Monday, July 27, 2009

Wedding Liturgy and Christian Marriage

I sent the following to the Civil Union and Christian Marriage Committee

As I prepared to do a wedding a few weeks ago I was struck by the theology in the Statement of the Gift of Marriage and thought of your work as a committee. The Statement reads:

We gather in the presence of God to give thanks for the gift of marriage, to witness the joining together of N. and N., to surround them with our prayers, and to ask God's blessing upon them, so that they may be strengthened for their life together and nurtured in their love for God.

God created us male and female, and gave us marriage so that husband and wife may help and comfort each other, living faithfully together in plenty and in want, in joy and in sorrow, in sickness and in health, throughout all their days.

God gave us marriage for the full expression of the love between a man and a woman. In marriage a woman and a man belong to each other, and with affection and tenderness freely give themselves to each other.

God gave us marriage for the well-being of human society, for the ordering of family life, and for the birth and nurture of children.

God gave us marriage as a holy mystery in which a man and a woman are joined together, and become one, just as Christ is one with the church.

In marriage, husband and wife are called to a new way of life, created, ordered, and blessed by God. This way of life must not be entered into carelessly, or from selfish motives, but responsibly, and prayerfully.

We rejoice that marriage is given by God, blessed by our Lord Jesus Christ, and sustained by the Holy Spirit. Therefore, let marriage be held in honor by all.

Please notice the theological statements about man and woman and marriage. The Statement says that God created us male and female and relates marriage to that act of creation. The statement reflects the second creation story in Genesis. The Statement says, indirectly, that sexual expression is a gift from God to be celebrated with marriage between a man and a woman. The giving of the self to the other, the man to the woman and the woman to the man of course includes more than sexual expression.

Marriage, the statement says, is given for the ordering of human society. This includes the birth and nurture of children but also, again indirectly, speaks against the sexual disorder of society in which people live together without being married. While not a direct reference one can hear in this a passage from C-67:

The relationship between man and woman exemplifies in a basic way God’s ordering of the interpersonal life for which he created mankind. Anarchy in sexual relationships is a symptom of man’s alienation from God, his neighbor, and himself. Man’s perennial confusion about the meaning of sex has been aggravated in our day by the availability of new means for birth control and the treatment of infection, by the pressures of urbanization, by the exploitation of sexual symbols in mass communication, and by world overpopulation. The church, as the household of God, is called to lead men out of this alienation into the responsible freedom of the new life in Christ. Reconciled to God, each person has joy in and respect for his own humanity and that of other persons; a man and woman are enabled to marry, to commit themselves to a mutually shared life, and to respond to each other in sensitive and lifelong concern; parents receive the grace to care for children in love and to nurture their individuality. The church comes under the judgment of God and invites rejection by man when it fails to lead men and women into the full meaning of life together, or withholds the compassion of Christ from those caught in the moral confusion of our time.

Since 1967 this anarchy has gotten significantly worse with teenagers and young adults (and many in middle age and older) treating sexuality as only a means for pleasure and not as a commitment. Marriage, as the statement says, is intended for the ordering of family life, and I would suggest that this means with or without children.

The Statement says that marriage joins the man and the woman and they become one and points to the marriage of Christ and the Church.

Nowhere in the statement is there any suggestion that marriage can be between two people of the same sex. Nowhere does it suggest that living together, whether in a heterosexual relationship or a homosexual relationship, carries the same deep unity that God intends for a man and a woman brought together in marriage.

Of course neither the Statement on the Gift of Marriage nor the quote from C-67 is scripture. But they do pick up and point to Biblical themes. God creates humans male and female. Sexual behavior is to be expressed only within marriage. Marriage between a man and a woman points to the coming revelation of Christ’s marriage to the Church. Nowhere in Scripture or the Confessions is there any suggestion that sexual expression outside of marriage or a civil union or marriage between two persons of the same sex is acceptable to God. Instead such sexual behavior, whether long term or short, is condemned in Scripture and Confessions.

Liturgy reflects theology. The marriage liturgy says what the Church believes about marriage.

