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

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Notes from Week 7

In Sunday’s discussion we read some biblical passages that don’t deal directly with same-sex relationships but that provide further context for the passages that do.

* Reading some healing passages from Luke, we asked whether Jesus would seek to heal Christians “struggling” with same-sex attraction, or if he would condemn the church for requiring gay and lesbian Christians to stay in the closet.

* We read passages in Acts that discussed how the early church — when deciding how much of the Mosaic Law to burden the gentile Christians with — boiled everything down to abstaining from actions associated with idolatry, avoiding food that is offensive to Jewish Christians and upholding the sanctity of marriage and sexual morality.

* We discussed Romans 6, in which Paul describes how a baptized Christian’s life is supposed to move beyond anything in our sinful nature that would hold back the transformative work God is doing in us.

* And we read 1 Corinthians 5, in which Paul orders the church to deal with a member who is engaged in a relationship with his stepmother — a relationship even the gentiles would find taboo. He argues that it’s better for the church to go through the pain of expelling the man if he fails to repent than to sit silently by as their brother goes on toward damnation. We discussed what is the natural of damnation and salvation, and what role should the church members be playing in calling one another on their bad actions.

There was some concern that, in the course of our discussion, we slipped back and forth between talking about same-sex orientation and same-sex behavior. Nearly every Christian denomination agrees that same-sex orientation isn’t sinful in itself. It’s acting on that orientation that becomes an issue in most churches.

Presbyterian Church USA policy allows for self-described homosexuals to be ordained, for example, as long as they promise to be celibate outside of a heterosexual marriage.
The PCUSA likewise allows for the blessing of same-sex unions — and here’s the legal catch — as long as such a blessing won’t be considered marriage. And while the two people involved in the union can be members, they can’t be ordained as elders or ministers.

While we need to keep those legal distinctions in mind — especially as we consider the next step for our PCUSA congregation — our dialogue on this issue also needs to allow people to share their thoughts, even when their language becomes less than precise.

Finally, we discussed the actual motion that the First Presbyterian Session passed concerning the Norman-Wikner wedding. First Presbyterian Pastor Sam Massey said their Session passed a two-part motion that:

* Gave permission for a Presbyterian colleague, the Rev. Colette Soults-Ciha, to use the building for a non-member, same-gendered wedding ceremony and that

* Initiated a congregation-wide process of discernment and dialogue on the issues concerning same-sex marriage and the ordination of Presbyterians in committed, same-gendered relationships. That process, which is very similar to the dialogue we’ve been having in this class, will begin in November.

From the pastor’s perspective, the decision about the wedding was not precedent-setting, hence the need for the discernment process for the congregation.

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