Last year, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church USA appointed a Special Committee to Study Issues of Civil Union and Christian Marriage. The committee was given two years to study how the theology and practice of marriage have developed in the Reformed tradition and the place of covenanted same-gender partnerships in the Christian community.

This adult education course tries to do something similar over an eight-week period for St. Andrew Presbyterian in Iowa City. Throughout this discussion, we hope to hear from class participants’ personal experiences and questions concerning sexuality and the Presbyterian faith.

For questions or comments, contact Jeff Charis-Carlson at

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Class Notes from Oct. 11 (Week 5)

Our discussion on Oct. 11 showed us yet again why the conversations on this issue need to continue long after our eight-week course is over. Although we had no video to take up half of the class session, we only got to discuss two questions in small groups and only had time to report back to the whole group our answers to the first question (“Where do you think the burden of proof now lies for affirming same-sex marriage or ordaining pastors and elders in committed same-sex relationships: With the traditionalists or with the More Light folks?).

Most of the group agreed that, in practical terms, the burden of proof was with those who want to change what has stood as tradition concerning this issue. But one group said that – at least at the congregational level – the burden of proof was on the traditionalists to explain why they had denied the wedding request from Michelle Wikner and Michelle Norman.

The issue of “burden of proof” raises a number of discussion questions surrounding the denominational policies around the request from Wikner and Norman. Dell Richard explained that his legal brief was crafted to explain to Session members how they could approve the request and still remain within the denomination’s restrictions – if they wanted to. The Session members in the class attested that Wikner and Norman wanted an actual wedding, not a “safe harbor” blessing ceremony – one that would be legally binding under Iowa law.

The thought was raised that First Presbyterian had approved the Wikner-Norman wedding as a regularly outside building use and thus not to be affected by the denominational restrictions (It’s taking place Saturday, Oct. 17, at 2 p.m.). But the sessions members affirmed (Brad Baldes and Melissa Fath in class, and Barb Fleckenstein later by e-mail) that the session was aware that no St. Andrew staff members would be performing the wedding ceremony.

Some asked what steps the denomination could take against St. Andrew if the Session had approved the wedding. It was pointed out that the denomination owns the church property and could do anything from sanction the church and the clergy to dissolving the congregation. It’s unclear the extent to which action – if any – the actual presbytery leaders would have taken against St. Andrew, however.

We eventually moved on to the second question (“Assume for a minute that science had proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that homosexuality is as common and as natural as left-handedness. How – if at all – should that fact affect a church’s policies concerning same-sex relationships?)

Unfortunately, time got away from us before we could report back.

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