You have a very difficult task. The denomination has wrestled with the questions you study for decades. I urge you to retain the present definition of marriage as reflected in Scripture, Confessions and liturgy so that the Church may continue to stand against the sexual anarchy of our times.


Alan said...

I love it when straight folks use the term "sexual anarchy" as a code phrase to describe the committed monogamous relationships they themselves seem nearly incapable of having:

50% divorce rate
Las Vegas weddings
Mail-order brides
3rd marriages, 4th marriages, etc.

We didn't invent those examples of "sexual anarchy", Pastor Bob, you heterosexuals did. And you've been more than happy to live with them for decades. Straight people shouldn't blame us because many of you can't make a commitment to each other before God. Just because many of you don't take it seriously doesn't indict the rest of us who do.

If you want to learn about the true meaning of marriage from people who actually take it seriously, I'd suggest asking some gay married people.

As I have always said, if someone doesn't like gay marriage, then the proper response is to not get gay married.

BTW, there is nothing in what you wrote that shouldn't apply to any marriage. You're drawing distinctions where none exist in order to meddle in the lives of people who, quite frankly, don't want your advice or your meddling.

Pastor Bob said...


1. Wow! Someone actually reads my blog!

2. The term sexual anarchy comes from C-67

3. I would include all that you mention under sexual anarchy too.

Pastor Bob said...

Some opinions about sexual anarchy among heterosexuals:

1. I think that since the sexual revolution sexual behavior has become increasingly disconnected from commitment. The phrases "friends with benefits" and "hooking up" point to this.

2. Again, this is my opinion: that romantic feelings of love have become the definition of love in marriage. Too many people are getting divorced because they don't feel love for their spouse anymore.

3. There is no longer any social cost for living together outside of marriage or getting divorced. Even among clergy, unless the pastor has committed adultery, there is little social cost for getting divorce.

I don't have the stats to prove this but I bet they are out there somewhere.

Alan said...

"The term sexual anarchy comes from C-67"

Yet it is typically only applied to gay people. Its simply a dog whistle. Sort of like "the gay agenda."

Since '67? And you all are just getting around to being up-in-arms about it now that the gays want to get married? What a coincidence.

"Some opinions about sexual anarchy among heterosexuals:..."

Again, we're not to blame for any of that. So assuming that banning gay marriage is going to save heterosexual marriage seems naive at best. I'd say clean up your own back yard before attempting to tell other people how to live their lives.

Perhaps you'll agree, using your own reasoning, that the best thing we could do to eliminate "sexual anarchy" is ban straight marriage. Yet you don't suggest that, I wonder why. If banning gay marriage is going to help you straight people defeat your predilection for sexual anarchy, then banning straight marriage would be much more effective. Straight people are a far larger portion of the population, and as a group have consistently proven to be unreliable when it comes to making marriage commitments that they can keep.

I'd suggest moving over and letting us show you how it's done. For example, we see that the lowest divorce rates in the country are in states that allow gay marriage. And in Vermont, for example, the last time I looked at the statistics, the dissolution rate for civil unions (prior to that state allowing gay marriage) was 3%. Not 50%. 3%. 3% is lower than 50%.

Now I'm not saying that gay people are better than straight people, perhaps we're just better at keeping our commitments because we don't take our rights for granted, and we haven't turned marriage into a fetish to be worshipped, into a few magic words to be uttered until we change our minds. Over time (though I hope this doesn't turn out to be the case), perhaps our community will be infected by the sexual anarchy that pervades the heterosexual world, but I hope we can learn from your mistakes.

Pastor Bob said...


I'm much more concerned about sexual anarchy among heterosexuals if for no other reason that they are, as you point out, a much larger portion of the population.

As to my two responses I was agreeing with you. Since the 1960's the, let us say public, sexual anarchy among heterosexuals has grown enormously. I don't blame the desire for marriage among homosexuals for the problems among heterosexuals. Heterosexuals create their own problems.

