In September the General Assembly (GAA) of the Presbyterian Church (PCA) will consider a proposal from its Church and Nation Committee (C&N) that, should marriage be redefined to include same sex couples, Presbyterian ministers shall no longer solemnise marriages under the Marriage Act. (Sorry about all the acronyms, it will make things simpler as we go along). I’ll call this the proposal to ‘withdraw’, though I grant that we are not proposing to withdraw as a recognised denomination under the Marriage Act.
The argument is (in short) that with the introduction of same-sex marriage “the shared understanding of marriage” between the Church and the State will have disappeared and with it “the rationale for the ministers and churches having a role in the state’s regulation of marriage” and that “we have a clearer witness to Christian marriage by standing outside the Act”.
If we go ahead with this, we’ll say to our people in our churches and in the community that the reality of ‘marriage’ in Australia is radically different to what God says about it. We think marriage is so important that we have to be clear about the distinctives of the Christian view, and we want to teach and support a Christian view of marriage in contrast to the common cultural view.
If the Church does withdraw, we are not restricting members from being married under the Marriage Act. I expect most couples will continue to do so and then have a church service which will reflect the Christian understanding of marriage. However, there may be some who wish not to be married under the Marriage Act, so we have proposed to make provision for them.
I’m on C&N and have been part of promoting the proposal.
Nathan Campbell has asked 21 questions about this proposal so I figured that I should give some answers.
Before I get to the answers there are a few preliminary comments to make.
First, the proposal has come from the C&N. Darren Middleton, the convenor and Campbell Markham and I have been the most public on the issue, but it comes from the whole committee and we have been acting on what the committee resolved. Still, I am not providing committee answers here, but my own. I’ll refer to the C&N report, but I won’t try to state its mind beyond what is on record in the report.
Second, since last year Nathan has been a member of C&N from the Presbyterian Church of Queensland (PCQ). When he joined, we knew he was opposed to the proposal. That’s fine, of course. A couple of his questions suggest ways that the proposal might be fine-tuned, it would have been good if he’d raised these questions in the committee discussions; though I fully understand that there is not much motivation to help improve something with which you disagree.
Third, I expect a serious debate at GAA. When the Assemblies in NSW and Victoria considered the proposal the debates were thoughtful and energetic. The NSW debate was, I think, one of the best I’ve seen over 20 years in Assembly. When we get to a final consideration at GAA in September, I expect the debate will be more energetic; I hope it will be equally thoughtful.
Fourth, I hope that we can debate the central issues about the best way for the PCA to make the Christian view of marriage clear and not get tangled up in technical debates. I know what looks like a technical issue from one of point of view can be a matter of principle from another. So below I’ve done my best to recognise the principial issues in the questions.
Fifth, some of the questions work by asserting a principle Nathan finds our position and then showing that it fails. My problem is that we have not stated the asserted principle and as far as I am aware we are not working from it. I’m not sure if these arguments are meant to be reductio ad absurdum, or if they don’t indulge in a bit of “appeal to ridicule”. I’ve done my best for find the real question and respond to that.
Sixth, several of the questions relate to details of PCA polity. If you aren’t from the PCA (and are still reading about all this) it may get a bit confusing. I’ll try to explain things as I go along.
Seventh, many of the questions are quite long questions and then are followed by some comments. I’ve summarised each question and I have not reproduced all the comments, though I’ve quoted from parts of them. You’ll have to go back to Nathan’s blog to see everything he says.
So to the questions …
1. Does the GAA actually have jurisdiction in this area if this is, as the proponents say, a “wisdom issue” not a “doctrine issue”?
Cleary the GAA has jurisdiction. Solemnising a marriage is an act of worship conducted under the rites of the Presbyterian Church of Australia, and those rites are determined by the GAA. The GAA can, if it is so-minded, direct ministers to no longer use those rites. Further, the recognised church under the Marriage Act as the Presbyterian Church of Australia so any decision about how we relate to the Marriage Act is properly decided at GAA.
If this proposal is worth considering at all, it has to be considered at a national level. If the GAA does not adopt it, I do not expect that it would be pursued at the level of State Assemblies, and if it was I expect I would oppose that. It should be a GAA decision.
Similarly, setting up church marriage requires rites to be established, and this is a matter for the GAA.
