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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This past weekend I had the pleasure of visiting the Presbytery of Arkansas and one of its churches, First Presbyterian Church of Fort Smith. I led a Friday Q&A lunch with members of FPC Fort Smith, and then on Sunday morning preached and gave a presentation about the state of the denomination and some of its controversies (including the definition of marriage). On Saturday I was glad to facilitate a conversation about Christian marriage at the presbytery meeting.
It was at least marginally ironic that a single 47-year-old was spending so much time over the weekend talking about marriage. However, I was glad to do it. The 2012 General Assembly (kind of like the Congress of the Presbyterian Church) asked the Office of Theology and Worship (with whom I work) to write a study on Christian marriage for use in churches and in presbyteries. (The six-week church study is currently available at www.pcusa.org/marriage, and the two-hour study for presbyteries will be available at the same website by June 17, 2013.)
During my time at First Pres, most of the comments expressed frustration over the possibility of changing the definition of marriage from “between a man and a woman” to “between two people.” They were concerned about the need to justify any such change through the scripture, and it seemed difficult for many of those who spoke to understand how any Christians could work toward the change in the definition of marriage. (It reminded me of a conversation earlier this year I had with a Presbyterian ruling elder in New York who simply could not imagine how any Christian could be against same gender marriage.)
I wish that they and the New Yorker had been at the presbytery meeting the day before. As tables of teaching and ruling elders worked their way through the study on marriage, it was clear that participants at the same table typically had differing views about the issues of sexual integrity and marriage. However, as they looked at the scriptures and the confessions, most of them seemed able to have a productive conversation where they began to understand the other perspectives. I would be surprised if many of them changed their minds in either direction in such a short timeframe, but I pray that they are more fully able to imagine how faithful Christians can think about these things in more ways than one.
Another benefit from the conversation about marriage at the presbytery meeting was a much fuller understanding of traditional marriage. Americans tend to think about marriage as a romantic decision between two people who love each other to spend the rest of their life together. Yet the study on marriage produced by the Office of Theology and Worship reframes marriage as a gift from God for the welfare of society, for mutual discipleship, for the full expression of love, for a parable pointing to Christ’s love for the church, and more.
I encourage you and your churches and presbyteries to use the studies at www.pcusa.org/marriage as the denomination continues to wrestle with these issues.