Many Presbyteries contributed Rationales in their concurrance with Overtures in support of same gender marriage. These documents were approved at the associated Presbytery Assembly meetings and sent to the General Assembly. This situation provides an excellent opportunity to review the arguments by which same gender marriage supporters chose to advance their cause. Presbyteries from across the entire United States are represented, thus providing a broad view into the PCUSA.
I have focused the analysis on two Overtures, those being:
- On Amending W-4.9000, Marriage (Ammending Marriage)
- On Issuing an Authoritative Interpretation of W-4.9000 to Affirm Pastoral Discretion in Performing Marriage Ceremonies (Authoritative Interpretation)
These are the two Overtures that the Presbytery of Chicago approved at the February 8, 2014 Assembly Meeting at the Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago. Numerous Commissioners spoke from the floor for and against these Overtures.
On the pro-side, all but one speaker focused on the issue’s emotional aspect, often in very personal terms. One speaker speculated that the only reason to oppose these Overtures is because you don’t like homosexuals. The only Biblical argument made was that the parable of the Good Samaritan means that we should approve of same-gender marriage (Jesus was erroneously quoted as ending this parable with the admonition to ‘do the right thing’).
Those in opposition focused on (1) the lack of Biblical or Confessional reflection / justification, (2) questioning why Christians’ beliefs are being led by secular culture and (3) concerns about this position’s impact on or relationships with other Christian communities and other religions.
Both same-gender marriage Overtures to the PCUSA General Assembly were overwhelmingly passed. I voted against passage of both Overtures.
Subsequently, the 221st General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) (June 14 to 21, 2014 in Detroit, MI) approved both of these Overtures.
My first impression after reading these Rationales from Presbyteries across the PCUSA was how sparse and thin were the references to Jesus, Christ, God, Scripture(s), Bible and Confession(s). The dual issues that arise are first, is it true, and, if so, how to best measure and communicate the result. These issues are difficult to address due to the sheer size of the record. It turns out that between the Authoritative Interpretation and Amending Marriage Overtures, there are approximately 24,000 words in the set of concurring Rationales.
Fortunately, there are tools available on the Internet that are specifically designed to analyze this type of information. I have utilized one of these tools that counts the number of occurrences of each word in a text section. The following table shows the results.
Although these quantitative results support my initial impression, deeper analysis is required to assess the situation. I therefore have reviewed each Rationale individually to determine if it includes specific references to Jesus, Christ, Bible, Scripture(s) or Confession(s), with the results shown in the following figure.
Even the previous word usage analysis did not prepare me for the shock of this result. Here we have Presbyteries throughout the PCUSA researching, writing, debating, editing and voting on Rationales to support a fundamental redefinition of Christian marriage. This work occurred over timespans measured in at least months, drawing on the knowledge of ordained pastors and elders. It was then placed before whole Presbytery Assemblies, also made up of ordained pastors and elders, for debate and decision, with the possibility of editorial change.
And what do we find?
- The Presbyteries of East Iowa, Heartland and Twin Cities Area passed Rationales on the Amending Marriage Overture without once using the words Jesus, Christ, Bible, Scripture(s) or Confession(s).
- For Rationales supporting the Authoritative Interpretation the situation is even worse, with the Presbyteries of Albany, Cayuga-Syracuse, Genesee Valley, National Capital, New York City and Southern New England all failing to use all of these same terms even once.
- The Presbyteries of Albany, the Heartland and National Capital contributed supporting Rationales for both Amending Marriage and Authoritative Interpretation, somehow managing to not mention Jesus or Christ even once in either one.
- The Presbyteries of National Capital, New York City and Redwoods contributed supporting Rationales for both Amending Marriage and Authoritative Interpretation, somehow managing to not mention the Bible or Scriptures(s) even once in either one.
- Across all 30 Rationales
- Jesus and/or Christ was used in barely over half (53%)
- Bible and/or Scripture(s) was used by less than half (47%)
- Confession(s) was used by only one in six (16.7%).
The implications of these results are staggering. What we have in the PCUSA are whole Presbyteries, composed of dozens if not hundreds of ordained pastors and elders, for whom the most central concepts in orthodox Christian thought simply don’t come to mind when discussing the fundamental redefinition of Christian marriage.