Greetings in Christ,
Pastor Tankersley is on his way home from the 221st General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) and asked staff to post this letter sent out by the Los Ranchos Presbytery and written by Tom Cramer, Associate Executive Presbyter/COO. You will also find an attached PDF of FAQ’s in light of the current decisions made at General Assembly regarding pastoral discretion in performing marriage ceremonies.
This letter was sent out at 5:13 PM PDT on June 20, 2014
Brothers and Sisters in the Lord:
As a community of disciples rooted and grounded in love, I write to you from the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA). It is here in Detroit that commissioners from all across our nation and, indeed, ecumenical partners from all over the world have gathered to seek God’s love, justice, and healing intentions for all creation. Once again, I am deeply moved by the integrity of those gathered to discern God’s will for the Presbyterian Church, their astounding intellectual and reasoning gifts, and their ability to articulate God’s message as God speaks to them through the Holy Scriptures.
I am also moved again by the beauty and power of our connectional system, and how the contributions of each part of our church add up to so much more than we could possibly be or accomplish alone. That said, I am leaning on the words and thoughts of my colleagues from various councils and agencies around the church to bring clarity for us about yesterday’s assembly’s actions regarding marriage. In the days to come, your elected commissioners from Los Ranchos, as well as Forrest and I, will bring you accurate and fair reports of decisions that have been made at this assembly and how they will impact your congregation in the months ahead. Allow me to begin with a promise from the prophet Jeremiah before I dive into the details:
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11)
God is our hope. We can rely on God’s good and perfect will toward us even as we work for the renewal and reformation of his Church.
Now, on to the matter at hand. Yesterday, our General Assembly approved an Authoritative Interpretation that affirms pastoral discretion in performing marriage ceremonies. This AI becomes effective tomorrow, June 21, 2014. In brief, it allows PCUSA teaching elders to exercise their conscience in performing same-gender marriages in marriage-equality states.
In addition, the General Assembly is sending an amendment to all the presbyteries for a vote, which changes the language in the “Directory for Worship” in our Book of Order to define marriage as “a unique commitment between two people, traditionally a man and a woman, to love and to support each other for the rest of their lives.” It concludes with this important qualification: “Nothing herein shall compel a teaching elder to perform, or compel a session to authorize the use of property for, a marriage service that they believe contrary to the Word of God.”
The Association of Mid Council Leaders has created a Frequently Asked Questions sheet (FAQ) to address some of the initial questions you and your members will have about these actions, which I have attached for your convenience. This FAQ will continue to be updated and posted on our presbytery web site for your use.
Even though this Authoritative Interpretation will not have a noticeable effect on congregations and pastors who do not intend to conduct same-gender marriages, I know it will be a cause of concern among some of your members, especially as they interact with neighbors and friends. I am sharing this accurate information with you to help you, as leaders in your congregations, to interpret these actions to your members. The media, as diligent as they may be, may misunderstand these actions and characterize them in ways that are inaccurate.
One of the challenges now before us is whether we will faithfully engage with brothers and sisters who differ from us on a matter that generates such heartfelt debate and, sometimes, division in the world around us. My sincere hope is that we will show “a more excellent way” by remaining together in love and forbearance amid our differences, as difficult as this may be.
We live in complex times, to be sure, but it gives me great comfort to walk with such thoughtful, dedicated and prayerful disciples as you, even as we seek to bear witness to our Lord Jesus Christ in our time.
Grace and peace to you,
Tom Cramer, Associate Executive Presbyter/COO, Presbytery of Los Ranchos