Covenant Networks plans to go around back if they can’t redefine marriage directly

A slide from Saperstein’s presentation at the Covenant Network Regional Conference. (

Introducing another backdoor approach for Presbyterians to perform gay marriages.

Everyone expects to see and contend with efforts at the Presbyterian Church (USA) General Assembly in 2014 to redefine marriage.  So, proponents plan to insure their victory by back door means.

Its political strategy 101: If the opposition is watching the front door, go around to the back. Apparently advocates of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) agenda fear that efforts at an honest, straight-forward redefinition  of marriage in the PCUSA Constitution through amending the confessions and Directory for Worship may fail at GA. So, they’ve announced plans to go around back.

The language is that of “creating a space” which is another way of saying they intend to create a loophole which officers of the PCUSA could perform same-sex marriages in PCUSA churches.

Pay attention because you won’t actually hear the word marriage in what is proposed.

The amendment to the constitution would read, “Teaching elders, and ruling elders commissioned to pastoral service, shall have the freedom to exercise discretion regarding the conduct of worship as pastoral care except where explicitly proscribed in this constitution.”

Would that kind of language pass as an overture at General Assembly and be forwarded to the presbyteries for a vote? Most likely yes. And would it pass in your presbytery and a majority of others, again the answer is likely yes.

It sounds like it’s about pastoral care but it’s really about same-sex marriage. Read the quote in its context and the speech it came from:

“Do not seek to amend W-4.9001 on the definition of marriage. Rather amend W-1.4005a on rights of the pastor as worship leader by adding the following (or similar) provision:

“Teaching elders, and ruling elders commissioned to pastoral service, shall have the freedom to exercise discretion regarding the conduct of worship as pastoral care except where explicitly proscribed in this Constitution. The exercise of this freedom may not infringe on the session’s responsibility to control the use of church facilities and to authorize the celebration of the sacraments, or the presbytery’s responsibility to validate and oversee the ministry of the Word and sacrament.”

“Do you see the words ‘same-sex’ or even ‘marriage’ in this overture? No. It is not about that, although it would create a space in most presbyteries to allow same-sex marriages to be performed under the protections it guarantees. There is careful language that I have vetted with some of my colleagues that would overturn existing AIs from 1991 and after. It does preserve the right of a session to refuse to allow its facilities to be used for purposes with which it disagrees, but that is properly their right anyway. It also preserves the rights of presbyteries that want to be obstructive to address the conduct of individual ministers under their jurisdiction, but it would take an enormous investment of time and money to try multiple cases. The overture means that obstruction can only happen on a case-by-case basis or by adopting specific amendments to take away pastoral freedoms, which will be a hard sell in my opinion.”

Quote from “Marriage equality in the PCUSA,” by the Rev. Dr. Daniel M. Saperstein, Covenant Network Regional Conference

It would seem that the Covenant Network which was organized for the sole purpose of stripping the “fidelity and chastity” standard historically known as G-6.0106b from the Constitution now has the redefinition of marriage by any means necessary planned for the the 2014 PCUSA General Assembly.

Below is the Prezi  presentation from Daniel Saperstein’s “Marriage equality in the PCUSA: Biblical, theological and constitutional perspectives,” given at the Covenant Network Regional Conference.


Comments 10

  • The sickening and disheartening factor afoot is revealed by CovenNet’s lust for gain at whatever cost. This Juggernaut progressivism blithely sweeps aside the clear wording of our Confessions in order to slip a divisive and controversial (many would say “contemptable”) doctrine between the cracks of polity inticracies. This is subtlety of serpentine proportions. Better they should heed 2 Corinthians 2a: “But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word” and do the honest thing; namely, submit amendments to the Constitituion and let the whole church vote.

  • I expect the backdoor approach will stay in their pocket unless the GA fails to endorse homosexual marriage. Then they will pull it out and work for its passage on the grounds “it doesn’t actually endorse such marriage”. The PCUSA has already left the Bible behind in many other ways so this will be just one more step to its demise. Real Christian organizations will need to fill the gap in this increasingly secular anti- Christian society.

  • Perhaps you may need to go back to journalism school. The terms ‘go around back’ and ‘backdoor’ have been used for decades to reflect political machinations.

  • Perhaps it’s the old journalism student in me, but I wonder why the phrases “go around back” and “backdoor” are used so liberally in this article discussing the work of the Covenant Network. Perhaps, it would help to have an editor look it over before publishing to avoid such “charged” words.

    I hope it was a simple mistake, but the language used is concerning.

  • As our Executive Director has pointed out, the board is in a time of discernment and discussion. We are pleased to be able to offer via our website voices of Christian wisdom and scholarship from the larger Covenant Network community for us all to prayerfully consider.
    “Reformed, always being reformed.”

    Mary Lynn Tobin, Co-Moderator

    • “Reformed, always being reformed.” I always have liked to include the 2nd part of that statement “Reformed, always being reformed……According to the Word of God”.

