Friday, November 20, 2009

BALTIMORE PRESBYTERY SEEKS TO REDEFINE MARRIAGE

At its 837th stated meeting on Thursday, November 19, 2009, the Baltimore Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church (USA) voted to forward an overture to the denomination’s General Assembly seeking to redefine marriage as between “two people” rather than “one man and one woman.” This is an identical overture to what the Presbytery sent to the General Assembly two years ago and will be considered by the General Assembly at its meeting in 2010. The overture passed by a vote of 75 in favor and 62 opposed.

The overture seeks to amend four different sections of the PC(USA)’s Book of Order under the Directory for Worship. Six different passages in those sections refer to a “man” and a “woman,” all of which would be changed to either “two people” or “couple.” Prior to the meeting, the sessions from 13 churches in the Presbytery submitted an “Affirmation” stating their reasons for opposing the overture and affirming their theological position that marriage is reserved for one man and one woman. At the beginning of the meeting, a delegate from the floor asked Stated Clerk Vaughn Brown whether the Affirmation would be included in the minutes. Brown responded that because the Affirmation did not require any action to be taken, it would not be included. Opponents of the overture may have felt some degree of optimism when a motion to compel the Clerk to include the Affirmation in the minutes was passed by a voice vote. However, this vote did not foreshadow things to come.

When the time came to debate the overture, delegates on both sides of the issue made their points over a cacophony of rumbles of thunder as the heavens opened up from above. At times it appeared that the power could cut out at any moment.

When the debate was over, Jim Horn, pastor of Havre de Grace Presbyterian Church, raised a point of order. Specifically, he asked moderator Millie Krieder to declare the overture to be out of order, in part because the proposed changes could expose ministers to civil penalties by authorizing marriages that were illegal in most states (the Book of Order applies to all churches in the denomination, regardless of where they are located). Krieder cut Horn off before he could finish his comments, apparently misunderstanding that he was raising a point of order as to whether the overture should even be permitted to proceed to a vote in the first place, not debating its merits (the Presbytery had previously voted to limit comments during the debate to 2 minutes per participant, but no such limitation applied to points of order).

In the end, the vote was taken by ballot, but the results were not disclosed until approximately two hours later. In an outcome that surprised no one, the body voted to send the overture to the General Assembly.

COMMENTARY:
I was present at this meeting as a voting delegate from Grove Presbyterian Church in Aberdeen, and am truly saddened by the outcome. My grief does not come so much from my theological disagreement (for anyone who has been around TMM long enough, you know that I am opposed to same-sex marriage). Rather, the total lack of love for the denomination upset me. I have grown up in this denomination. I have great love for it. I was one of the speakers given two minutes in the spotlight to express my position on the overture at this meeting. But instead of presenting my theological position (many others had already expressed those views admirably), I spoke to the timing.

The PC(USA) is a wounded denomination. Churches are leaving in profound numbers. Disputes are arising in the courts over who has the right to churches’ property. Even in the churches that remain it seems like battle lines are being drawn. If you come across a wounded soldier on a battlefield, your response to him will demonstrate how you feel about him. If you regard him as your enemy, his wounded condition will give you an opportunity to attack. You will pounce on him while he is weak. This approach makes perfect sense if your goal is to kill this soldier. But if you love him, you will nurture him. You will bandage his wounds and give him time to heal.

The PC(USA) needs healing. Literally, we have just come out of a nationwide vote of all the Presbyteries over very similar issues to what the Baltimore Presbytery is seeking to raise now (in that case it dealt with the ability to ordain practicing homosexuals as opposed to perform same-sex marriages, but the theological divide is the same). There are countless opportunities for our denomination to do God’s work. If we truly love our denomination, then we would take this opportunity to come together in mission and service. Maybe we could minister to people in Fort Hood. Maybe we could jump in to assist victims of Ida. But instead of looking for these opportunities, the majority in our Presbytery chose to pounce.

These issues are not going away. The time will come to discuss them. There will be another General Assembly in 2012. Bring it up then. Why insist on bringing it up now unless your goal is to kill our denomination?

