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In Support of the Minority Report
Rev. Gary Ferbet, Minister Commissioner, Giddings-Lovejoy Presbytery July 08, 2010 (Posted June 12, 2010)
The following is the text of a speech that Minister Commissioner Gary Ferbet of Giddings-Lovejoy Presbytery in Saint Louis delivered to introduce the minority report from the Special Committee on Civil Union and Christian Marriage. Ferbet delivered this speech in defense of the church’s confessional teaching on marriage to the General Assembly session the evening of July 8 in Minneapolis. The outcome of that session was a decision by the assembly to send out for study both the minority report that Ferbet had championed as well as the report of the committee majority. The assembly turned aside proposals to redefine marriage by constitutional amendment or authoritative interpretation, preferring to let the study process proceed.
“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, Through 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 together. “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. Are those words familiar to you? They are very familiar to me. As a minister, I have pronounced them hundreds of times at weddings. They are from the liturgy of Christian marriage in our Book of Common Worship. This beautiful statement on the gift of marriage can be traced back to John Calvin’s 1556 prayer book for the church in Geneva. Those words carry deep personal meaning. They are pronounced at one of the most momentous events that occur in our churches, and at which we ministers are privileged to officiate. A man and woman leave their families of origin and form a new family, a new generation. In doing so, they connect themselves to something far larger than their personal lives. The marriage of man and woman is almost universal among human societies. The earliest records of civilization show marriage to be an already established institution. Christians have historically believed that the pattern of uniting man and woman as “one flesh” is inscribed in human nature as God created it. References to marriage run through the Bible, from the first chapter of Genesis to the last chapter of Revelation. One way of stating the issue before us today is: In a few years, will we in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) still be saying those ancient words about God’s good gift of marriage? Or will we have to revise them? Will we have to drop the connection between marriage and God’s creation of humankind as male and female? Will we leave out the link between marriage and the birth of children? Will we cease to speak of marriage as a “holy mystery” uniting the two sexes? Will the analogy of husband and wife to Christ and his Church still work for us? Will we still say that marriage is God’s gift? Or will we say that it’s a purely human institution that we have altered to fit our sense of what’s right? The committee minority for which I speak hopes that we can keep saying those words of the liturgy for years to come. But, like the committee majority, we recognize that there is deep disagreement on this question. The church needs to engage in profound conversation about its understanding of marriage. This minority report is offered as an aid to that conversation. It has a number of qualities that, we believe, can be helpful to our study. The minority report speaks with clarity. It states its purpose up front: “It is the intention of this report to represent the church’s biblical, historic, and confessional position that, among all varieties of sexual relationships, only marriage between a man and a woman is ordained by God and blessed by our Lord Jesus Christ.” The minority report gives a direct answer to the 2008 assembly’s question about “the place of covenanted same-gender partnerships in the Christian community.” It states, “Therefore, friendships, whether of same or opposite gender, which do not violate God’s boundaries of sexual expression as defined in Scripture, the confessions, and the Book of Order can be honored and encouraged. However, those relationships, whether same or opposite gender, that although committed and caring, which are outside of God’s design of sexual expression, cannot be encouraged or blessed.” Pastoral care is to be extended to all—adults and especially children—regardless of the relationships that the adults may have chosen. We don’t have to bless their relationships to love them with the love of Christ. The minority report tells us where we are now. It puts on page 1 the current definition of marriage in the Book of Order. Even if you intend to take the church to a different place, you need to know where you’re starting. The minority report gives us the reasoning that explains where we are. It quotes directly, repeatedly, and extensively from the multiple confessions that stand behind our Book of Order definition of marriage. It notes that those confessions, in turn, refer to key scriptural passages such as Jesus’ response to the Pharisees’ question about divorce in Matthew 19:
Anyone who would revise our doctrine of marriage needs to wrestle with key passages like this. The minority report digs down to find the roots of our disagreement. It focuses on “variant interpretations of Scripture,” setting forth nine contrasts in how traditionalists and progressives approach these questions regarding marriage and sexuality. Of course, there are a lot of people in the middle and people who are not sure where they stand. The minority report helps them consider the range of interpretive options before them. The minority report seeks to keep us together through these difficult conversations by turning to a common authority to which all church officers have pledged themselves. “As we work through our disagreements,” it says, “we recognize that church teaching and church policy are still set by the constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).” The minority report wants us to have this conversation together. It rejects the idea that each minister and session could have its own policy on the definition of marriage. It insists that we all be accountable to the constitutional teaching. The consciences of church officers are not absolutely free. They are “captive to the Word of God as interpreted in the confessional standards of the church,” according to G-6.0108. If we wish to change the church’s understanding of marriage, we will have to act together to change the standards in both the Book of Order and the Book of Confessions. The minority report holds forth to all, heterosexual as well as homosexual, the hope of transformation in Christ.”Therefore,” it declares, “we call the church to a radical inclusivity that invites all people to be transformed by the radical redeeming love of Jesus Christ. We boldly proclaim the power of Jesus Christ to be our peace and to deliver us from all activities and passions that Scripture and our confessions call sin…. This journey will have times of difficulties, and we will all fail, but the church should be a place of grace, repentance, and restoration, as we seek to be molded into the image of Christ.” Sisters and brothers, let us reason together. Let us not rush so quickly to change or dilute our constitutional standards. We must have faith that, as Jesus promised, the Holy Spirit will lead us together into all truth. I urge you to adopt the minority report.
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