You can see the point by thinking about the reverse scenario. If someone were to move at a State Assembly that the State Church should withdraw from the Act, or that minister should be directed to no longer solemnise marriages under the Act, that motion would be declared incompetent, because the State Assembly would not have the power to do either of these things. It could not withdraw from the Act, because it is not the recognised denomination; and it could not direct ministers of the Presbyterian Church of Australia to not act in its name using rites determined by the GAA which has authority over worship.
If there is a genuine question about the power of the GAA to deal with this matter, and I think the considerations above are sufficient to show it does, then it could act on its nobile officium which includes a power for “dealing with and disposing of any matters not specifically provided for in the laws or rules made by the Church”. Since there are no explicit rules for dealing with the conduct of marriages or the Church’s relationship to the Marriage Act, the GAA can decide that it is court in which the decision should be made.
2. Does this proposal not represent a restriction on the liberty of Assemblies, Presbyteries, Sessions, and Office bearers — liberty protected by the Declaratory Statement that forms part of the Scheme of Union?
A short explanation: The 1901 Basis of Union of the PCA says that “Supreme Standard” is “the Word of God contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments” and the “Subordinate Standard” is the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF) read in the light of the Declaratory Statement (DS). The DS has six sections (so DS i.-vi.).
The ‘liberty of opinion’ clause in DS v. is, frankly, irrelevant to this discussion. It grants liberty of opinion on matters in the WCF “not essential to the doctrine therein taught”. It does not, as the question implies, give “liberty of opinion on non-doctrine matters”. It says nothing at all about “non-doctrine matters”. What’s more, the clause concerned with the protection of the “unity and peace of the church”, refered to in the comments, gives the right to PCA courts to rule on the freedom of ministers and elders to differ from the WCF in their teaching. It doesn’t say that liberty of opinion should be granted in order to preserve peace and unity. That would be a very different statement!
The question raises important issues, but framing it in terms of the liberty of opinion clause in the Declaratory Statement is simply confusing.
Let me turn to the relevant issues.
If the GAA accepts the proposal, it will limit the freedoms of ministers of the PCA. It will not intrude on their conscience, unless there are ministers who hold that they are required by God to conduct marriages under the Marriage Act. (If there are I am looking forward to hearing that argument.) There is an important difference between requiring someone to act against their conscience and restricting them from doing something which they would otherwise be free to do. Restricting freedom is still a significant step, but not at the same level as putting something on someone’s conscience.
Being in a denomination inevitably brings limitations on freedoms. Let me give a few examples which exist currently in the PCA.
- There are people in the PCA who are are not convinced that the administration of sacraments should be confined to ministers. They would say that ministers can allow anyone to preach so they should be free to allow anyone to lead the Lord’s Supper or conduct a baptism. Yet the rules of the church have this restriction (though allowing elders and home missionaries to do so in limited circumstances).
- Churches in QLD, Victoria, WA and Tasmania are not free to appoint women as elders; no matter what the convictions of the Session or members of the church may be.
- All candidates for ministry in the PCA are required to train at one of three theological colleges — this limitation was imposed in the 1990’s against the protestations of the NSW Assembly.
- In NSW (at least) no form of gambling is allowed on any church premises or in connection with any function held by a church or any committee or organisation of the church. Also, despite “the liberty of Christians in matters not expressly forbidden by the Word of God” churches are “to discourage all forms of amusement which are injurious to the moral and spiritual life either in themselves or in their associations” and are “not to permit questionable forms of amusement to be used as a means of raising money for church purposes” (NSW Code 2.27-28).
On all these issues, the Church restricts our freedom though not everyone is convinced of the principles involved.
In this case, the GAA has to consider if withdrawing is a reasonable and wise restriction of a freedom currently enjoyed by ministers. That is the issue to debate. The claim that such a step must be, in principle, an invalid limitation of freedom or unconstitutional for the PCA or outside the ‘vibe’ of the constitution can not be sustained.
The unity and peace of the church is important. The C&N has sought to advance this proposal carefully so as to not fracture the unity of the Church. We encouraged discussion of the issue at State Assemblies and suggested that the question be considered by Presbyteries. We only proceeded with a proposal when NSW and Victorian Assemblies considered the issue and requested a proposal. I made the case in the NSW Assembly and Darren did the same in the Victorian Assembly. (I’m not pretending that we were not involved in those discussion). But it gave a chance for the issue to be widely discussed and for us to see that there was a sizeable interest in a withdrawal proposal.