I would suggest that the PCUSA went down the wrong path from the 1970's to almost the present in emphasis on ordination of homosexuals. I know it wasn't socially possible but the question of marriage for homosexuals should have come first. This, by the way, is intended as a historical observation. If we could have all agreed that homosexual marriage was good and a gift from God then there would have been no argument about ordination.

My main point in the blog, which you have not addressed, is that the current liturgy for a marriage in the PCUSA points to a Biblical and societal themes when it talks about heterosexual marriage. There would have to be a massive liturgical change for a gender neutral marriage service. This would take the liturgy away from the current Biblical themes in the statement.

This was, after all, a message to the GA task force on civil unions and marriage.

Alan said...

" There would have to be a massive liturgical change for a gender neutral marriage service."


Liturgy is literally "the work of the people". It should be the work of all the people. Our liturgies are not holy writ. They have changed, and they will continue to change.

People argued that the ordination of women would change the church. You know what? It did. Irrevocably. And the church got over it and the church grew. The church didn't need the protection of sexists back then and it doesn't need the protection of their ideological descendants today.

"This would take the liturgy away from the current Biblical themes in the statement. "

No, it would take it away from what you believe are the Biblical themes in the statement. And if you didn't want to conduct a service there's no one, not the PCUSA, not the civil authorities who would make you.

You're meddling because you can, not because you have to, not because anyone is forcing you to do anything against your own conscience. And you're doing it under the guise of Scripture, but not with its blessing. You refuse your brothers and sisters the opportunity to exercise their own consciences, just as strongly felt, and just as strongly supported by Scripture as your own. And the best you can come up with is that it would be too much work to write new liturgies.

We'll write the liturgies if you're too busy.

(BTW, I disagree that if we'd settled on the marriage question that there wouldn't be a question about ordination. If you think the haters and bigots wouldn't protest any advancement in any direction for any reason they can concoct, then I think you're being a bit naive. They've already lost the fight on ordination. They've already lost the fight on marriage. Your argument rests on the assumption that, if marriage were allowed, they'd have made a rational choice about the ordination question. That assumes they make rational choices about their bigotry, which by definition is cannot be true.)

Pastor Bob said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Pastor Bob said...

I try to suggest areas in which we agree and you ignore them and respond with anger. Then, in essence you call me a bigot.

What is the point in talking?

Viola Larson said...

Thank you for this, I like the way you have tied it to the second creation account and how you have emphasized that marriage means more than romantic feelings.

My husband and I will have been married 48 years in Sept.- every one always says how wonderful, and it is! but it is also God's grace.

Pastor Bob said...

Thanks Viola

Alan said...

No, I didn't call you a bigot. And no, I'm not angry.

I'm not angry. Though frankly, I have every right to be. If I were to pass civil or religious laws to invalidate your marriage, would you not be angry? Yes, let's have someone start passing laws against your marriage and see how dispassionate and reasonable you are. And if you cannot be dispassionate and reasonable, let's chide you for daring to show some anger at how you're being treated by total strangers who think they know how to run your life better than you do.

But no, I'm not angry. I gave that up a long time ago. But perhaps you'd like me to be angry. Perhaps you'd like to discount or ignore some righteous anger coming your way. Or perhaps you'd like me to be angry because then it would validate whatever it is you might like to think about me. Who knows? Who cares. But I'm not angry. I just want you to repent. Not repent of whatever you think about gay people and our marriages, but repent of sticking your nose where it doesn't belong.

There's a lesson that we've been taught, whether it was by the original Reformers (In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty), by the American Revolutionaries (life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness), and even by Ann Landers (Mind Your Own Business). It's a lesson that my parents, good reserved midwestern stock, taught me, that their parents taught them. That lesson, live and let live, is something that's been lost somehow.

In its place we have meddlers, fusspots, and busybodies, who should know better, so convinced that they know how to run everyone else's lives that they're willing to enshrine their particular opinions into law, both church law and civil law. Laws that are designed to do absolutely nothing but meddle in other people's lives. And people support these laws for no other reason than that they can.

