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

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Presentation to Session for Nov. 19

Here's a draft of what I am going to present to Session on Nov. 19 ...

In the eight weeks between Sept. 13 and Nov. 1, more than 50 St. Andrew members passed through the Adult Education class on “Sexuality and the Faith of Presbyterian Christians.” Many of those members disagreed over what St. Andrew’s stance on same-sex relationships should be. But all of them agreed that our church needs to:
  • Clarify its official stance.
  • Stop sending mixed signals on same-sex relationships.
  • And strengthen the relationship between St. Andrew and its sister congregations in the Presbyterian Church USA.

To accomplish these goals, I am asking the Session to call for a congregation-wide process of discernment and dialogue on the question of whether St. Andrew should allow same-sex couples to marry in its sanctuary.

Before the Iowa Supreme Court ruling, the issue of same-sex relationships was just one of many theological differences that were ignored or tolerated rather than openly discussed at St. Andrew. With the Norman-Wikner marriage request, however, this issue not only has become divisive on its own merits, but it also has come to stand in for many of the other differences within the congregation.

I think St. Andrew would benefit from a months-long (if not year-long) study of the issue. By involving Adult Education programs and exhortations from the pulpit, such a process would help Session members probe their own consciences as well as gauge the consensus opinion of the congregation.

I discussed this process with the nearly 40 people who attended the final session of the class on Nov. 1. Since that meeting, Matthew Penning, Becka Yuccis, Laura Frey Law, Dan Ciha and Janice Baldes have agreed to be part of a panel of individuals who would assist in preparing materials, inviting guest speakers and faciliting other events as part of this dialogue process. (First Presbyterian is going through a similar process. It might be beneficial to both our congregations if we went through through at least part of this process together.)

The process can begin in earnest on Jan. 17, when I’m planning to begin teaching a second round of the “Sexuality and the Faith of Presbyterian Christians” class. Because the class’s discussion time was repeatedly cut short during the eight-week version, this version will consist of four, two-hour sessions. The class also will take place on Sundays from 1 to 3 p.m. so that St. Andrew members with Christian Education responsibilities can participate as well.

While we have a clear beginning point for this process, we also need a clear end point. That’s why we would like Session to name a date in which, after this period of discernment and dialogue, it will make a clear, informed decision on the issue.

Everyone in the final session of the class realizes how this conversation has the potential to split the congregation. But we also realize how ignoring the conversation already is allowing people to wander away.

I think St. Andrew will be made stronger by this process — even if it ends up being slightly smaller. The process will give our congregation a clearer sense of its mission and identity and thus better prepare us to respond to our many other challenges and opportunities.

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