A couple of weeks ago I examined a historic document of the Presbyterian Church to consider the Church’s position relating to marriage equality.  The document in question was Chapter XXIV of the Westminster Confession, an English document imposed on the Scottish Church which for historical reasons has been our standard since then.

I’m sure the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand has produced a statement on marriage and divorce which is more relevant; and even though it contradicts some of what this chapter states on marriage and divorce, does not have the authority of being a subordinate standard.  The modern confession Kupu Whakapono says nothing about marriage and divorce.

For my own understanding of the text I translated it into a created language I use for journal keeping and translated it back into English.  As the original document is written in dead sixteenth century legal language it was the only way to read it that was relevant for me.

In the confession only opposite-sex marriage is practiced.  Monogamy is expected.  Reformed Christians shouldn’t marry inter-faith, Papists, nor idolators; it will only lead to trouble.  If a spouse dies the remaining partner is not allowed to marry the late spouse’s relatives any closer than would be expected to be incestuous among their own siblings.  Sex outside of marriage or abandonment are the only reasons for divorce, and only after reconciliation is determined to be impossible.

The proverbial ‘dead wife’s sister’ slipped away be the turn of the last century.  Presumably early-to-late modern Victorians hated the idea of property slipping out of family hands and changed the rules about who could marry whom.  Presbyterians were resistant to this idea.  It delayed the union of Synod of Otago and Southland to the Presbyterian Church of New Zealand by a generation.

I find the modern resistance to marriage equality, and other socially liberal trends, among Presbyterians is comparable to the sectarian group, the Destiny Church.  At least they are honest about the code of conduct that they expect from their members.

I am also reminded of a document I have seen in several collections at the Presbyterian Archives.  It belongs to the Church Union debate, about the time the Plan For Union was going to fail.  It was copied from the New Zealand Listener, and described the membership in the old mainstream churches as being of two camps.  One stream saw the united church working towards the transformation of the society.  Our old friend Rutherford Waddell would have been a nineteenth century ancestor of this camp.  The other camp, resistant to Church Union, worked for change through the conversion and discipleship of individuals.  The presence of these two streams in the Presbyterian Church is evident in that both approaches are included in the Church’s statement on the Five Faces of Mission.  They exist like yin and yang.

I continue to support marriage equality, and the inclusion of people of diverse orientations into the Church.  I claim no sexuality.  As a younger man in deciding whether I was gay or straight I decided that I would chose to be neither.  I would be a celibate.  It was a gift, easily chosen, a charism from god.  I suspect there are a handful of others who have made the same choice.  In our sexed-up culture of identity it is not discussed except as a disorder, a taboo.  Still we can enjoy others’ identity because ours is fluid, a liminal state, on the threshold, the maiden aunts and uncles.  Perhaps some day I may return the gift if I chose to lay it down.  While the Church rules no one in a queer relationship can be a leader in the Church my gift is being used as a millstone on the innocent, and we are all suspect and distrusted.

Mother Kirk does not trust me, her errant and heterodox boy!

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