PCA General Assembly Adopts Expression of Support for Sanctity of Life and Marriage

Overture 43 from Savannah River Presbytery expressing gratitude and prayer for biblical sanctity of life and marriage adopted

Be it resolved that the Presbyterian Church in America expresses its gratitude to the Lord for sustaining by His grace ministers of the gospel, chaplains, and Christians serving in the public sphere who are experiencing ostracism, penalties, and persecution for taking a Biblically faithful sand for the sanctity of human life and declining to participate in the cultural redefinition of marriage.

 

The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America, on June 19 wrestled with how to respond to Overture 43 from Savannah River Presbytery. The overture stated that,

Savannah River Presbytery hereby go on record expressing its gratitude to and prayers for corporations, public and private for-profit and non-profit entities, chaplains and others who have taken a stand for the sanctity of human life, and to the Christian men and women in private businesses facing fines, penalties, and ostracism for declining out of religious conviction to provide their services for same-sex marriage ceremonies.

The overture also called “upon the 42nd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America to adopt this resolution.”

Overture 43 from Savannah River Presbytery stated the following:

Whereas the Bible states that when there is a conflict between God’s Law and human law, we must obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29), and

Whereas the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution specifically prohibits Congress from establishing any law “prohibiting the free exercise of religion,” and

Whereas the environment for religious freedom worsens day by day in the United States, and

Whereas some Christians today – including employers, chaplains, and others, must choose between being faithful to their Biblical convictions regarding the sanctity of human life and the sanctity of marriage, or face punitive federal government penalties, and

Whereas God calls His Church to bear prophetic witness to His Truth in human society, and

Whereas the Presbyterian Church in America, of which the Savannah River Presbytery is a member, is on record regarding the sanctity of human life and of marriage in accordance with that Truth; therefore

Be it resolved that Savannah River Presbytery hereby go on record expressing its gratitude to and prayers for corporations, public and private for-profit and non-profit entities, chaplains and others who have taken a stand for the sanctity of human life, and to the Christian men and women in private businesses facing fines, penalties, and ostracism for declining out of religious conviction to provide their services for same-sex marriage ceremonies, and

Be it further resolved that Savannah River Presbytery call upon the 42nd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America to adopt this resolution.

Adopted by Savannah River Presbytery at its Stated Meeting, April 15, 2014

After consideration by the Overtures Committee a majority voted to recommend that the overture be answered in the negative, that is, that the General Assembly not accede to the request contained in the overture. The majority offered the following reasons for answering this overture in the negative.

  1. This overture is not needed. There is no lack of clarity regarding the PCA’s stand for the sanctity of marriage or the sanctity of life, biblically or constitutionally (WFC 24.1). Furthermore, we do not need an overture such as this to pray for, or encourage, those who suffer unjustly.
  2. This overture is too broad in scope. While much of the debate characterized this overture as an expression of support for the sanctity of life and marriage, (and the title unfortunately contributed to this confusion), in actuality this overture expresses unqualified support and commendation for all corporations, businesses, and individuals who have faced any negative consequences for any sort of stand with regard to the sanctity of life and marriage. It is unnecessarily broad in scope. While we want to encourage some and pray for all, it is not proper for us to issue a broad statement. We do not want to express gratitude to everyone who has taken a stand for the sanctity of life and marriage, regardless of the type of stand they have chosen to take, and regardless of the of whether the stand they have chosen has possibly been sinful. While this certainly not the intent behind this overture, it is in fact what it says. As I Peter 4:13-16 reminds us, not all suffering that Christians endure is the righteousness sake, and thus it is inappropriate to issue such a broad statement.
  3. Some believe that this overture fails to allow for the flexibility and careful pastoral nuance that is required for dealing well with issues in our day.  This overture asks is to speak as a whole church about the consequences of particular political strategies  swirling around in our culture right now and voice our support for actions leading to “fines, penalties, and ostracism.” It must be pointed out however, that the “fines, penalties, and ostracism” mentioned in the overture are connected to particular actions taken by the people and organizations involved. If we want to weigh in on particular varieties of civil disobedience to combat cultural shifts then we would need more serious study, and a more carefully nuanced statement than this overture provides.

Furthermore, the sensitivity of this issue is best handled in a way that allows pastors and churches flexibility in how they speak to this important issue in our day in the particular context. We must not bind the consciences of those ministering in various contexts (even different countries) to this broad statement that commends all types of civil disobedience that result in persecution.

  1. This overture can be used and received in potentially very unhelpful ways. We must be wise whenever we speak as a church, and in particular about issues that are debated contentiously in our culture. Unfortunately, many in our world regard the Christian church, and in particular those churches which hold to a high view of scripture, as being anti-gay and homophobic. We must exercise great care when we speak to these issues publically so as not to be misinterpreted by the larger culture. It is vital that the world hear the gospel from us clearly, yet overtures like this one can add weight to the charge that we are more interested in condemning the culture than we are in reaching the culture with the love of Christ.

The vote to recommend this response to Overture 43 was 45-28. There was a minority recommendation, which was moved as a substitute for the majority recommendation. The minority proposed that Overture 43 be answered with the following resolution:

Be it resolved that the Presbyterian Church in America expresses its gratitude to the Lord for sustaining by His grace ministers of the gospel, chaplains, and Christians serving in the public sphere who are experiencing ostracism, penalties, and persecution for taking a Biblically faithful stand for the sanctity of human life and declining to participate in the cultural redefinition of marriage; and

Be it further resolved that the General Assembly pause and offer prayer to the Lord on behalf of such ministers of the gospel, chaplains, and Christians.

After a lengthy debate, the General Assembly adopted the substitute motion by a vote of 443-395. The substitute became the main motion and was adopted by the GA. As requested in the approved motion, prayer was offered for those Christians experiencing ostracism, penalties, and persecution for taking a Biblically faithful stand for the sanctity of human life and marriage.