Comings and Goings is a blog written by Theology, Formation, and Evangelism Director Charles B. "Chip" Hardwick as he travels throughout the church. God is on the move out and about in the world, working to redeem all things in Jesus Christ. As we join this mission, by the power of the Spirit we see God on the move. This blog contains glimpses of how Chip finds this to be true in his comings and goings.
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Over the weekend I had the opportunity to visit Ghost Ranch, NM, for the first time, for a meeting of the Presbytery of Santa Fe. The presbytery had invited me to come to facilitate the marriage study, which my colleagues in the Office of Theology and Worship had prepared at the request of the 220th General Assembly (2012). This study (which you can see by clicking here) provides questions and resources from our theological tradition in order to understand what the church has said about marriage, and, by extension, what we might say about same gender marriage.
I was very pleased for the invitation, and not just because it gives me a chance to chuckle to myself about being the single guy who flies across the country to talk about marriage! No, the reason I was pleased is because I was recently with dozens of executive and general presbyteries, and they said that most of the teaching and ruling elders in their presbyteries did not want to talk about marriage, because the risk for dissension and conflict was so high. The logic seemed to be, why talk about it until we have to?
While this sentiment is understandable, I am grateful for the risk that Santa Fe Presbytery took in discussing the topic now, before there is a vote scheduled, because it will lower the risk of conflict when a vote comes their way (which seems inevitable). The process suggested in the marriage study is for people to break into pre-assigned small groups (as you can see in the picture to the left), which allows them to discuss the difficult topic with actual people who disagree and agree with them. As I listened into the group conversations, it was impressive to me how intentional and thoughtful they were with their comments. Having the time to understand more about their colleagues’ positions helps to lower anxiety and frustration which can come when the “conversation” is simply a parade of people standing at microphones speaking to a crowd about how they ought to vote.
My sense is that discussing marriage now, when there is not a vote, lowers the temperature so that when the votes come, there is more understanding and less risk of an explosion which everyone will regret. Clearly there is no need to use the marriage study that Theology and Worship developed; it is only one tool of many. But the chance to discuss this risky topic before there is a vote is a path which will help presbyteries to talk about the issue in faithful ways.