The fact that one PCQ Assembly has voted against the proposal is significant. It is also the case that the Queensland committee decided not to raise the question with Presbyteries and did not present a positive case for the proposal at the Assembly. They were perfectly entitled to follow that course. It means though that the case for withdrawal has not been given the same airing in PCQ. So I do not think the C&N was rash or careless about the unity of the church in acting on the requests of the NSW and Victoria Assemblies and preparing a proposal.
As I’ll say several times in these answers — let’s have the debate at GAA and see where it comes down.
3. The Declaratory Statement provides office bearers with a particular understanding of the ‘civil magistrate’ which means we already ‘disclaim… intolerant or persecuting principles’ and frees us from being considered as committed to principles we disagree with as made by the civil magistrate because God is Lord of the conscience. Why does this not render the ‘association with evil’ or the ‘agents of the state’ arguments invalid?
The Committee has not argued that withdrawal is a moral requirement, which seems to be an assumption of this question.
Campbell Markham has argued for something more like that, but the committee’s position is that with the introduction of same-sex marriage “the shared understanding of marriage” between the Church and the State will have disappeared and with it “the rationale for the ministers and churches having a role in the state’s regulation of marriage” and that “we have a clearer witness to Christian marriage by standing outside the Act”.With regard to Campbell’s argument, it is normal for different people to have different reasons for supporting any position, different advocates from remaining in the Act state their concerns in quite different ways. Not only is this normal, it is inevitable for any serious ethical issue.
Even taking Campbell’s argument into account, I cannot recognise any argument for withdrawal in the words of the question. I am not aware that anyone has argued that if we co-operate with the state on any issue then we should view ourselves as committed to the same principles as the state. For instance, just the issue of marriage, the Marriage Act works with the Family Law Act to allow remarriage on the basis of non-fault divorce. I don’t know there is a better way for things to work for a modern pluralist society, but it is not the same view that the Bible (or the WCF) takes of divorce. We are not proposing to leave the Marriage Act over that. The question turns our argument about a particular decision in a particular context into an absolute principle. It just isn’t our argument. (There is more about this in Q. 18).
Now to the DS …
The DS vi. effectively revokes WCF 23.3. There the Confession gives the government the authority and duty (note that word) to preserve the unity and peace of the Church including making sure that it is doctrinally pure, that “blasphemies and heresies” are suppressed, “corruptions and abuses in worship and discipline” are dealt with and “all the ordinances of God duly settled, administrated, and observed”. That is a very strong statement of establishment! It means that the Church expects the government to ensure the Church of the nation is a Reformed church and to suppress other churches (or other religions). It is why Milton said to the Parliament that “new presbyter is but old priest writ large”.
By the 19th century even many Presbyterians could (rightly) see that this was “intolerant” and “persecuting”, and the PCA (following the 1892 Declaratory Act in the Free Church of Scotland) declared that it did not hold to the establishment principle. That section of the DS amounts to an abandonment of the political theology of the WCF.
The question suggests that this “frees us from being considered as committed to principles we disagree with as made by the civil magistrate because God is Lord of the conscience”. That is certainly not what the framers of the Declaratory Act or the Declaratory Statement meant. They meant that the magistrate has no right to impose religious views on citizens and the Church no longer expects it to. In fact, the Church now thinks that the State not only does not have a duty to establish the Church, it has no right to do so. It is God who is the Lord of the conscience, not human rulers.
If the DS did imply what the question says it implies, would this mean that the Church could be involved in any activity with the State but insist that it did not share the principles of the State? I’m not sure what principle Nathan thinks the DS does express here. But, in any case, it is not what DS vi. is dealing with.
4. Is this seriously the best way forward, given the strong disagreement expressed, and these principles? Is there not a way we can handle this better by simply providing ways for ministers to exercise freedoms and act according to their conscience?
Ministers are already free to not be marriage celebrants, and if our proposal is not taken up I expect more will exercise that freedom.
The ‘principles’ (in the questions above I assume) are not compelling (in fact I don’t think they are anywhere near established) and the idea that we cannot contemplate this step because there is “strong disagreement” would rule out that almost any significant change in Church life.
Let’s have the discussion and see what the GAA decides.
5. Does this not represent a significant change to ‘worship’ as we understand it in the Presbyterian Church?
No, marriages are conducted under the rites of the PCA, and the rites are a matter of worship. (Q 15. comes back to this issue and I’ll pick up some more detail there).
