WHO WILL GAIN? THE HIDDEN BENEFIT OF AMENDMENT A

Barbara G. Wheeler, President, Auburn Theological Seminary

Prepared for the Covenant Network of Presbyterians

September 15, 1997


Our fundamental call as a church is to worship God. We are the people who have been called out of the world to thank and praise God, in words and deeds, for God's gracious and merciful provision for us and for the creation that God is working to restore. As the Westminster Catechism reminds us, worship is the work for which God made us, and it is a joyful task. To "enjoy God forever" is the most satisfying thing that we can do with the time that God has put at our disposal.

Because worship is our basic assignment, the first question we must ask before we take any action that will affect the church is whether it will help those in the church to worship God better--to come closer to God, to know God more truly, and thus to celebrate God with greater gratitude and fuller joy.

So let's ask the question: Who will benefit, who will be better able to worship God, if we pass Amendment A to replace the language we inserted earlier this year--the former Amendment Be-as G-6.0106b?

Two groups come immediately to mind and have often been named in the debate in the General Assembly and since. Amendment A will benefit those excluded from ordained office by G-6.0106b who could again be considered if Amendment A were adopted. Service is a form of worship, a way of returning thanks to God for God's goodness to us. Because some are called and gifted for service as leaders, Amendment A would promote the worship of God (it is argued) by reopening the way to ordained leadership for some now barred from it. The Amendment will also benefit those who think that G-6.0106b is wrong, who cannot in conscience participate in its enforcement, and who may face separation from the Presbyterian Church as a consequence. By removing the conclusive language of G-6.0106b from the constitution, Amendment A would make it possible for Presbyterians who share many deep faith commitments but have different views about human sexuality to continue to worship together, a living sign of the profound unity to be found in Jesus Christ.

A third group has received little attention, even though it is larger than the other two and stands to benefit greatly from Amendment A. The members of this group are monogamously married people, those joined in a covenant relationship between "a man and a woman" who are sexually faithful to their spouses.

G-6.0106b appears to favor this group by holding up its way of life as a model for church leaders, but in fact it seriously endangers those of us who are monogamously married. It does this by tempting us to self righteousness. Because our state in life is singled out for approval, we can easily fall into thinking that we are by definition less sinful than other people.

Amendment A does not permit us to take this dangerous step. It reminds us that everyone persistently misuses the good gifts of God, stands in need of repentance, and relies on the mercy of God. Amendment A helps us to face the truth that the constitution in its present form obscures: married persons who are sexually faithful to their spouses can still use their sexuality irresponsibly, selfishly, cruelly, and destructively. Just like everyone else, we can be, and often are, sexual sinners.

Why is it so important to remember this? Why is self-righteousness so dangerous? Self-righteousness hurts us by impeding the work of grace. "Nothing can prepare us or move us toward grace," writes the theologian William Placher, "but moral or spiritual pride can get in its way, and those whom society judges successful, morally good, or holy are particularly susceptible to such pride." The most formidable barrier to grace is the conviction that we are too good to need God's grace. Jesus Christ died for us "while we still were sinners," "weak" and "ungodly" (Romans 5:6-8). In order to know the magnitude of God's gift to us in Jesus Christ, we must be clear and completely honest about our own sinfulness.

God's abundant love for sinners does not, of course, make sin a more desirable state than virtue. But because we are all sinners, anything that, like G-6.0106b, may delude any of us into thinking that we belong to a special, less sinful class threatens to separate us from God's gracious and forgiving love. Only when we acknowledge that we are sinners can we also see that love, acceptance and redemption by God are free gifts from God, not our reward for living right. And only then are we ready for worship. The contrast between God's generosity and the selfish sinfulness we have confessed is stunning. We are amazed and grateful and filled with love for the God who so loves us. We cannot help but give thanks for our new life in God and praise to the one who has given it to us.

Who will benefit from the adoption of Amendment A? The whole church will gain, because the Amendment will help the church to worship more faithfully. The Amendment will prompt all to admit the full range of their sins, not just the sexual ones, and to give joyful thanks for the wideness of God's mercy. But this new measure will do special good for one group of us, the monogamously married. Amendment A removes the burden place on us by the present section G-6.0106b, which threatens to feed our pride, harden our hearts, and encourage our inclination to judge ourselves leniently and others harshly. By reminding us that we are sinners on the same footing with God as everyone else, Amendment A gives us the opportunity to repent our sins, including the sexual ones, and to draw closer to God. Amendment A can help us to become better partners in marriage, better Christians, and--most important more fervent and joyful worshipers of God. We faithfully married Presbyterians who seek to become more faithful followers of Jesus Christ--and all who want to support us in a godly way of life--should work for the passage of Amendment A.

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1. These include single persons and those long separated from their spouses who are involved in heterosexual relationships, and possibly divorced persons as well. As has also been widely noted, Amendment A does not open the way for the ordination of homosexually active persons, because the Authoritative Interpretation still stands.

2. Single persons who live in "chastity" also are held up as models, but chastity is not defined, so it is not clear what sexual behavior of single persons is approved and what is a barrier to ordination.

3 William C. Placher, The Domestication of Transcendence: How Modern Thinking About God Went Wrong (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1996), 45.


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