Presbyterian conference discusses marriage in 'more Reformed' notion of 'between two people'

by Karen L. Willoughby, |

BATON ROUGE, Louisiana (Christian Examiner) – One of seven regional conferences this winter on "Marriage Matters" by the Presbyterian Church (USA)'s pro-same-sex-marriage-arm Covenant Network of Presbyterians took place Saturday, January 24, at University Presbyterian Church in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

The day conference featured Cynthia Rigby, professor of theology at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, Austin, Texas, as plenary speaker and Ken Kovacs, pastor of Catonsville Presbyterian Church, Catonsville, Maryland, as preacher and workshop leader.

The fact that the regional conference took place the same day and near the same place in Baton Rouge as The Response prayer rally led by Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal—which experienced protestors advocating same-sex marriage outside the prayer rally—was coincidental, organizers said.

At PCUSA's general assembly last fall, the suggestion for discussion to take place on a proposed change to the denomination's definition about marriage was approved by a 71 percent majority.

If the amendment passes at the 2016 general assembly, "It would describe marriage as involving 'a unique commitment between two people, traditionally a man and a woman,' updating (no longer accurate) language describing marriage as 'a civil contract between a man and a woman,'" wrote Brian Ellison in an explanatory article on the Covenant Network's website, Ellison is executive director of the Network.

"In addition to offering greater clarity on the relationship between church and state," Ellison continued, "the new section offers a more Reformed understanding of what takes place in marriage, in which a couple marry each other by exchanging promises, not by being awarded a special sacred status that only the church can grant."

Change happens when a majority vote in favor of an amendment or "because the conversation—in attitudes, in a community's spirit, in our relationships with one another—regardless of the vote's outcome," Ellison wrote.

He gave three reasons for an amendment on marriage: fundamental Christian values, the quality and content of the church's mission, and the lives of people.

"By honoring the marriages of all people, we lift up the value of covenantal commitment, which reflects qualities of the relationship between Christ and the church, ..." Ellison wrote. "Across the theological spectrum there is general agreement that this change will come to our church eventually. ... . It is time for our constitutional documents to acknowledge the lives—and valid faith—of all families, including the many families formed around same-gender couples in our churches."

According to its website, the Covenant Network of Presbyterians is for those seeking accurate information as individuals, congregations and presbyteries discern Christ's will for their witness and mission.

The after-lunch plenary message at the Baton Rouge conference was titled "Navigating the Winds of Change." Workshops included "Legal Review And Update On Court Documents," "Changing Understandings Of Marriage In The Bible And The Church," "Stories Of Life And Love," and "Is My Church Gay-Friendly?"

"Marriage Matters" conferences have taken place in Springfield, Illinois, Memphis, Tennessee, Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Newport Beach, California. Others are set for Mercer Island, Washington, and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.