6. Are we recognising the authority of the state when we act as celebrants recognised by the Marriage Act (and acting as agents of the state), or is the state recognising that we act as agents of the church, and recognising our forms of marriage as containing all the legal elements their definition of marriage requires?
The argument does not “rest strongly” on this assumption. Our terminology is about ‘co-operating’ with the state. Whatever you make of the claim about agency, clearly the Church co-operates when it solemnises marriages under the Marriage Act.
The idea of agency is used to explain why the Church should withdraw but that couples would be free to continue to be married under the Marriage Act. Even there, the principle does not depend on a particular view of ‘agency’. A minister works with (or works for) the state in solemnising a marriage; a couple take advantage of a service provided by the state.
It is, however, straight forward to see that ministers are acting as an agent of, or on behalf of, the state when they solemnise a marriage under the Marriage Act. Ministers may say that they have never considered themselves to be doing so, but that does not settle the matter. They are doing the same thing as a civil celebrant or registrar, they are regulated by the Marriage Act and answerable to the state. If ministers were to wholesale no longer conduct weddings, the state would have to provide other celebrants.
7. How many marriages per year are being conducted by the people putting forward this proposal — from within the church community or from outside? What sort of geographic or demographic contexts do these views come from? Is this the universal testimony and experience of ministers within our denomination?
The proposal provides for ministers to still conduct weddings, for non-Christians as well as for Christians. I don’t expect the pastoral role in weddings for members will change much, if at all. I also expect that there will be non-Christian couples who want a church ceremony and will seek a blessing following a registry marriage, or even a church marriage.
I’ve had several conversations with ministers in country churches in NSW who have told me that they have been conducting very few weddings for non-Christian couples in the last few years. In city churches the numbers seem to be even fewer.
It seems to me that the burden of proof is with those opposed to the proposal. It would help their case immensely if they could show that weddings with non-Christian couples are a significant gospel contact with the community. I know several churches (mainly not Presbyterian) which make a reasonable amount of money from weddings, I’m not aware of any who find it a fruitful evangelistic method. But I’m very happy to see the counter-evidence.
The question gets a bit personal here — “I’d be interested to know how different proponents of this proposal see the role of the church in evangelism, and how they prioritise any engagement with people in the community”. I can’t speak for the whole committee, because I just don’t know the answer. I know that Darren and Campbell are committed to evangelism and they personally and their churches are highly engaged with the community. David Cook, the current Moderator-General and one of Australia’s well known evangelists is also a member of C&N and has been involved in the development of the proposal. The implication that members of the C&N are not committed to evangelism is unfounded.
I’m happy to come clean about myself – I teach at a Theological College and commute to work — and so presently have relatively little consistent contact with non-Christians. (I’ve tried change that, but life circumstances are just limiting at present). I also rarely conduct weddings.
My ministry was very different when I was minister in Cowra. I conducted many weddings for non-Christian couples, and did my best to build gospel connections and maintain long-term relationships. Over the years, as far as I know, none of those contacts led to serious gospel engagement and certainly not to people becoming Christians. (Maybe this is just a reflection on my lack of gifts as an evangelist).
I won’t give a long response about my view of the place of church in evangelism or the priority of engagement with the community. I’ll be saying something about that at the Refocus conference in a few weeks, if you are interested.
8. Why are we completely unworried about the perception that our communities are not places that gay couples might come to investigate Jesus? Do we really not care how this stance is perceived by the gay community? Do they not need the Gospel too?
Why is this relevant? The PCA has said that it will not conduct same-sex marriages, whether we are inside or outside the Marriage Act. How does it send a more welcoming message to keep conducting marriages under the Act and refuse to that for same-sex couples?
When the proposal got some press attention last year one and again more recently one relatively common response was “Fair enough, the church has its own view and is happy to do its thing, while the rest of us do ours”. You can look over the comments below my SMH article and the recent Australian article to get a feel for the range of responses.
Again, there is a barb in this question. The members of the C&N are committed to the gospel going to all parts of our community. Darren and Campbell both have significant contact with the LGBTI community, seeking to bring the gospel.
9. If we believe marriage is a creation ordinance created by promises before witnesses, and that we can create our own version of marriage, why will we only recognise Presbyterian (or other ‘like minded’ Christian marriage), and civil marriage, but not other forms of marriage entered into voluntarily between one man and one woman?
