Friends and members of White Memorial:
Peace be with you during this wonderful summer season. I am posting this on my blog, Friday, June 20. I will publish a similar piece on Monday on the cover of our church newsletter.
Undoubtedly many of you will have seen in media sources that the General Assembly of our church, the Presbyterian Church (USA) made a significant shift in how our national church allows for same-gender marriage in states and jurisdictions where same gender marriage is legal. This first decision, referred to as an Authoritative Interpretation goes into effect on June 21. The General Assembly also passed amended language about marriage (language which would allow for same gender marriage) for our Directory for Worship, which is part of our national constitution. The constitutional change described in the sentence immediately preceding this one will not go into effect unless it is ratified by a majority of Presbyteries, our regional governing bodies. We will not know for many, many months if the Directory for Worship will be changed. Before I write anything else, let me implore you to read some of the links below as these matters are very technical interpretations of church polity, which is church policy and practice. Let me say it once again, before anyone reading these words rushes to his or her best, or worst, conclusions I implore you to read from these sources which I believe are all fair and trustworthy. I make this request because simple internet searches will reveal a massive variety of opinion on this issue. In this way the debate in the church mirrors the debate in our culture.
Let me make three points which I believe are critical as we move forward as a church family as a connected body to our larger church institutions. 1) The Presbyterian Church (USA) has been embroiled in a painful and contentious conversation about same gender relationships for three decades. The changes you have heard about are thus not overnight decisions. There are years and years of discernment, study, conversation and prayers behind them and within them. 2) As the link from Ted Churn our Executive Presbyter and Stated Clerk describes very well, at its essence what the General Assembly did was give ecclesiastical protection under church polity to pastor's who officiate at same-gender marriage services as a matter of their own personal commitment to members of their churches and as a matter of their own personal conscience and convictions. The assembly also built in a protection that no pastor could be charged or censored for refusing to participate in same-gender weddings as a matter of their own personal conscience or convictions. 3) At their stated meeting in May, White Memorial's Session was briefed by myself and Ray Watson, a ruling elder elected by our congregation to serve on our Session. Ray was a commissioner to the General Assembly this past week and he was present for many of the floor debates, conversations, and votes. Our Session will continue to evaluate these developments and will, if it is deemed necessary, find effective means of prayer, education, and conversation around this matter.
I suspect that many of you greet this news with joy. I suspect many of you greet it with saddness. Some may be ebullient. Some may be angry. Speaking only for myself, I am resolved to be the finest pastor I can be. I plan on participating in the polity of our church as I give my energy and industry to helping White Memorial be a faithful and inspirational member church of the Presbyterian Church (USA). In leading our congregation, I realize the significance of this news. But there were other things that happened at the Assembly that I believe are of equal importance. Frank Spencer, the son of a Davidson College President and who is from Charlotte was elected President of our Board of Pensions. Heath Rada, from Asheville, was elected Moderator of the General Assembly. Heath and Frank are great friends of White Memorial and their election is indicative of the vitality of our church in North Carolina. A beautiful new confession for the church was commended to the Presbyteries. It is a confession of faith that attests to God's revelation in Jesus Christ being a source of peace, forgiveness, and reconciliation. It is precisely the kind of word, a Godly word, which is needed in our age of warfare and conflict.
I pray you'll pray for our national church. Greet these changes, which will have little direct effect on White Memorial in the foreseeable future, with humility and constancy. Trust their complexity to God as we resolve to worship, embrace, and serve with one another here in Raleigh and around the world.
May Grace Abound,