Perhaps what disturbed me most was the speaker who immediately followed me who said she was “tired of being told the time is not right.” She then went on and on about how unfair the current Book of Order is to her. I understand and I sympathize that you feel wronged. But the point I was making is that there are more people involved in this debate than just you. Sometimes we are called to endure hardships for the greater good of others. If you truly love this denomination and believe that even those who disagree with you are still your brothers and sisters in Christ, then you would react in love. The fact that you refuse to even wait a little while to allow for people to heal shows a total lack of commitment to keeping this denomination unified. Your message, simply put, is that you will insist to continue to push your agenda regardless of the consequences it has on this denomination and on the body of Christ of which you claim to be a part.

I never argued that people could not raise this issue. I simply asked why it had to be raised again now, so soon after we just survived an incredibly divisive debate which caused our denomination to bleed. If you love us, let us heal. Then bring it up when we are all in a better position to withstand the coming storm and come out the other side together. A vote to press forward on this issue immediately was a vote to pounce on the wounded soldier. That vote simply makes no sense to me unless your goal is to kill us. If you voted in favor of this overture, congratulations, you may just get your wish. And it will spell the end of the PC(USA).

11 comments:

M.A.C. said...

Hi Ken,

I hope you don't mind answering a couple of questions I am asking all believers everywhere;

Do you believe that God sent His only Son Jesus Christ to start a new religion called Christianity?

And if yes. Where is the text in the bible that supports the popular Christian belief that God sent His only Son Jesus Christ to start a new religion called Christianity?

Ten Minas Ministries said...

M.A.C.,

I'm not sure I agree with your premise that there is a "popular Christian belief that God sent His only Son Jesus Christ to start a new religion called Christianity." I, for one, certainly do not believe God was creating a "new" religion. God was simply putting into practice the next step in the plan that He formed before time began. If you want to refer to it as a "religion," then it was all part of the progression of the same "religion."

Hebrews 4:3 tells us that God's "work has been finished since the creation of the world." His plan has been in place since the beginning of time. Part of that plan was the Old Covenant promised to the Jews. Part was also the New Covenant promised in Jeremiah 31:31-34.

So there was no "new" religion that began when Christ came to Earth. It was the same old plan that had always been in place. Most Christian commentators I know hold to the same belief. Perhaps many "people in the pews" may (when first asked) tell you that Christianity was a "new" religion that came into being when Jesus came to Earth, but I think even they on further clarification would concede that God's plan was old, not new. Even the average layperson knows that the coming Messiah was prophesied long before the incarnation, and therefore wasn't "new."

I hope that answers your question. If I have misunderstood you, please let me know. Thank you for your comment.

Ken

M.A.C. said...

Hi Ken,

Religion is a specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a number of persons or sects: i.e. the Christian religion. Notice the absence of God in that statement?

I know the question is ridiculous and that's the point. There are many Christian denominations out here competing for people like business does for our dollars.

Paul warned of it to the Corinthians and we are still dealing with it today. Only on a far more massive scale. Denominational divergence should become the key example of discrimination in the world.

Ten Minas Ministries said...

I agree with you to an extent. Denominational lines can become a problem when people start labelling other denominations as "non-Christian" and condemning them as such when they shouldn't be. Of course, God tells us that certain people are saved and certain ones are not, so there clearly is a "dividing line" between who is truly a Christian and who isn't, any many who call out "Lord, Lord" will be turned away. However, I believe there is a tendency today to often draw that line too narrowly, so that we start to argue that anyone who does not agree with us 100% is not truly a Christian, and we never open ourselves up to the possibility that we could be wrong. Paul repeatedly shows us that there is room for diversity within the Christian church (and Peter certainly had to learn this lesson in regard to his vision on "unclean" food). So to the extent a denomination or a particular church draws the line of demarcation too narrowly, that is a problem. I try to stay relatively broad, which is why I use the Nicene Creed as a guideline.