I don't disagree with you on marriage. You're looking for common ground, and it's there. But it's you who disagree with me about marriage, not the other way around. My husband and I have been together for 14 years and it is wonderful, and it is, as Viola said, "God's grace."

We don't disagree about marriage. I doubt there's anything you'd say about marriage that I'd disagree with, except for the fact (and it is a fact) that I am married. It is you who disagrees with me. It may surprise you to learn that I really don't care about that at all. I honestly couldn't care less about what you think about my marriage. What I do care about is that you seem to think it is your job to meddle in the lives of people who quite simply do not want your meddling.

We Christians have spent so long trying to have deep conversations about the theology of these sexuality issues that we've missed the simple answer, which is to let people live their lives. It isn't our job to be their mothers and fathers. And it's the height of arrogance and presumption to try.

I just want you and those who agree with you to learn the lesson you should have learned from your parents: "Mind Your Own Business."

What's the point of talking? If you can't handle people challenging your assumptions, perhaps you should be less willing to meddle in their lives in the first place.

Pastor Bob said...

Yep, I'm a meddler. A Task Force appointed by the GA Moderator asks for opinions, I'm a member of the PCUSA and I gave an opinion. That makes me a meddler.

You know the strange thing, Alan, is that I would welcome being convinced that either I am using the wrong exegetical method or that my translation and interpretation of the text is wrong. It would actually make my personal life easier. I WANT to be convinced I'm wrong. Problem is I don't see the evidence in the work done by others and believe me I've read a lot.

I am willing to be convinced I'm wrong. Are you?

Alan said...

"I'm a member of the PCUSA and I gave an opinion. That makes me a meddler."

Yeah, sorry it does. The entire enterprise is nothing but meddling.

You have every right to decide for whom you will and will not officiate at a service. But that's as far as your opinion actually matters. I know that the PCUSA has moved far away from its traditional understanding of the role of the teaching elder. But constitutionally, you do not have a role in deciding how people who are not under your care decide to live their lives.

"I would welcome being convinced that either I am using the wrong exegetical method or that my translation and interpretation of the text is wrong."

I have no interest in doing so. Again, it isn't about what you believe or do not believe about marriage. Your opinion doesn't matter. You can believe whatever you want. Just stop meddling in other people's lives and you're free to believe whatever you want about anyone.

Frankly I think *that* would make your life easier.

"I am willing to be convinced I'm wrong. Are you?"

You're willing to be convinced that your marriage is a sham, your relationship with your wife is an abomination, and that you deserve none of the rights and responsibilities with regard to marriage that anyone else gets in a free society?

Nah...I didn't think so. Cute rhetorical trick, but you don't really want to argue the merits of marriage. You want to argue the merits of everyone's marriage but your own. Heterosexual privilege is a wonderful thing, eh?

Pastor Bob said...


You missed something important:

"It would actually make my personal life easier. I WANT to be convinced I'm wrong."

Alan said...

"It would actually make my personal life easier. I WANT to be convinced I'm wrong."

No, I didn't miss it. I addressed it. I just don't care. I'm not interested in convincing people about anything at all, particularly complete strangers whose opinion matters not a bit to me, and for whom my opinion shouldn't matter a bit either. I tried reasonable conversation as a method to try to convince people once upon a time, and found out that it isn't possible. Then I realized that it isn't even necessary. If people simply minded their own business it wouldn't matter what they believe. I don't understand what's so difficult to grasp about that simple concept.

So if you're looking to be convinced about something, you'll have to look elsewhere. Because I don't care what you believe. It. Isn't. Any. Of. My. Business.

I don't care what you believe, I only wish you and your friends would butt out. I'm not going to tell you how to live your life because it isn't any of my business. I just wish you'd return the favor.

Viola Larson said...


Why are you giving Bob such a bad time. He has always been a friend to you. I on the over hand sometimes quote Bible verses at you such as this one which has to do with butting into other peoples business:

"But you beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life. And have mercy on some, who are doubting; save others snatching them out of the fire; and some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh." (Jude20-23)

So have your fit with me and not Bob.

