The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand concluded yesterday and in their final day of business the Assembly approved wording to be added to the Book of Order clarifying that marriage is only between a man and a woman.
Currently there is a Book of Order requirement for ordained leaders for faithfulness in marriage between a man and a woman. There were proposals presented to the Assembly to change this as well as a proposal for congregations to fall out (their technical terminology) of this requirement if 2/3 of the congregation approves. None of these changes were approved by the Assembly.
From a polity wonk perspective the release gives the bare outlines of what happened so let’s drill down into the polity documents a bit.
The press release does mention the PCANZ Book of Order section discussing the standards for ordained office which says
(1A) Sexual relations outside marriage
In accordance with the supreme and subordinate standards of the Church, sessions, parish councils, presbyteries and united district councils shall not accept for training, license, ordain or induct anyone involved in a sexual relationship outside of a faithful marriage between a man and a woman. In relation to homosexuality, and the interests of natural justice, this ruling shall not prejudice anyone who, as at 29 September 2006, had been accepted for training, licensed, ordained or inducted.
Regarding the new rule pertaining to conducting marriage ceremonies It seems that this sections on personal standards would not be the place to include such a rule. Reading over the Book of Order a bit it would seem that the first half of Chapter 6 where it talks about the nature, functions and responsibility of a minister would be a more suitable place to put it. Alternately, in the context of Church Councils in Chapter 7 there is some discussion of providing for worship and maybe it could be placed there.
But in light of this wild speculation on my part, as of now the only section of the Book of Order that specifically mentions marriage is section 9.1(1A) that is quoted above. Adding it to another section would be adding a specific requirement or responsibility in a section that currently is more general.
Now, the PCANZ does have a Directory for Worship as well. In their documents the Book of Order is similar to what several other branches refer to as the Form of Government section and the Directory for Worship stands as its own document. Under the Book of Order the Directory is authoritative in its own right and does have a section on marriage (section 4.11) that reflects the traditional Reformed four-fold nature of marriage and that marriage is between one man and one woman. (For the PC(USA) types it is very close to the wording in G-4.9001 that is currently being considered for replacement.)
So, another possible explanation is that the new wording on conducting marriages will be added to the Directory for Worship and the wording in the press release was simplified wording since most people are not polity wonks.
I do have a request into the PCANZ for clarification and amplification and if I receive a response I will update it here.
UPDATE: With thanks to Mr. Martin Baker, the Assembly Executive Secretary, for responding to my questions, a couple of interesting and unique points were brought out. The primary one is that while the special legislation will probably be added to Chapter 6, the exact placement is not handled by the Assembly directly but will be determined at a future date by the Book of Order Advisory Committee. He also confirmed that the act was passed ad interim so it goes into effect immediately, and that there will be no changes to 9.1(1A) from this Assembly. Thanks for the response and now we see about the concurrence from the wider church.
In addition, the changes to the Book of Order follow the opposite model from what American Presbyterians are used to as the rule goes into effect right away and is later removed if the presbyteries do not agree.
The press release also adds that the Assembly “decided against establishing a special commission on diversity to facilitate a programme of informed study on matters relating to sexuality in leadership and the conduct of marriage including liberty of conscience.”
“This decision is deeply disturbing and we strongly dissent from it” says St Andrew’s Parish Convenor, Sonia Groes-Petrie. “The Presbyterian tradition is for ministers to have freedom to make decisions about whom they will marry. There is a range of opinions on same-sex marriage within the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand and today’s decision does not reflect that diversity.”
This has a ways to go so we will see how it develops.
UPDATE: A great piece on the General Assembly in general by Bruce Hamill is now available. He does focus on the process around the issues related to sexuality and talks a bit about the 200 commissioners who left the floor for the balance of the debate at one point in the proceedings, something I did not include above.