Nathan claims that we are “creating our own version of marriage” but that is not the Committee’s view and he has certainly not demonstrated that we would be doing so.
The question misquotes the proposed regulation, it does not say that we recognise “like minded Christian marriage” but “marriage by some other church with a similar arrangement”. It may not be a major misquote, but it gives the impression that we are interested in buddying up with people who agree with us, when all the regulation would do is to recognise similar arrangements.
Perhaps the regulation should be widened to take in the kind of situation the question describes (a couple married at a mosque not under the Marriage Act). Though, I think what we are suggesting covers the likely pastoral situations.
10. How does no longer conducting socially recognised marriages for our people, or for people in our community, help us better advocate for God’s good design of marriage, and male and female, in the public square — especially given it is likely to be interpreted as us walking away from a shared social institution (a creation ordinance) no matter how we might like to argue that it is the government walking away from true marriage?
The proposal is about no longer conducting legally recognised marriages. I don’t know why ecclesiastical marriages would not be recognised socially. In wider society the concept of ‘marriage’ is so fluid that a couple who tell others that they are married will be accepted as such. No one will ask what form of marriage they have. To quote from an email interchange with Dr. Daniel Hill from Liverpool University “Yes – and it was ever thus. Even in the 19th-century couples were not required to produce marriage certificates to make an entree into society, it was just presumed.”
In fact, withdrawing allows us to say more clearly that the church is a counter-cultural community with a different view of marriage. It enhances our public advocacy of “God’s good design of marriage”. We are not leaving the public square, just operating in it differently, on this issue.
11. If we stay recognised under the act, but then ‘declare that no minister, elder, or home missionary in the Presbyterian Church may conduct a marriage under the Act’ are we not still recognised under the Act?
Yes, we will remain recognised under the Act.
The Attorney-General’s Department advised us that this is the simplest way to achieve the outcome of no longer solemnising marriages under the Act. The Department did not think that removing our registration would have other consequences, but this is the more cautious step.
Nathan asks if even remaining registered under the Act retains an unacceptable association (on our argument). But that is not the Committee’s argument.
If Nathan or others feel, in principle, that it is inconsistent to withdraw using this mechanism, they can move an amendment to the proposal and ask the GAA to end our registration. The process which would be involved is explained in the C&N report.
12. Have we really understood the implications and complications of establishing a ‘form of marriage under the Presbyterian Church of Australia apart from the Marriage Act’?
Yes, we have thought through them.
Nathan reports a “friend who is a Presbyterian Minister and a former family law lawyer”, so I’ll respond with advice from two friends: One who is a practicing family lawyer, and another who practices and teaches family law. I did not go to them because of Nathan’s question, I’ve had comments from them about this proposal over the last year or so.
They both assure me that there is no great risk involved for couples who choose to not to be married under the Marriage Act. Marriage and relationship breakdown are covered under the Family Law Act (as Nathan says). For over a decade now, de facto relationships have been covered under that Act in the same way as marriages. My solicitor friend tells me that even though the Family Law Act formally differentiates between when a marriage is established and when a de facto relationship is established, the reality is that when a marriage is less than two years old the Court is very unlikely to decide anything other than each partner receiving what they bought into the marriage; and very occasionally the Court will give a payment to a de facto partner in a very short relationship. That is the court is interested in the circumstances of the partners, not the legal status of the marriage.
Marriage breakdown is never easy, but whether the couple are married or in a de facto relationship makes no real difference to the process.
It is more likely that problems would occur on the death of a spouse in a church marriage. These complications can be avoided by couples ensuring that they have wills, Powers of Attorney and Appointments of Enduring Guardian and that each spouse is the declared beneficiary of the other for superannuation. (Most of which it would be wise for all couples to attend to).
The question asks “Do we not want people to feel their promises bring immediate obligation both under God and within the parameters of the Family Law Act?”
I do not think that the legal status of marriage is a major driver for couples to remain married and to invest in their relationship. If a couple do not feel obliged by their promises and the social expectation (and God), I don’t see that the Family Law Act adds anything.
Nevertheless, given the possible risks (which we think are quite minor) we are proposing that the standard information given to couples in the PCA would include encouragement to consider a marriage under the Marriage Act or registering a relationship (where a State has that provision) and a recommendation to seek legal advice.
We also recognise that if a couple were to move to another country, they may find that a marriage under the Marriage Act was required to establish their marital status. Still, many de facto couples move internationally with no major problems.