Pastor Bob said...

Well I guess that makes me Gollum. Only I'm not sneaking I'm meddling.

Seriously, if we were Congregationalists my answer would be do what you want in your congregation and we'll do what we want in our congregation. But we're Presbyterian. Connectional. Which I suppose makes us meddlers.

Alan said...

Sorry, but you don't get to use the connectional church as an excuse for meddling either. If you want to meddle in other people's lives via the connectional church excuse, there's already a means to do that: filing charges.

Or, If you want to meddle in other people's lives as a teaching elder in the PCUSA, then you can also do that by simply refusing to officiate at a marriage ceremony for anyone you wish. That's your job and your right. However, that's pretty much it. The connectional church doesn't give you an excuse to be a busybody.

When my husband and I got married, the whole congregation pledged to uphold and support and nurture our lives together. That's real connectionalism. That's really the roll of the church: support and love from people who actually know you, rather than meddling by random anonymous fusspots who think it's their job to tell everyone else how to live their lives. in the name of phony connectionalism.

But since you are clearly so interested in my marriage, please tell me on what day I was married. Clearly if the marriage of a complete stranger is so important to you, then you must know all about it. What was I wearing? What was the music? Where were you sitting when we exchanged vows? What was the sermon? What were the readings?

Oh, you mean you didn't care enough to show up? What about connectionalism then? Did you forget? But now you believe it's your job to interfere because we're "connectional"? The connectional church wasn't invented so that complete strangers could decide to meddle in the lives of other complete strangers on something that is not an essential of the faith, and never has been.

The Reformers never meant that our connectionalism should be an excuse for a clerical class to run every facet of the lives of their parishioners. The Reformers never meant that our connectionalism should be an excuse for injustice. First I think you're going to have a hard time convincing anyone that the Reformers wanted the type of clerical class we now have in the PCUSA and that conservatives continue to advocate (and now we see why they do so). Second, the Reformers understood that it is our unity in Christ that makes us connectional, hence the "liberty in non-essentials."

Or we can go back further. I won't be so rude as to quote Scripture at someone who already knows it well, but Paul actually makes quite a great deal out of the notion of Christian liberty too.

Now some might think I'm giving you a "bad time", Pastor Bob. A bad time? All I'm asking that you do is butt out. Mind your own business. Worry about the plank in your own eye for a while. A bad time? I think my words here are nothing compared to the concerted agenda by folks like you to deny LGBT people equality and justice.

When I start making your marriages illegal, then you can complain about your terrible treatment. A few blog comments vs. that sort of injustice? Frankly, Pastor Bob, I think you're getting better treatment from me than we're getting from you or your friends. So I think we can dispense with the phony plays for sympathy.

Some people believe it is their job to "snatch people out of the fire". Clearly they do not understand the Grace of God at all. They can quote Scripture, but have never read it. We cannot save others. We cannot even save ourselves! So let's quit using that as an excuse to butt into other people's lives and just start trusting God. We are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. We are not saved by making sure we're married to the spouses Pastor Bob picks out for us.

If you want to go into the yenta business, by all means do so. But I do not want your advice nor your meddling. That shouldn't be so difficult of a request.

Pastor Bob said...

I suggest you read about the role of city government in establishing religion in Calvin's Geneva and the role of the presbytery (which in Geneva was all clergy) and see how the lives of the people were "overseen." Or read some old session records from the 1800's about trying people before the session for various offenses in their daily lives like not attending worship, drinking, working on the Sabbath, etc. Presbyterians meddled.

And then read the Book of Order and particularly the Rules for Discipline. While the Rules for Discipline are rarely used in the local congregation these days they are alive and well in presbyteries and other governing bodies. Or look at how the COM acts sometimes in relation to a pastor and a local congregation. Or the CPM in taking a candidate from the request to become an Inquirer to the point of allowing that person to circulate a PIF. Or telling that person that they will never become a MWS in the PCUSA.

