The Presbyterian Church (USA) gathered for its bi-annual General Assembly (G.A.) has refused to consider a motion that the church allow ministers to officiate marriage ceremonies without regard to the sexual orientation (at least in states that recognize such unions). For those of us who believe that sexual orientation is a gift of God, it is sad and frustrating to see the church refuse to even consider the measure. That the G.A. apparently did so in part because of a clever procedural maneuver is all the more disappointing. (I acknowledge that “disappointing” does not begin to describe the deep sense of heartbreak and alienation that many persons feel over this and other forms of judgment by the church). Almost simultaneously the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts ruled that the Defense of [Straight] Marriage Act is unconstitutional. In other words, the court has done--roughly speaking--what the church opted to avoid altogether. This juxtaposition of the church and the court may seem strange and leave us feeling further distanced from the church that fails not only to live up to its high calling but merely to keep up with culture.
On further reflection, however, this situation is a reminder of what it means to be protestant. Since our movement’s origins in the 16th century we have been deeply suspicious of the visible or institutional church. The Reformers redefined the church as the people of God subject to the Word of God. Since then the church has had a love/hate relationship with itself. We have recognized that we are the people of God but also that we continually fall short. When a denomination fails, we may be bitterly disappointed, but as protestants we believe that we are not simply called to submit to the church’s authority, not if we believe it has erred on matter of conscience. In such cases we will do what we protestants do, we will protest, but not only that. We will also look to discern the will of God being done beyond our wills and walls--recognizing that the church is far bigger than any one denomination and that God is far bigger still than all the denominations combined. Indeed, God’s grace abounds, even in the law, sometimes especially in the law.