I do not see that what we are proposing increases the risk of domestic violence. This matters to me a great deal, and I’ve checked as carefully as I can.
Sadly, marriage and the Marriage Act are no protection from violence and abuse. When it does occur it needs to be dealt with by the police and the local court for a protection order, or if that is not possible, by giving the abused spouse all the support and protection possible. In a church community and in the wider community a couple who are married in a church marriage will be seen as married and will see themselves that way. The partner who suffers domestic violence or abuse will receive whatever protection marriage vows and marital status afford.
When Family Law gets involved with an abusive relationship, settlement is difficult if not impossible and it usually ends in litigation. Litigation requires financial resources and emotional energy, both of which are often lacking in the most abused spouses. This is especially a problem even in long relationships with extensive property rights, less in short relationships with minimal or non existent property rights.
13. Do we want to turn our sessions into marriage and divorce courts and have them tell ministers who they can and can’t marry?
I think it would be better (and more Presbyterian) for all marriages to be approved by Sessions. The Session is meant to oversee discipline in a church and determining who should be married within the ministry of the congregation would seem a clear matter of discipline.
A Session ‘tells’ a Minister who can be baptised and who can be a church member (in fact the Minister is a member of the Session and is part of the discussion). If the Session deals with the greater, then they can deal with the lesser.
At present Ministers are bound by the Marriage Act and should follow the 1967 GAA declaration of “Guiding Principles concerning the Remarriage of Divorced Persons” (though I doubt that gets much attention). With the proposed church marriage, it seems wiser to involve Sessions in the process.
Church courts already make judgements about issues of marriage and divorce. Presbyteries discuss candidates for the ministry and ministers who are divorced and remarried, and usually will take the circumstances of the divorce into account. (There are some notorious case in which, to their shame, Presbyteries did not deal with the circumstances of a divorce). I hope Sessions have similar discussions about potential elders, Youth Group leaders and Bible Study leaders. It is not that divorce or remarriage must exclude someone from such a role, but it is not irrelevant.
Ministers are expected to make judgements about divorce in the context of a divorced person being remarried. The 1967 GAA declaration says a minister should consider “whether the person concerned is aware and repents of any part he or she may have played in the breakdown or unwarranted dissolution of the former marriage, is willing to accept and exercise forgiveness and is prepared to begin a new marriage trusting in the grace and power of God in Jesus Christ”. The proposal moves this judgement from the Minister alone to the Session.
The only circumstance in which there will be a new category of decision will be if someone who has been married in a church marriage seeks a certificate of divorce. We have set a very low ‘test’ for the divorce — the Session should “be satisfied that the marriage has dissolved and that there is no possibility of a reconciliation, or that there are grounds to end the marriage”. I think this will be a very rare circumstance and it does not require a Session to find fault in order to grant a certificate.
The proposal puts the stronger test on remarriage of divorced people, in the same terms as the 1967 declaration. I think this is a reasonable reflection of the biblical pattern in which the limitations are on remarriage more than divorce.
14. How does any of this even come close to working for our military chaplains?
Like other Presbyterian ministers they won’t be able to solemnise marriages under the Marriage Act. I imagine that might create some difficulties and they will need to refer marriages to other chaplains, where other churches are willing to conduct marriages under the Marriage Act.
Is that really a compelling reason to not withdraw?
Let’s debate the central concerns rather than focusing on issues around the edge.
15. Do we really want to restrict the ‘form’ a wedding takes to following a script from the Public Worship and Aids to Devotion committee (PWAD)?
Nothing is changing. The Constitution, Procedure and Practice of the PCA says that “Worship, the book of common order of the Presbyterian Church of Australia, is a guide to the orderly administration of the Sacraments and other Offices of the Church”. The PWAD is empowered to produce this under the authority of the Assembly and it now does so online, rather than in a published book of Common Order.
A Presbyterian Book of Order is always intended as a ‘direction’ for ministers but not to require them to follow the wording or forms in detail. The purpose statement of Worship says it is published, among other reasons, “to provide some measure of uniformity within the Church regarding the practice of the public worship of God”; “to act as a guide to all responsible for the conduct of public worship and “to set a standard of the kind of services the Assembly commends as an expression of the purity of public worship practiced in this Church”.
The PWAD provides two services for marriage. At present when a Minister signs that they conduct a marriage service “according to the rites of the Presbyterian Church of Australia” they affirm that they have complied with these as a direction. We propose nothing different.
