Today I am thinking about the recent action of the Presbyterian Church (USA) that will soon allow me to perform a wedding for two people of the same gender. That same action also makes it possible for our congregation’s session to approve a same gender wedding on the church property, should they choose to do so.
And thinking about that decision makes me think about two people I know well.
They sit in the same section of chairs in our sanctuary, often ending up on the same row.
I am thinking of them and the marriage amendment together, because each of them reached out to me when they heard the news of what our denomination approved this past Tuesday.
One told me that it was a day for lamenting the sin of the church and suggested that leaving was a real possibility.
The other told me that it was a day for rejoicing and commented that this decision made them happy that they had recently started going back to church, “and not just any church.”
What am I to make of this? They hold the same hymnals, lift up their hearts to the same God in prayer, gather around the same scriptures, hear the same sermons, receive the same charge and blessing, and they are each seeking to be faithful to the same Lord Jesus Christ.
But when they look at the denomination’s approval of same gender marriage, they reach opposite conclusions.
One greets the news with weeping, the other with rejoicing. And they both reach out to me, because I am their pastor.
That makes a difference for me. I can’t dismiss the one who decries this decision, because we belong to one another. Remembering that keeps me from believing that everyone who is against the marriage amendment must somehow be a Bible-thumping bigot.
Nor can I dismiss the one who rejoices at this decision, because we also belong together. Remembering that convinces me that not everyone who is for the marriage amendment must somehow be a Bible-dumping hedonist.
Today, as I think about these two and their reaction to the decision on marriage, I begin to hear other voices and see other faces from two and a half decades of ministry. And I realize once more just how long we have been having this conversation together.
Some of my conversations in the church over those years went well, even when nothing changed in them, or me, or changed so slowly as if to be non-existent. And some of those conversations went horribly wrong, ending with relationships broken and explosive exits that did more damage than will ever be known.
Even before Tuesday’s decision, but certainly since then, I have heard the voices of those who suggest that our denomination is just following the culture or simply trying to draw young people back to the church, or that we’ve been busy writing our own Bible rather than standing firm on God’s Word.
And I’ve also heard the voices of those who suggest that congregations and pastors are scared to embrace this decision, scolding us with accusations that we care more about preserving the institution and filling the offering plates than we do the truth of God’s clear welcome.
I am aware that the voices of critique from both sides carry some truth. But they also miss the mark, at least for most of the people who have talked with me as their pastor.
Here’s what I know.
Almost every conversation I have had with people in the church about homosexuality has centered in one person. It has been a parent who wanted to talk with me about their child. It has been a young adult who wanted to talk with me about a sibling. It has been a church member who wanted to explore with me his responsibility to others in the congregation if he were to become an officer in the church. And it has been a child of God who wanted to share with me the truth of their lives.
We weren’t talking about “the issue facing the church.” We were talking about specific people in the context of some relationship of trust and love, whether in the family or in the community or in the congregation.
And not once in those conversations did anyone say, “What the Bible says doesn’t matter.”
Only here’s the thing. We hear and interpret the Bible together.
In a wonderful document called A Declaration of Faith, Presbyterians describe how we seek to do that, and what we believe that sort of hearing makes possible:
“Acknowledging (the authority of Christ), comparing Scripture with Scripture, listening with respect to fellow-believers past and present, we anticipate that the Holy Spirit will enable us to interpret faithfully God’s Word for our time and place.”
And that’s the question, isn’t it? Have we interpreted God’s Word faithfully for our time and place? Did we get it right?
Many of us believe that we have. Others remain unconvinced. And still others are so certain that we got it wrong that they view leaving as the only option they have.
But what if we refused to reduce our relationships to our votes?
And, while it’s hard to explain what I mean by that, I think it looks a lot like what happened in a congregation not too far from where I live.
My friend is the pastor there, and their session was talking about their wedding policy and whether or not they would make their property available for same gender weddings.
Someone made a motion, and the session prayed and talked and listened and studied and prayed some more before they voted.
I would love to tell you they came to a unanimous decision. But they didn’t.
Several spoke clear words of opposition and voted against the motion that was ultimately approved. But after the decision was made, one of the loudest voices against the motion offered a word to the others in the room:
“As you know, I don’t believe this decision is right. But if it turns out to be what God wants us to do, I’m glad you were here to correct me.”
You know what I think happened? I think he looked at the people around that table, and, refusing to reduce them to their vote, chose instead to remember that these were people he trusted and loved.
After all, they had held the same hymnals, lifted up their hearts to the same God in prayer, gathered around the same scriptures, heard the same sermons, received the same charge and blessing.
And so he trusted that what he knew was true for him was also true for each of them. They were seeking to be faithful to the same Lord Jesus Christ.