However, I do not believe that this means denominations are per se sinful. I do not find anything in the Bible that would prohibit like-minded believers from gathering together. So long as those believers understand that no matter how they choose to structure their particular gatherings, they belong to the larger universal church along with people who do not necessarily agree with them on every point. We need to encourage joint ventures. Presbyterians should get together with Baptists, non-denominational Christians, etc., to do God's work. We shold do mission together. Serve people in need together. And spread the gospel together.

In short, we need to make sure that we remember that our theological differences do not and should not split the true "church." We need to make sure that the world knows that in the most basic matters, we have a united front. I do not believe that denominations per se are sinful or contrary to this goal. However, denominational differences, taken to an extreme, can certainly be counterproductive.

I hope that answers your questions. Thank you and God bless.

Ken

Ten Minas Ministries said...

FYI-

I also watched the Brian McLaren video on your page. I don't think McLaren was speaking necessarily of denominations trying to sell Christianity as a product. Many stand-alone non-denominational churches are guilty of this as well. The warning is against compromising the gospel and turning our churches into an entertainment industry. The truth is the truth, and it must be told whether people find it to be entertaining or not. God bless.

Ken

M.A.C. said...

Hi Ken,

The first question is designed as an opener to the gospel message. And would lead to other questions for both laypersons and cleric alike to gauge the commonality that exists between denominations.

The finished product would look something like the churches of revelations commonly referred to as the churches of the Apocalypse.

Revelations talks of seven churches with only two standing above reproach. I believe that most denominations fall into one of these seven unless they are a cult.

The Persecuted Church and The Faithful Church are beyond reproach. The rest are instructed to repent or at least come back to the gospel. While one is completely dead.

My mission is to exhort churches to repent for the final day of the coming of Christ. And that we are not allowed by the word of God to say who will enter and who will not. That alone is the providence of Jesus Christ.

After all what comes first in the believers life repentance or salvation?

Stay-At-Home Indie-Pop said...

Props to the Baltimore Presbytery for voting in favor of same-sex marriage. Shame on you for your opposition.

Ten Minas Ministries said...

M.A.C.:

I may not agree with all of your conclusions, but I certainly applaud your intentions.


Stay-at-Home Indie-Pop:

I welcome your comments. If you don't mind, could you please answer 2 questions for me? First, do you believe the Bible is the Word of God? Second, if so, could you please present me with why you believe the Bible condones homosexual marriage, if you believe it does. Thank you.

Ken

Stay-At-Home Indie-Pop said...

No, I do not believe the Bible is the word of God, I believe it is the collected writings of several men. It's irrelevant to me whether or not the Bible condones gay marriage. You have no right to invoke the (alleged) word of God to interfere in the lives of other people and pass judgment on their fitness to marry or not.

Ten Minas Ministries said...

Thank you for your response. I find your reaction interesting. By giving "props" to the Baltimore Presbytery and "shame" to me, you certainly seem to be saying that what the Presbytery did was "right" and my position is "wrong." That is appealing to an objective standard of morality, claiming that there is some measure of right and wrong to which we all are subject. You believe that, measured against that standard, my position is morally wrong.

But then in your latest post you say, "You have no right to invoke the (alleged) word of God to interfere in the lives of other people and pass judgment on their fitness to marry or not." This seems to suggest that you believe my moral conclusions have no more claim to be "right" than any other moral conclusions. You would have to clarify, but many people who advance this position do so because they do not believe in an objective moral law and instead believe that all concepts of morality are relative to the individual. But if this is what you are saying then you are being inconsistent with your first post. After all, in your original post you sought to apply your own personal sense of morality to me by making a moral judgment about my position, as if I should be subject to your moral conclusions.

This leads me to the following questions:

(1) Do you believe in an objective moral law that applies to everyone?

(2) If so, where does that law come from?

(3) If not, what gives you the moral right to declare that my position is shameful and that of the Baltimore Presbytery is praiseworthy?

Thank you for your time.

Ken

Ten Minas Ministries said...

I would also point out that the action taken by the Baltimore Presbytery dealt with who could be married by the church, not who could be married by the civil government. The teachings of the Bible certainly cannot be "irrelevant" to that decision.

Ken