16. Given the media reports about this proposal framed this as either us running from sinners or have misunderstood us, do we really want to be taking steps that communicate very different things to what we intend, rather than clearly using every wedding to very clearly communicate our own understanding of marriage to those getting married and those witnessing the marriage?
We are meant to be responsible for headlines? That would be a reason to do nothing. Ever. Especially in the area of sex and marriage.
If the GAA does adopt the proposal then we’ll have to be ready to explain it as well as we can to the ‘media’. (Given that it might come in the midst of the Plebiscite debate — I’d rather it get very little press attention, but I doubt we can avoid it).
17. What are we modelling to those in our church communities about how to engage with the world, particularly in response to a changed Marriage Act, but more broadly in response to social change?
We’re modelling careful, thoughtful assessment of the circumstances — and having a healthy debate about a proposal which is a big step. We aren’t proposing disobeying the law, we aren’t acting in self-defence, we aren’t leaving the public square; we are saying that our identity as church and as Christians doesn’t depend on the society or the State. (I’m not implying that those who oppose withdrawal are saying the opposite — different actions can communicate a similar message).
18. Gold, like marriage, exists before the Fall, and Genesis 2 seems to establish that it has some beauty and value. All nations use it, or money. Our banks use it but are built on greed, which is idolatry. When will we be starting a Presbyterian Bank so that we are not complicit with our banks and their harmful narratives about this created good, which was made, like marriage, to reveal things about the divine nature and character of God (Romans 1:20)?
This is rhetoric, not a real question. Our case is about a particular decision in a particular circumstance, we have not claimed that it is based on a general principle, certainly not the principle implied in this question — the church must not be involved in anything which involves an ethical compromise.
As it happens, the PCNSW has some (very limited) ethical guidelines for investments. I would be interested in extending these, but I realise that it is a very tricky area.
In fact, I imagine every thoughtful Christian has wondered about how involved they should be in the commercial world, and also realised that even radically living off the gird is no solution.
We have to make judgements in the real world. The area of marriage and church and state are the same.
19. Why are we not pursuing the European option?
If the Australian government adopted the model of a civil marriage only, that would be great. We are largely allowing it any way, by saying that we would encourage couples to consider a civil marriage.
If there will be no one who wants a church marriage rather than a civil marriage, then I’d be very happy to not have any church marriage provisions.
I don’t accept that the proposal as we have it now is “confusing and stupid”. That Nathan says so, doesn’t make it so.
20. Does the status quo not already allow all Presbyterian ministers, elders, and home missionaries to act according to the doctrinal position outlined in the Westminster Confession of Faith 24.1, which was reaffirmed at the 2013 GAA, and to act according to the principles of freedom of conscience articulated in the Declaratory Statement?
Yes, this is clearly possible, see Q 4. The rest of the claims here are repetitions of the implications raised in Q. 1-4, none of which are the clear ‘principles’.
21. If the status quo does already allow for freedom, and does already prevent the binding of an individual’s conscience, and this is not a doctrine issue, then why pursue unnecessary change that will be misinterpreted by those we are trying to reach with the Gospel and will restrict the freedom of our ministers, thus undermining the Basis of Union?
Yep, that’s the same are Q4, and Q 1, 2, and 3.
I’m surprised that Nathan thinks that the two big questions are about GAA jurisdiction and if it is right to “bind the denomination to act in lock step on a wisdom issue”.
I think the big questions are whether there is a good basis for the church to co-operate with the state in the area of marriage and how do we best witness to and sustain the Christian view of marriage.
I get that others considers that staying in the Act is a better way to witness to the Christian view of marriage. We envisage the situation differently, and those following the debate will have to decide how they see it (especially commissioners to the GAA).
Which leads to my request to those opposed to the proposal: give us your positive argument for why it is so important that the church should co-operate with the state on marriage when we already have different understandings of marriage and the difference will be even more stark if same-sex marriage is introduced.
References [ + ]
|1.||↑||With regard to Campbell’s argument, it is normal for different people to have different reasons for supporting any position, different advocates from remaining in the Act state their concerns in quite different ways. Not only is this normal, it is inevitable for any serious ethical issue.|
|2.||↑||To quote from an email interchange with Dr. Daniel Hill from Liverpool University “Yes – and it was ever thus. Even in the 19th-century couples were not required to produce marriage certificates to make an entree into society, it was just presumed.”|