On the PC(USA)’s Redefinition of Marriage

You may have heard that the increasingly liberal Presbyterian Church (USA), also known as PC(USA), recently approved a constitutional amendment supporting gay marriage. (This news release from their news department provides a good description of what went on, and it’ll be the basis for this blog post. Disclaimer: it’s pretty disheartening.) Specifically, the amendment purports a definition of marriage as “between two people,” not between a man and a woman:

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, 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. (source)

Their constitution used to say, “Marriage is a civil contract between a woman and a man” (source). Now, their website hosts a page called “Biblical and Theological Rationales on [Gay] Marriage”, explaining how various church leaders have come to conclude that the Bible supports gay marriage.

Here’s a hint, though: there are no biblical or theological rationales for gay marriage. So, where the PC(USA) went wrong is a devaluation of the authority of Scripture. They may say that they believe in its authority, but it seems they don’t believe in its inerrancy. To confirm my suspicions, I looked for the PC(USA)’s position on the Bible, found within their “A Brief Statement of Faith” in the Book of Confessions. In it, they affirm the “Spirit / who inspired the prophets and apostles / rules our faith and life in Christ through Scripture, / engages us through the Word proclaimed” (304). Note that there is no mention of inerrancy, and not really even an affirmation of the Bible’s authority. When ordaining a deacon, ruling elder, or teaching elder, it gets marginally better: they must respond in affirmation to the question, “Do you accept the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be, by the Holy Spirit, the unique and authoritative witness to Jesus Christ universal, and God’s Word to you?” (source). In various places, the PC(USA) believes in Scripture’s authority, but not in its inerrancy. A “Presbyterian 101” page on the Bible says that it is the “Word of God written,” but not anything about its authority or inerrancy. In fact, that whole page reads more like a fact sheet than even a small series of propositional statements about the Bible.

(As a sidenote, I had an extremely difficult time finding some sort of doctrinal statement from the PC(USA) website. I clicked on “Resources,” I scrolled to the bottom of the page for an extended menu… nothing. I had to Google “pcusa statement of doctrine” just to find their Declaration of Faith–which, the PC(USA) notes, doesn’t have “constitutional standing” (source). Googling “pcusa doctrinal statement” doesn’t bring up anything of the sort. Just to check that I’m not losing my mind, I went to the Southern Baptist Convention website to see if I could find their doctrinal statement. I located the Baptist Faith and Message in about five seconds. After trying to find an easy way to find some sort of doctrinal statement, I found “Presbyterian 101” through the panel on the PC(USA) website that reads “Get to know the Presbyterian church.”)

So what? Why does this matter? Because if you read the news release I first posted about, you can see how a failure to affirm the authority and inerrancy of Scripture led to the decision reached by the General Assembly–and even PC(USA) members individually. For example, take this quote by Pastor Todd Freeman:

“Some will say that we have turned our back on the ‘clear teaching of Scripture,’ ” says Todd Freeman, pastor of College Hill Presbyterian Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma. “It appears that many Presbyterians now consider that this is not the case. We recognize that our cultural biases and prejudices were woven throughout the biblical witness. This recognition has helped lead the Presbyterian Church to change its traditional stance on a number of issues, including slavery, racial equality, and the right of women to be ordained into positions of church leadership. Many of us also recognize that the biblical passages that condemn same-gender sexual acts are not in reference to couples in a loving mutual relationship, but rather address relationships that are controlling, abusive, and exploitative.”

… what? Freeman says that it’s OK to re-interpret Scripture when we know “that our cultural biases and prejudices were woven throughout the biblical witness.” That is, if we as 21st century, enlightened, tolerant believers recognize error in the Bible, we are free to overrule the Bible. I’m not disputing that the Bible has been misinterpreted to support slavery and racial equality, but on both issues, brave pastors saw that the teachings of Scripture actually condemn slavery and racial inequality. But the “right” of women for church leadership and “same-gender sexual acts” are not in the same category. Specifically, Genesis 1-2, Romans 1, and Ephesians 5 make plain that aspects of a marital relationship, including but not limited to sexual activity, between members of the same sex, whether in a self-defined “marriage” or not, are sinful. If the PC(USA) held confidence in Scripture, this amendment would not even have been considered. Instead, the amendment is one result of a lack of belief in the inspired, inerrant, infallible, authoritative Word of God.

I have a lot more I could say, but I’ll end by responding to a common question, raised here by Brian Ellison, executive director of the Covenant Network of Presbyterians. His question comes from a sidebar in the news release, and refers to a male Presbyterian pastor who desires to be wed to “the love of his life, a man”:

“Here’s someone who loves the church, waited a long time to be ordained in it, and is now in a relationship where he wants to demonstrate faithfulness and love for the rest of his life,” Ellison says. “Why would the church not honor that?”

That, sir, would be because the Bible does not honor that. The Bible is clear: marriage does not exist so humans can demonstrate faithfulness and love. It exists so that God can demonstrate His faithfulness and love in the the uniqueness of this opposite-sex covenant relationship: “This mystery [of marriage] is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church” (Eph. 5:32). And I posit that if the leaders of the PC(USA) had confidence in the words and propositions of Scripture, you would see how God designed opposite-sex marriage for His own glory, and how it is therefore the only design of marriage that Christians can support.

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