  • I find many of the resources of the Covenant Network to be at odds with other resources that are provided on their website. Such disconnects raise the question for me as to whether the diversity of opinion is what is desired by the Board of Directors OR if the editorial approach is very loose for a purpose. It seems to me it leads the casual reader to think that there is no specific or congruent message the group wishes to articulate or advocate – the group just wants to generously offer some range of perspectives. However, on a more focused review, I find the editorial style obscures what I see as a very determined approach to establish a PC(USA) definition of marriage.
    A case in point: the posting of a editorial essay from Barbara Wheeler,
    which I praised with a comment in April, 2012. I found it noteworthy because it suggested a “holding place” approach; providing the space and time for the PCUSA to make adaptive changes. She said:

    “… many of us hold our views unsteadily—we are closer to the middle than the end of the spectrum. In my time I have seen a lot of change. In my own case, on some issues I have become more open, on others, more orthodox. That change happened not because some person or group anathematized me as unfaithful, but because some person or group provided what Ron Heifetz calls a “holding environment” in which adaptive change can happen. If we want to see further change, we will continue to build cultures in the church that nurture changing hearts and minds. That calls for something much more difficult than fighting to the finish: it requires restraint. Ministry, one of my best students once told me after he had done it for a decade, means staying with people while their hearts change. It takes patience, sometimes holding back from the next forceful action while waiting for others to join in and catch up.”

    It appears the Covenant Network is unfortunately one of the groups pulling and pushing the denomination into a fractured state – that would be the two “wrong-headed” strategies at work which Barbara Wheeler warns against. The Covenant Network appears to have rejected Barbara Wheeler’s counsel for developing “holding places” for they do not show restraint. Rather the Convenant Network seems to be pursuing a “fight to the finish” approach – it seems unpretentious enough to belie the new reality it accomplishes.

    The nature of the current fight in the PC(USA) is contentious as it is framed in the language of human sexuality. Along comes the Covenant Network and an attempt to reframe the controversy into the language of pastoral care rather than a redefinition of marriage. The net result is a PC(USA) definition of marriage.

    The pastoral care frame of reference appeals to the middle groups of Presbyterians, who want their fellow Presbyterians to “just get along.” The strategy of using the pastoral care frame of reference seems currently to take two paths: an Authoritative Interpretation (AI); or a rewording of a section of the Book of Order addressing pastoral discretion in caring for PC(USA) members – the new wording never mentions marriage.

    A. (Board of Directors decision) The AI path works on the idea of wearing down those in the “middle of the road” and completely discouraging the orthodox marriage proponents (traditionalists). This path is how the Book of Order ordination standards were rewritten to allow each ordaining body its own discretion about practicing same-gendered candidates. First the longstanding guidance (1978) declaring such sexual activity as sin was determined null and void; followed by a reframed set of ordination language appealing to the “middle way”.
    For same-gendered marriage, the approach is outlined in the Covenant Network’s statements:

    “Given that there are many in the PC(USA) who are troubled by the change in ordination standards, the Board of Directors lifts up this effort mindful of its commitment to tend to the unity of the denomination. In that spirit, the Board has decided not to support or encourage overtures to the 2012 General Assembly to change the constitutional language regarding marriage. The Covenant Network will, however, encourage overtures seeking Authoritative Interpretation to protect pastoral discretion to celebrate same-gender marriages where they are sanctioned by the civil authorities.”

    This is an indirect strategy to reframe the discussion from same-gender sexuality to the care and concern of members and the discretionary role of a pastor in those situations. The current path follows last year’s course of action summed up in a

    “ Co-Moderators’ Statement on Actions of the 220th GA”: “We are disappointed that this Assembly has failed to address the urgent pastoral crisis in the growing number of places where same-gender marriage is legal. The GA missed an opportunity to issue an Authoritative Interpretation that would have allowed ministers to exercise discretion in specific pastoral situations while the church continues having a conversation about the definition of marriage.”

    B. The second path knowingly ignores any social justice aspects of same-gender marriage there may be. It calls for the advocates of ordination and marriage of same-gendered persons to abandon their claims of social justice, in favor of an indirect changing of PC(USA) polity. It would negate the current polity, which is based on Confessional guidance of Scriptural morality and sexuality. Such a path is outlined by the Rev. Dr. Daniel M. Saperstein’s presentation at the Covenant Network Regional Conference in Denver, CO – January 27, 2013. While this is not an official proposal from the group, it is another posted resource that fails to pass Barbara Wheelers’ concerns in her essay.

    If the goal is a PC(USA) specific definition of marriage, then I urge the Covenant Network to show the restrain Barbara Wheeler suggests. I say wait until the two years of study of marriage is completed and the General Assembly meets, then review how to accomplish your advocating of a PC(USA) definition of marriage. Back off the indirect courses of action until the next GA speaks to the issue.

    • The definition of marriage already exists in a book the PCUSA apparently wants to ignore. Changing “hearts” does not change the truth.

  • A word of clarification and correction to Ms. LaBerge’s article: The Covenant Network does not “plan” anything of the sort that her headline, lead and conclusion suggest. Together with the whole church, we are in a period of study and discernment about the best way forward for the church, and for our organization, with regard to addressing the injustices around same-sex marriage contained in our current Book of Order and church practice.

    We were certainly grateful for Dan Saperstein’s presentation at our regional conference in Denver and challenged by his creative thinking about the many options for addressing the currently untenable situation. There will be many more such richly textured conversations ahead about the best way forward for the church. But the views expressed here are his own, not the “plans” of the Covenant Network as an organization. I’m grateful for the links to the actual presentation, which can also be read in its entirety on our website,

    Brian Ellison, Executive Director
    Covenant Network of Presbyterians

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