I wrote in a facebook status earlier that two things I liked about today’s PCUSA gay marriage decisions at General Assembly are that nothing is imposed on any one and that it’s over and attention can be paid to other pressing matters. I want to say and perhaps qualify those two statements in this blog post.
I believe the decision to allow each clergy and church session to decide what their policy regarding gay marriage will be was the only decision that could be made if the denomination hoped to retain its more conservative churches. A mandatory policy would have driven them all out.
But this decision on a denominational level merely pushes the battle back in the local churches. Every pastor and session knows the struggle and pressure of a request from grandparents to baptize their new grandchild even though the parents do not and do not intend to take the child to church even though our general polity rules such a thing out. We shouldn’t do it but I suspect such “promiscuous” baptisms are performed most of the time anyway. Imagine the pressure now when parents or grandparents come and want their gay children or grandchildren married by the pastor in the church. Nor there is no longer any buffer of a general prohibition as in baptism. It will be enormously difficult, I suspect, for pastors and sessions caught in such situations. A more cynical person than myself might be forgiven for wondering if that is not part of a strategy to begin with voluntary permission and hope that more congregations will be pressured into allowing gay marriages such that over time it will become a mandatory policy.
This all may amount to no more than a Pyyrhic victory, however. As Stanley Hauerwas told a group at a General Assembly breakfast, our denomination along with the other mainline churches is dying. Now I’m not one who wants now to turn our attention to saving our dying church. But I want us to pay attention to dying with grace and in hope of new life the other side of death. I agree with Stanley that our hope lies on the other side of institutional death and the “new age of inclusivity” (as one blogger put) may prove to be little more than a distraction to what really is and needs to happen. Now, I’m speaking institutionally not personally. I realize that for the folks this decision impacts this is a powerful and welcome action. And that’s fine. I just doubt whether in the long view of our institutional life and prospects, it makes any real difference.
But it is what it is, as Bill Parcells was wont to say. And we shall just have to live through these times with as much faithfulness and hope as we can muster keeping our eyes firmly fixed on Jesus.