Saturday, September 19, 2009

Liberty Before Forbearance

Go read the Draft of the Preliminary Report of the Special Committee to Study Issues of Civil Union and Christian Marriage to the 219th General Assembly. Then come back to my rant here.

Here is my one sentence response to the committee - mutual forbearance is only possible or meaningful in the absence of coercion.

It is not possible for someone to exercise forbearance against their oppressor. That is submission to tyranny. When we have a situation where those who oppose same-gender marriage are free to abstain, and those who favor it are free to perform or enter into same-gender marriages then a call to mutual forbearance would be both appropriate and feasible. Until then it is a cowardly appeal to the status quo.

I realize that probably sounded harsh. I was not privy to the work of the committee. I know one of the committee members, Rev. Derrick Weston, and admire him a great deal. Furthermore, the report contains much that is valuable - the overview of the history, and legal situation of marriage, as well as the admirable attempt to state a variety of viewpoints impartially. Ultimately, though, rather than making the substance of their conclusion about civil unions or marriage it is an emotional appeal to unity.

The committee is absolutely right about the importance of universal submission to Christ. Right about the need for respect and civility in our dialogue. These to me are obvious truths that bear frequent repeating, but don't actually impinge on the core debate which is whether we will permit our clergy to perform same-gendered marriages or our members enter into them. The conclusion is a non-conclusion.

As a progressive I understand the appeal, and sense the sage nodding of heads, behind the idea of living in the tension, of accepting that there are no easy solutions, of agreeing to disagree. But that obscures the fact that the two sides are not playing on equal footing here. At present there is no liberty. The progressive side is bound coercively to play according conservative beliefs the entire time we are in this season of discernment and prayer. This is no "mutual" forbearance at all. One side must forbear while the other is content with the status quo.

I'm not surprised by the report in the slightest. Like the PUP report before it, this committee has chosen, admirably, to go down the path of understanding and fellowship rather than arriving at conclusions. I have no doubt it was a fruitful season for the members of the committee of growing in affection for one another. Maybe we should all just get on committees and talk about these things face to face so we can all grow in respect and love. But we probably shouldn't expect anything to come out of these committees which looks anything like a decision. The stalemate is deep and lasting (for now).

Which is why liberty is imperative. When everyone is free to marry or not marry - then we can talk about mutual forbearance.


John Shuck said...

Thank you. My thoughts exactly. I posted something similar.

Doug Hagler said...

Hmm...I don't feel as strongly as you do, Aric. I look at this as a "preliminary report", that is, it isn't meant to have a conclusive conclusion. If you get my meaning. I see it as a very detailed snapshot of what the special committee has come up with so far. If I was expecting something conclusive, I'd probably be madder...

Did you get the impression from the doc that the intent was to be conclusive?

Aric Clark said...

No, I get that this is preliminary. I suppose I should have said so at the beginning of the post. And I'm not really "angry" - but this report does contain a section labeled "conclusions" that doesn't actually conclude anything having to do with the issue, but rather appeals for more unity. I also said, that I didn't really expect anything different. Perhaps rightly, when committees get together in our present climate they spend most of their time trying to mend burnt bridges and forge some kind of respectful understanding. Given how little everyone trusts one another it makes sense.

Even so, I think a call for mutual forbearance when there isn't liberty of conscience is misplaced.

Alan said...

It is ironic that, in spite of the use of the word covenant throughout the document, it's clear that the authors do not have the slightest understanding of the meaning of the word.

Nor do they, as you point out, understand the meaning of the word forbearance. I'm supposed to happily practice restraint and tolerance of those who refuse to do so in return? We all already happily practice restraint and tolerance of their marriages (no matter how many they have).

Preliminary or not, there was never going to be any real conclusions here. They were just going to walk the middle of the road: which is nothing but a long line ... painted yellow.

The denomination will ignore this report just as it has ignored the PUP report and a half dozen other committee reports that we've all come to see as nothing more than stalling tactics. Those of us working for justice will continue to work within our polity (and occasionally outside of it) to do what we can to make the church what it should be. The anti-gay elements of the church will continue to file their impotent charges and make their idle threats about leaving. People in the middle will continue to do nothing either way.

Though perhaps a few of the bazillion elders I've heard refer to marriage as a sacrament, and those pastors I've heard talking about "performing" a marriage as if it were some magical incantation will read it and get some notion of what we Presbyterians actually believe about marriage. But I doubt it.

Margaret Aymer said...

All of you are invited to leave your recommendations to the committee at before November 15. We will meet to finalize the report and consider recommendations in January.

Aric Clark said...

Thanks Margaret for that info!