Tag Archives: same-sex marriage

A Review Of Some Headlines Following The PC(USA) Decision This Week

One of my favorite reads is the blog GetReligion because as the title implies, most news outlets don’t have a religion reporter any more and so frequently the field reporter assigned to a religion story doesn’t “get religion.” Well shortly after the 86th PC(USA) presbytery approved Amendment 14-F they had a nice piece on how good, or not so good, the coverage of the approval was by various news outlets.

If I had to pick a couple articles that came out later so there was more than just the breaking news aspect, I would add to the good coverage list:

Gay marriage: Is the Presbyterian Church playing catch-up – or leading? – By Jessica Mendoza of The Christian Science Monitor

Here’s why a vote on gay marriage from Presbyterians matters – by Michelle Boorstein of the Washington Post

But as the headlines flew by on Tuesday night and Wednesday I was struck by how many of them did not catch the nuances of the vote. Surprising? No. And it should be noted here at the top that the articles and their headlines are usually written by different people so don’t blame the author for a bad headline. Also, headlines are a bit like tweets and they have to fit  into a limited space so nuance is limited.

But here are a few that struck me as bad and good following the results. (And in fact, the headlines for the two articles I cite above both suffer from one of the issues I have with many of the headlines.)

From some outlet called newser

Presbyterian Church Redefines Marriage

OK, let’s start with “Presbyterian Church” – While the PC(USA) likes to think of itself as “The Presbyterian Church” (exempli gratia: Their Twitter feed is @Presbyterian and the new hymnal is subtitled “The Presbyterian Hymnal”) and while it is home to slightly more than two thirds of the US Presbyterians, it is only the largest of more than a dozen Presbyterian branches in the U.S. The news that the PC(USA) approved a change to their constitution sent other branches scrambling to clarify that it was not them. There were statements from the PCA and the EPC among others. And yes, my two preferred articles above use the blanket term Presbyterian in their headlines.

Moving on to “Redefines Marriage.” OK, technically correct for ourselves but is that a bit too broad or generalized statement to be used in this situation?

OK, here is another headline, this one from the Arkansas Times, but I can point you to a dozen more like it:

Presbyterians embrace marriage equality

Well of course there is the word Presbyterian. “You keep using that word…” But the other point that caught my attention in this, and some other headlines, was the use of the word “embrace.” Did the PC(USA) embrace marriage equality? Clearly some individuals, churches and maybe even presbyteries did. But did the church? While the presbytery count shows about 2/3 favor the change, the bulk count of those who have voted show it is closer overall with 59% of presbyters voting yes. It strikes me at the least to be a bit of a subjective word to use for this news.

How about one from World Magazine:

Majority of PCUSA presbyteries vote to endorse gay marriage

Got to give a lot of credit for that “Majority of PCUSA presbyteries” phrase – that nails it. But what did they vote to do? Did they vote to endorse gay marriage, or simply to add it to the wording in the Book of Order to permit the option? Whether or not to preform the marriage service is up to the teaching elder or the session as to whether it may happen at the church. Fine line here – that is probably too much nuance so maybe I am being too picky.

Here is a headline from the Religious News Service that does a pretty good job – at least it implicitly labels the Presbyterians as the mainline branch:

With Presbyterians in the yes column, mainline Protestants solidify gay marriage support

So how about some good examples. Here are a few that strike me as properly clarifying the denomination, the action taken and the nature of the change:

Presbyterian Church (USA) approves same-sex marriage amendment – from RNS

Presbyterian Church (USA) Approves Same-Sex Marriage, Will Amend Constitution – from International Business Times

Largest Presbyterian Denomination Gives Final Approval for Same-Sex Marriage – from The New York Times

Presbyterian Church USA Expands Marriage Definition – from TWC News

So there is a selection of how the news was headlined this past week. While the less precise headlines are the ones that jumped out at me, with the exception of far too many simply using the generic title Presbyterian, most headlines were pretty good. I would note that in the examples given I used recognized news outlets. (Granted, you could argue with a couple of them.) There are advocacy groups that obviously put their spin into the headlines and I did not include those. (If you want examples: Example 1, Example 2)

There is now a second wave of articles that are a follow up to the decision now that reporters have had the time to talk with local leaders and some of the people in the pews to get reaction and response to the vote. I have read a few of those and they generally have very balanced and sensitive coverage from the local area.

So, there are a few of my thoughts about the headlines this past week. Your mileage may vary.

Presbyteries Begin Voting On Same-Sex Marriage Actions

With General Assembly season now behind us we move into the portion of the year where the actions of the General Assemblies that require presbytery concurrence are now being considered by the lower governing bodies.

Coming from three of the Assemblies we have proposed actions that have implications for same-sex marriage/partnerships within the church and the progress is being closely watched within each branch. Here is a brief summary of what to watch and where each is at this time.

Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

The 221st General Assembly (2014) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) adopted a proposed constitutional amendment that now needs to be approved by the presbyteries. This change in the language of Book of Order section W-4.9000 has been bundled into the Amendment booklet and is now referred to as Amendment 14-F.

Presbytery voting has begun and the Office of the General Assembly is, as always, the official tracker of the votes. They have created a page specific to the marriage amendment that has not only resources about the GA action and that amendment, but a nifty map of the presbyteries that have reported their vote and which way it went. I have to admit that with only a few recorded so far it is a bit tough distinguishing between the shades of purple they use for yes and no, but once it begins to fill in the difference should be more obvious. And interesting to see that the Dakota nongeographic presbytery was geographically placed in southern Saskatchewan.

If you want the official tally of the voting on all amendments that is still there and shows that to date three presbyteries have officially recorded their votes ( 1 yes and 2 no on both 14-F and Blehar at this time ). Also interesting to note that the official page for the Belhar Confession does not have nifty map.

And for the polity wonks it is helpful to remember that the PC(USA) now has two less presbyteries for a total of 171 meaning that it takes 86 to approve a Book of Order Amendment and 114 to approve a change to the Book of Confessions.

For up-to-the-minute unofficial reporting I see that the Covenant Network is keeping an on-line tally with the presbytery voting results including the number of yes and no votes, something the OGA does not include. As of two weeks ago their tally was two presbyteries on each side.

While I will be doing a much more detailed analysis as more data are available, here is a quick comparison of the first four data point in comparison to 10-A. I will leave it for another time to discuss whether the comparison of two amendment that deal with significantly different equality questions is appropriate. Abstentions are included in the totals and the percentage after the total is the change in the number of total votes from 10-A.

Presbytery 14-F Yes 14-F No 14-F Total 10-A Yes 10-A No 10-A Total
New Castle 73 (74%) 24 (24%) 99 (-14%) 79 (69%) 34 (30%) 115
Palo Duro 25 (45%) 30 (55%) 55 (-35%) 35 (41%) 50 (59%) 85
San Diego 22 (22%) 76 (77%) 99 (+14%) 21 (24%) 66 (76%) 87
Yukon 27 (59%) 19 (41%) 46 (-22%) 21 (36%) 38 (64%) 59

So far we have two presbyteries with no on both, one yes on both and one switch from no to yes. In three out of four cases we see a significant decrease in the number of total votes cast. With 167 presbyteries left to go there is still a lot of data yet to be collected so I won’t go any further with this analysis now.


Church of Scotland

This past May the General Assembly 2014 of the Church of Scotland approved an act related to ministers in civil partnerships that affirms traditional language but includes proposed language (all found as an Appendix to the Legal Questions Committee report) for churches to request to depart from the traditional standards and it is now being voted on by the presbyteries as special legislation under the Barrier Act. There are 46 presbyteries and a majority of 24 are required for concurrence leading to the General Assembly giving it final considering in 2015.

The Principal Clerk’s office does not keep the official tally of the votes online but a group of evangelicals in the Kirk, Forward Together, has been monitoring voting. In a statement from last week (30 October) they indicate that they know of three presbyteries who have already voted no on the overture. That statement also contains a list of known dates of presbytery votes with the largest single day on the list this past Tuesday (4 November). The deadline to vote is in December.

In particular, the vote against by the Presbytery of Lewis received some publicity probably enhanced by the issuance of a statement following the vote. The story was picked up by the Stornoway Gazette and the KaleidoScot web site, among others.

Holding an alternate viewpoint on the question is Affirmation Scotland which says that they are disappointed the legislation does not go farther but supports it as an intermediate step. One of their affiliated churches, Greyfriers Church in Edinburgh, has recently made it clear that they are an inclusive congregation and that should the act be confirmed they will be an affirming congregation and request a departure from the act should the circumstances arise.


Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand

In their General Assembly about a month ago they reaffirmed their support for marriage between one man and one woman and the Assembly sent to the presbyteries special legislation under the Barrier Act that would confirm that language in their Book of Order.

The act must be approved by a majority of the eleven presbyteries, two synods and two church councils.

It is relatively early in their process so we will see what announcements are made as it moves forward.



At this point the process is moving forward in each of the branches. While the Church of Scotland voting will be wrapping up in the next couple of months the other two branches will take a bit longer. As I indicated above, I will be taking the PC(USA) voting data and adding that to my database to see what observations we can make about that branch. For the other two there is a paucity of previous votes for statistical comparisons so we can only keep an eye on them as current snapshots of their denomination. We will see what happens.

PCANZ GA Says Ministers May Only Solemnize Marriage Between A Man And A Woman

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.

At the present time the only reference I have found with details of this action is from the GA14 News for October 7 which links to a PDF copy of the press release.

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.”

It is worth noting in closing that one church, St. Andrew’s on the Terrace in Wellington very quickly issued a press release declaring that they would defy the ban. As the article says:

“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.