Proposed Amendments to the Book of Order

Proposed amendment 14-F, which changes the definition of marriage in the Directory for Worship, part of the Book of Order, has received enough votes from presbyteries across the church, including Chicago Presbytery, for passage. The unofficial reports have been confirmed by Rev. Grayde Parsons, Stated Clerk of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). More information is available from the PC(USA).

The new language, which will go into effect on June 21, 2015, is:

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.

If they meet the requirements of the civil jurisdiction in which they intend to marry, a couple may request that a service of Christian marriage be conducted by a teaching elder in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), who is authorized, though not required, to act as an agent of the civil jurisdiction in recording the marriage contract. A couple requesting a service of Christian marriage shall receive instruction from the teaching elder, who may agree to the couple’s request only if, in the judgment of the teaching elder, the couple demonstrate sufficient understanding of the nature of the marriage covenant and commitment to living their lives together according to its values. In making this decision, the teaching elder may seek the counsel of the session, which has authority to permit or deny the use of church property for a marriage service.

The marriage service shall be conducted in a manner appropriate to this covenant and to the forms of Reformed worship, under the direction of the teaching elder and the supervision of the session (W-1.4004-.4006). In a service of marriage, the couple marry each other by exchanging mutual promises. The teaching elder witnesses the couple’s promises and pronounces God’s blessing upon their union. The community of faith pledges to support the couple in upholding their promises; prayers may be offered for the couple, for the communities that support them, and for all who seek to live in faithfulness.

A service of worship recognizing a civil marriage and confirming it in the community of faith may be appropriate when requested by the couple. The service will be similar to the marriage service except that the statements made shall reflect the fact that the couple is already married to one another according to the laws of the civil jurisdiction.”

Nothing herein shall compel a teaching elder to perform nor compel a session to authorize the use of church property for a marriage service that the teaching elder or the session believes is contrary to the teaching elder’s or the session’s discernment of the Holy Spirit and their understanding of the Word of God.

The new language recognizes the long-standing Presbyterian commitment to freedom of conscience.

“God alone is Lord of the conscience, and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men which are in anything contrary to his Word, or beside it, in matters of faith or worship.” (F-3.0101).

Presbyterian teaching elders and sessions who support same gender marriage are free to host or perform such services in Illinois, where same gender marriage is legal. Presbyterian teaching elders and sessions who disagree, or have concerns, are equally free to refuse to authorize or preside at a same-gender service in their church’s facilities. Sessions can refuse their pastor’s request to host a same-gender service. Pastors can refuse a session’s request to preside. In that sense, nothing has changed. Teaching elders have always been free to decline to perform weddings services that in their judgment are unwise (W-4.9002b).

While the amendment to the Directory for Worship changes the legal rule, the issues pertaining to homosexuality and same-gender marriage continue to be debated in the church. We ask all members of Chicago Presbytery and its congregations to respect the faithful witness of those with whom they differ, and to work and pray for the unity of the church. We again offer for your consideration a list of resources exploring a range of theological responses to same-gender marriage.

Other changes also deserve mention. The 221st General Assembly approved seven proposed amendments to the Book of Order and also proposed adding The Confession of Belhar to the Book of Confessions. To date, five of the seven proposed amendments have officially been approved by a majority (86) of the presbyteries. These proposed amendments include changes that clarify the process for candidates seeking ordination as teaching elders, and the requirement that all councils, including sessions, have a child protection policy. If your session does not yet have a child protection policy, a template is available from the Presbytery of Chicago.

Finally, two matters are still pending. While the proposed addition of the Belhar Confession to the Book of Confessions has received 91 votes in favor and 19 against, proposed amendments to the Book of Confessions require a two-thirds vote, or 114 in favor. Chicago Presbytery will vote on adding Belhar at our April meeting. Proposed amendment 14-A, which prohibits former teaching elders who renounce jurisdiction in the midst of a disciplinary proceeding from performing any paid or volunteer work in any PCUSA entity, has so far received 72 votes in favor, 44 against, and one abstention.

If you have any further questions, feel free to contact us.

Robert C. Reynolds,
Barbara A. Bundick,

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