Part of my preparation for going to the Presbyterian Church in America’s 45th General Assembly in Greensboro includes attempting to read through all 646 pages of the massive 2017 Commissioners Handbook. And as I was doing that, I was extremely saddened to find that the Committee on Constitutional business (CCB) had found Overture 2 from Calvary Presbytery: “Grant BCO 59, ‘Solemnization of Marriage’ Full Constitutional Status” to be in conflict with the constitution and therefore unlikely to be adopted by the assembly.
By making this chapter, which is already part of the PCA’s Book of Church Order (BCO) constitutional, the PCA could have corporately proclaimed its continuing belief that marriage is only to be between one man and one woman, and that we will have nothing to do with movements that might try to weaken or mute that commitment. There is of course still the possibility that the Overtures Committee (OC) might simply fix the language in the final “therefore” of that overture that CCB found to be in conflict, making it obvious that Calvary Presbytery was asking the 45th GA to begin the process of changing the BCO so that chapter would have constitutional authority. This could be done by simply revising the “Temporary Statement” on at the beginning of the Directory For the Worship of God so that it stated, “BCO 56, 57, 58, and 59 have been given full constitutional authority by the Eleventh and Forty Fifth General Assemblies after being submitted to the Presbyteries and receiving the necessary two-thirds (2/3) approval of the Presbyteries.”
I hope that OC will try do so, because I strongly believe that if we don’t do this, theological conservatives will someday have cause to regret this missed opportunity. Let me attempt to explain why.
When the first attempt to give BCO 59 full constitutional status was made in 2011, many PCA presbyters told me that they were opposed to the overture simply because it was unnecessary. More than one presbyter made a statement along the lines of, “America will never legalize same sex marriage, so being asked to legally marry men to men or women to women will never be something we have to face.”
Those prophecies were obviously proven disastrously wrong when, on June 26, 2015, the United States Supreme Court held in a 5-4 decision that same-sex marriage is protected under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment and thus made homosexual marriage the law of the land in all 50 states and a legally protected civil right.
Thus with one fateful Supreme Court decision, homosexual marriage became the law of nation, and never in US history has a civil right, once granted by the Supreme Court, been rescinded. To see how long lasting even the most dubious of newly created civil rights can be, we only have to look to the 1973 SCOTUS Roe vs. Wade decision that created the now 44 year old right to obtain a legal abortion out of thin air. In a similar manner it is very unlikely that we will see homosexual marriage made illegal again in our lifetimes. Perhaps even worse, a recent poll by the highly respected Pew organization indicated that popular support for homosexual marriage continues to grow with 55% of Americans now saying they support gay marriage and even more disturbingly, the level of support rises to 71% among the millennials who represent the future of this nation. Additionally, those who still oppose gay marriage are already being openly called “bigots” by mainstream America and we have seen ordinary Americans who work in both the private and public sectors lose their employment and even their businesses and savings because of a refusal to participate in homosexual marriages or call them good. Even churches and ministers are no longer exempt from cultural and legal pressure as states like Massachusetts are quickly moving to force churches to accept the gay agenda or face legal action.
Therefore, as a denomination, we need to come to terms with at least four facts:
1) Same-Sex marriage will likely be legal in the USA for decades, if not generations to come.
2) Opposition to homosexual marriage is likely to become as odious to the American public as opposition to mixed race marriages, and not substantially different in their minds. In fact, we already see this happening.
3) The legal challenges to our right to refuse to conduct, approve of, recognize or host homosexual marriages are likely to increase exponentially over the coming years.
4) Those churches that refuse to conduct homosexual marriages will almost certainly eventually lose their right to conduct marriages as agents of the state. In other words while we will still be able to pronounce people man and wife, “By virtue of the authority committed unto me by the church of Christ” we will no longer be able to add, “and the law of the state.”
All of these factors will inevitably create considerable agitation within our denomination to take a more Laodicean approach and end our opposition to homosexual marriage. Those who doubt this need only look at what has happened in the mainline denominations and in formerly evangelical denominations, including our closest denominational analogue, the CRC. We also need to take seriously the fact that several denominations and congregations (including ex-PCA congregations) that use the Westminster Standards have already accepted homosexual marriage. Within our own denomination, the Westminster Confession is treated as more general and considerably more open to “interpretation,” while the BCO is often treated as more binding especially when it comes to do day to day church operations. If we hope to stand on this issue for the decades to come, then common sense should tell us that BCO needs a constitutionally binding statement on the matter.
Therefore, as a denomination, if the PCA intends to continue to teach, proclaim, and practice what God teaches about marriage in the bible rather than abandoning our commitment to scripture, then we need to understand that a “business as usual” approach will not carry us through the coming storm. At the very least, while there is still time, we need to do the following:
i) Prepare for the legal battles to come by making sure our constitution is absolutely clear and uniform on this issue.
ii) Prepare the members of our denomination by honestly explaining why we must take a Contra Mundum stand when it comes to issues of sexuality and marriage, and what that stand is likely to cost us. If we do not, we must expect that our congregants will inevitably simply conform to current cultural norms.
iii) End our denominational silence on this issue and begin prophetically proclaiming to the culture the biblical truth about sex and marriage. We must publicly condemn sin, warn of the coming judgment, exalt virtue, and point to the way of salvation in Jesus Christ.
As such, Overture 2 was always more of a beginning than an end of the work that lies ahead of us, but if we are unwilling even to make a start of that work then what hope does the PCA have of standing in the evil day?