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.


Reverend Janet

5 Responses
  • Margaret Aymer on October 2, 2009


    Thank you for your blog post. As a member of the committee, we intend to meet in January to make recommendations. This is just the preliminary report.

    We are open to hearing your thoughts about recommendations. Please email them to

    Margaret Aymer

  • Janet Edwards on October 6, 2009

    Deepest thanks, Margaret, for your reminder that this is just the preliminary report of the committee and that you have invited comment on it, just as you invited us all to answer the question, “What is the place of long term covenanted same gender relationships in the church?” The Special Committee, itself, is clearly making an effort in its process to engage in the kind of open and free dialogue that marks a good marriage. I hope thousands respond as I intend to do, before November.

    But in a nutshell, what I look forward to in the next iteration of the committee’s report is more clarity on what is meant by statements such as this one: “We know that the One who holds us together is more important than the arguments that threaten to tear us apart.” I understand it to mean that God’s love for all God’s children is more important than our differences (which, after all, is how God made us). The reason for my concern is that, in the past, I have heard similar statements used to silence the voices of the GLBT faithful asking to be treated equally by the church, as we are equal in the eyes of God. If the committee’s spirit is one of inclusion of all the faithful, then the Special Committee is leading us into a new day. May it be so!

    Peace be with you, Janet

  • Rev. Madeline Jervis, H.R. on October 8, 2009

    Thank you, Janet, for your clear analysis of the preliminary report. I was unable to take it all in since it seemed to me to be just pablum, designed to offend no one. Your constant call for honesty and respect, and fearlessness, in discussion our many differences in the church encourages me to keep on with it. Madeline

  • Janet Edwards on October 9, 2009

    Dear Madeline,

    You are very welcome and back at you for your frank thoughts.

    It is so striking that what is pablum to you is red meat for Jack Haberer in his Presbyterian Outlook editorial in the October 19, 2009 issue. So, it seems, our sensitivities are as varied as our convictions in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). And, of course, this is true in marriage as well; the partners often have different sensitivities to one another and to the world. Similarly, there are many places along the many spectrums in the church: the theological spectrum, the interpretation of Scripture spectrum, and so many others, including the spectrum of feelings on inclusion of GLBT people. However many there are, the only path is community and conversation. I am so glad you feel encouraged to continue with it.

    Peace, Janet

  • Janet Edwards on October 14, 2009

    If you’re looking for the editorial from the Presbyterian Outlook mentioned in my earlier comment, it can be found here:

    This news story from the Outlook also provides helpful background:

    I hope you’ll join me in continuing the discussion here, on the Outlook’s website, and in your church or presbytery.

    Peace, Janet

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