The following is a newsletter article written for the May 2015 edition of The Kirk Report:
Dear Friends of the Kirk:
As I write this newsletter column, the United States Supreme Court is hearing arguments in Obergefell v. Hodges, a landmark case concerning same-sex marriage. Presently, thirty-six states have some sort of marriage equality, either extended by the state or imposed by the courts. When the Supreme Court rules this summer, marriage equality could become the law of the land, or states could resume excluding same-sex couples from marriage in their bounds.
The Kirk lies at the crossroads of these social concerns. Currently, Kansas is issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, and most of Missouri is not (though Jackson County, where The Kirk sits, does). There have been many same-sex couples who have solemnized their relationship by taking marriage vows in our area, locally or in neighboring states. Regardless of the Obergefell decision, we will continue to be engaged in ministry as our community wrestles over issues of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered (LGBT) rights, marriage equality, so-called religious-freedom legislation, and similar questions of public concern.
We at The Kirk seek to find ways of living out our faith in the world that embodies the wildly abundant welcome and love of Jesus Christ, that reflects a deep commitment to our study of Holy Scripture, and how Christ the Living Word reveals to us God’s love for everyone. We seek to be a place that welcomes all to join our community, through love and service in Christ’s name. Above all, we want to be faithful to God.
We are not alone in seeking this, and our denomination has been discerning ways to guide us. For decades now, the Presbyterian Church (USA) has been struggling to find the faithful way forward, for our denomination and as a witness to the world. The PCUSA has declared that the only criterion for membership is a profession of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and that no worldly condition—age, gender, race, sexual orientation, to name a few—shall keep people from welcome in the church. Even when the denomination struggled through debates about LGBT ministers and ruling elders, the church spoke out about equal civil rights and justice for all. The PCUSA has long promoted the dignity of all people in the public realm, because we are all created in the image of God, loved by Christ, and encouraged to live into the fullness of life God longs for us.
Five years ago, the PCUSA removed its prohibition to ordination for LGBT leaders, and this year we approved new language in our Book of Order to more closely match the reality of civil marriage in many of these states:
Marriage is a gift God has given to all humankind for the well-being of the entire human family. Marriage involves a unique commitment between two people, traditionally a man and a woman, 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.
Going forward, each church will have the option and the responsibility to decide who they will ordain as leaders and who they will allow to be married on their property. Individual pastors will have the right and the responsibility to decide who they will assist in marriage. Churches and pastors who do not feel they can participate in these services are not required to do so.
But it is now clear: the Presbyterian Church (USA) no longer rejects LGBT members from serving in ordered ministries, nor do we prohibit churches or pastors from celebrating same-sex marriage unions where legal. LGBT couples who wish to seal their marriage in a service of Christian Worship, before God and a faithful community, can now do so at a PCUSA congregation, with a PCUSA pastor.
In November, after a few months of study and consideration, The Kirk Session approved a motion explicitly empowering the pastor to authorize marriages at The Kirk to anyone bearing a lawfully-issued marriage license, if otherwise consistent with our wedding policy. In other words, we will continue to discern that anyone who wishes to be united in marriage here is faithfully seeking to enter into a Christian covenant, but we will not consider the gender of the couple as relevant. All couples, whether straight or LGBT, will be treated exactly the same.
Many at The Kirk will welcome these developments in our denomination and our Session. I also know that some will not, and that good people of faith can differ on our reading of Scripture and the demands of our faith. But we are all seeking to be faithful, rooted in the gospel, following our Savior and the movement of the Holy Spirit.
As we move ahead, we will be hosting a forum this summer for anyone interested to learn more about these changes and to have a chance to discuss them with me and with some members of the session. I also welcome private conversation with you at any time about these matters, or anything else. My prayer is that these changes in the PCUSA can be a word of hope for people long shunned by church communities that, here, they can find that God loves them and cares for them too. I also hope that we, as The Kirk, can continue to love one another regardless of individual positions, as we extend that same love to the world.
Peace to you in Christ,
Image Credit: Cartoon by nakedpastor David Hayward. See the link for more information about the drawing.