Posting something on a blog is not real meddling. All I've done is express an opinion. Ask a congregation who's Session has been replaced by an administrative commission. Or a pastor who the COM "strongly urges" to seek another call. For that matter ask our friend in Tennessee what it feels like to have someone suggest to the COM that he is not orthodox enough to be a MWS in the PCUSA.

I've been meddled with by the pros and seen it happen to others.

Alan said...

Yes, I know all about Calvin's Geneva. I did graduate from Calvin College, after all. But we don't live in Calvin's Geneva. Let's try to stick to somewhere closer to this century and this country and this denomination.

Your newest excuse for meddling is "well, I've seen worse" and then you give several examples of situations with which it appears you do not even agree. If the best you can do is give negative examples to support your position, perhaps you're starting to see the futility of your argument. If the only thing you can come up with is, "Everyone's doing it", I have to tell you, I find such arguments empty, at best. I don't find such excuses compelling when used by children as an rationale for misbehavior, nor do I find them compelling when used by adults as an excuse for misbehavior.

BTW, I shouldn't have to remind a teaching elder in the PCUSA that he is an employee of his congregation and that any "meddling" on the congregation's part (either by the congregation, or if he fails to fulfill his contract, by a higher adjudicatory) is perfectly within their rights as his employer (within reason, of course.) You're hired "at will." That's very different than attempting to meddle in the lives of complete strangers for no other reason than because you can. However, based on your latest rationale, clearly we layfolk should have the right to approve the marriage proposals of our teaching elders. That seems to be the case you're making. Is that really what you want? Did you get your marriage approved by Session? Did you get it approved by the rest of the PCUSA? Did you put it up for a vote so that the entire denomination could get to vote on it?

After all, Pastor Bob, we're a connectional church and clearly that means we should all have a say in who you marry, right?

Out of curiosity, not that I expect you to answer this question either, but I wonder what you think is meant by the phrase "in non-essentials, liberty." Does that mean that we layfolk are free to govern our own clothing choices and particular dietary decisions while the clerical class controls all other decisions? Or are you willing to make allowances for the style of shoes one chooses? Just how close to your ideal of Calvin's Geneva are you hoping to get?

Notice that we're not even discussing theology. If you had passionate ideas about that, I could understand. Yet you cling just as tightly to the notion that you have the right to tell everyone else how to live. At least the theological arguments regarding marriage are (occasionally) based on Scripture, or at least someone's interpretation of it. However, the nosey behaviors of busybodies cannot be supported by Scripture, and yet you and your friends persist. Doesn't it strike you as the least bit odd that you argue so passionately for the correctness -- not of your particular theological view of marriage -- but just for the chance to meddle in other people's lives?

I don't expect the various groups in the church to ever agree about the theology behind their particular views of marriage. I have been hoping that, at some point, we could at least agree that those questions are never going to be resolved and we could at least resolve to live and let live. But apparently if that means some folks can't tell the rest of us what to do, then that option is off the table too.

I have long suspected that the theological arguments were simply an excuse or even a smoke-screen to rationalize one group telling another group what to do. Our conversation is only one data point, but it certainly seems to fit the hypothesis.

Is telling complete strangers what to do really why you went into the ministry, Pastor Bob?

Pastor Bob said...


I agree I/we have certainly strayed from the original topic of this blog. Clearly we will not agree.

I leave you the final word.

Alan said...

Well, the topic was marriage, which is what I was discussing. I'm not sure what you were discussing as you never addressed any of my points nor answered a single question. Typical.

And, as I've said several times, but you also ignored, the unfortunate thing is that I wasn't even looking for agreement, which I think is impossible and really not very important anyway.

Presbyman said...

Bob, thanks for the taking the time to write this letter to the Committee, and for the obvious care you took in this task. I trust you will not allow yourself to be bullied or shouted down. God bless you.

John Erthein
Erie, PA

Alan said...

Bullied? Shouted down? LOL Come on John, join us in reality won't you?

Let me know won't you, when people start trying to take away your marriage, and then we'll compare that to a few blog comments, John. If only you were so quick to be sure that LGBT people weren't bullied or shouted down.