Like a Marriage: The Special Committee on Civil Unions and Christian Marriage Report
I confess it has been difficult for me to wrap my mind around the Preliminary Report of the Special Committee to Study Issues of Civil Union and Christian Marriage released last week. But I found clarity in the committee’s illuminating comparison between life in the church and the human institution of marriage. As they wrote in the introduction:
“In many ways, life in the body of Christ is not unlike a marriage: In the course of our life together, there are good days and bad days, good times and challenging times. There is great joy and wrenching pain. We talk, we laugh, we cry. We agree and we disagree, and occasionally we get angry and are tempted to walk away. But like any Christian marriage, in the body of Christ we know that the One who holds us together is more important than the arguments that threaten to tear us apart.”
However, it struck me that there is an important piece missing here. What about honesty, open dialogue, the ability to respectfully and lovingly hear one another out? These, too, are pillars of any healthy marriage. While I appreciate the faithful efforts of the committee, and acknowledge that it is only human to want to postpone difficult conversations, I find myself frustrated that these principles seem to have been lost. Yes, they say, “We talk,” but not much and not deeply about our disagreement over the place of GLBT people in the church, which, we all know, is why marriage has come before us in the first place.
Not only is respectful and open dialogue a key ingredient of any healthy marriage; it is also an important part of the mutual forbearance to which we are called by our Book of Order (G-1.0305). After all, without meaningful conversation, a safe space to say how we feel, and truly listening to one another, what remains of mutual forbearance but silent anger? Silence and peace are not the same thing. As difficult, even painful, as those conversations can sometimes be, we cannot reach true reconciliation without them.
That is why the committee’s conclusion — “We have reached no consensus on a faithful response to the changing nature of civil marriage” — was so disappointing to me. Even with a lack of consensus about whether the committee was charged with making specific recommendations, there is no doubt that its purpose was to inform our Presbyterian understanding of marriage in our modern world. Instead, the Committee settles for allowing one to read into their general conclusions whatever one wants to see.
Mutual forbearance can represent Christ’s qualities of acceptance and compassion, which we are called to emulate. Skirting contentious issues with words that can be read both ways and avoiding one another’s gaze does not move us forward as a church, just as it does not foster a healthy marriage.
I, for one, believe we do have the strength to speak respectfully and truthfully with one another about marriage, and to hear one another out with compassion. I am so sorry the Special Committee does not seem to have that same confidence in the PCUSA.