Marriage Discernment

October 8, 2015
 
Dear First Presbyterian Family,
 
In April we sent out a letter informing you of revisions to the Book of Order section on marriage.  In short, the language of marriage as “between a man and a woman” was replaced with language of marriage as a “commitment between two persons, traditionally a man and a woman” (Book of Order W-4.9000). Together with the deacons, we have spent the last seven months in prayer and study about this issue, facilitated by our Pastor, Jeff Smith.  We uploaded these materials on our website and encouraged you to read through them as we worked through this together.  These materials remain for you to view below.
 
In the PC(USA), the sessions of our individual congregations have always had the authority to determine when the church property may be used for any wedding service (it has been the policy of our church that one must be a member, or an immediate family member of a member, or a regular attendee in worship to have a wedding approved).  Guided by prayer, study, and discussion, and faithfully seeking God’s guidance and will for our congregation, we passed a motion at our meeting in September that you will find included with this letter.
 
Our officers were challenged to discern whether God gives us clarity and permission in scripture to recognize and bless same-sex marriage in God’s name. The session’s task, while informed by this question, was not to take a stance on same-sex marriage in general, but focused on the use of church property regarding marriage. The resulting action states that “the church property be used only for marriage services between a man and woman who ‘demonstrate sufficient understanding of the nature of the marriage covenant and commitment to living their lives together according to its values’” while emphasizing our unity in Christ. It is steeped in prayer and study and represents our current understanding of God’s guidance for our congregation, and acknowledges and protects our individual freedom of conscience on this matter. 
 
 
We, like the larger church, believe in the authority of scripture and recognize the diversity of faithfully-held interpretations on this matter.  Characterizing positions on this issue as either for or against is a dramatic oversimplification of a complex topic, even if discussions about it are often framed as such. Recognizing that, authentically seeking God’s guidance, we come to our personal decisions from a variety of perspectives we also affirm that we are called by God together to be the visible body of Christ and that each of us are an integral part of the body “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body (the church) . . . the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body” that would not make it any less a part of the body”
  (1 Corinthians 12:13-15).
Our radical act as a church is not about marriage. Instead, it is this: We are committing to live and love together; to remain devoted one to another and to sharing Christ’s love; to celebrating that our differences represent the width, depth, and breadth of God’s will; and to declaring that Christ’s redeeming work has knit us together here, not in spite of our differences, but because living and loving together in those differences is His plan for our church.  We remain “like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind” (Philippians 2:2). Our mind is on Christ - it is Christ’s love that fills us and spreads forth from us, and Christ’s spirit that is our eternal guide.
 
Challenging times to be faithful followers of Jesus Christ are also times that give us great opportunity to witness to the grace and truth of the gospel. Our world seems to be increasingly polarized. More and more people seem to be unable or unwilling to be in relationship with others with whom they disagree. But we worship a Savior who came to create a diverse community that is united by faith in God’s love for us made known in Jesus Christ.  We celebrate and affirm this love each and every day as his disciples, and we also celebrate and affirm this love together as the visible Body of Christ; as we study and pray together, and as we worship and serve our Lord together!  May we, together, continue to be a powerful witness of God’s grace and glory in the High Country, in our nation, and even in our denomination this day and forevermore.
 
In Christ,
 
The Session of First Presbyterian Church
 

 
Adopted Motion Regarding the Use of Church Property
Exercised by the Session of First Presbyterian Church, Boone NC
September 27, 2015
 
That, since the General Assembly of the PC(USA), approved by a majority of Presbyteries, has amended the Book of Order to describe marriage as a “unique commitment between two people, traditionally a man and a woman to love and support each other for the rest of their lives” (W-4.9000); and
 
since sessions are empowered to permit or deny the use of church property for a marriage service; and
 
informed by prayer, study, and discernment, guided by the Holy Spirit,
 
the session resolves that the church property be used only for marriage services between a man and woman who “demonstrate sufficient understanding of the nature of the marriage covenant and commitment to living their lives together according to its values” (Book of Order W-4.9003).
 
Recognizing that the membership of our congregation represents a diversity of beliefs and understandings among the faithful, and
 
realizing that “in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others” (Romans 12:5),
 
the session celebrates that God has united us together in that diversity and will continue to do so, and
 
therefore commits to unity rather than division; peace rather than discord; and understanding rather than dispute. For “if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” (1 John 4:12).
 
Above all, we devote ourselves to love of God and neighbor, and to continued seeking of God’s guidance for this congregation now and in the future - dedicated to discerning the Father’s will, extending Christ’s grace, and following the direction of the Spirit in our congregation, our denomination, and our world. 

 


Congregational Letter regarding Same-Sex Marriage June 2015


Officer's Discernment Session 1
Joint Diaconate and Session Meeting 4-26-15
Officer's Discernment Session 2
Joint Diaconate and Session Meeting 5-24-15
Officer's Discernment Session 3
Joint Diaconate and Session Meeting 6-28-15
Officer's Discernment Session 4
Joint Diaconate and Session Meeting 7-26-15
Officer's Discernment Session 5
Joint Diaconate and Session Meeting 8-30-15
Officer's Discernment Session 6


Homosexuality & The Church: Scripture & Experience
Luke Timothy Johnson

 

Moral Vision of the New Testament by Richard B. Hayes