by a majority of the presbyteries, would replace sections of W-4.9000 on Marriage.
It is true that the General Assembly this summer issued an Authoritative Interpretation (AI) on a conflict in our constitution: where the current W-4.9000 was in tension with other provisions on pastoral care and membership, and created an untenable situation for pastors who reside in states where civil marriage is open to LGBT couples, where those couples seek to have the church and its Ministers of Word and Sacrament celebrate their Christian Marriages.
For me, the AI was welcome news. It is more so, now that Kansas City is newly a place where these loving couples can now lawfully marry, and, because of the AI, I am able to minister to any one who comes to me with such a request. And it is welcome news to the church I serve, the Kirk, where our session has expressed a desire to be consistent in our inclusive theology, to not treat LGBT couples any differently than others who come to us.
But the AI, as welcome as it was, was not sufficient. Even with the General Assembly declaring a way beyond the constitutional conflict, the language still remains. Not only that, the existing language of W-4.9000 is no longer factually accurate (in that, in 33 states and counting, marriage is no longer a “civil contract between a man and a woman.”), nor is it truly consistent with what I believe is the heart of the reformed tradition: God’s inclusive love at the center of a covenant of grace that marks a married life, as blessed within the faith community.
(See, for more information, this helpful summary from the Covenant Network on what 14-F would and would not do, with links to additional resources)
For these reasons, I am personally interested in the possibilities that open up if 14-F is ratified. Its language is much stronger. It maintains space for those who disagree, with explicit protections for those who faithfully understand human sexuality differently than I do. It also brings with it the possibility to be clear to the world that LGBT couples, or LGBT children of our congregants, may find the PCUSA to be a place of blessing and hope for them, too.
And to that end, I want to encourage you* to attend the meeting tomorrow and to prayerfully consider supporting the amendment, as you seek to discern the mind of Christ for the church. For those of you in church settings, it is also important that, in so far as possible, your ruling elder commissioners are able to join the meeting for these deliberations and votes as well.
I’ve not taken to this sort of communication before, but I am particularly committed to this. I seek a church where those who see us will see God’s love and welcome at the forefront of what we do, in how we seek to be Christ’s hands and feet to the world. Regardless of how you yourself end up in your discernment, thank you for considering my encouragement, and know that I am grateful to call you all colleagues and friends.
Peace to you in Christ,
The Rev. Chad Andrew Herring
*you, in this instance, refers to members of Heartland Presbytery, my fellow minister colleagues in this particular council of the Presbyterian Church (USA).
Photo: Couple married in Jackson County, Missouri, on November 14, 2014, by the Rev. Chase Peeples (UCC). Photo shared on the ShowMeMarriage facebook page here.