Thursday, October 23rd, 2014
The Layman Online > Marriage resources > PJC finds teaching elder not guilty of violating ordination vows following his same-gender wedding

PJC finds teaching elder not guilty of violating ordination vows following his same-gender wedding

verdictCROMWELL, Conn. — A teaching elder in the Presbyterian Church (USA) has been found not guilty by the Southern New England Presbytery’s Permanent Judicial Commission of violating his ordination vows when he married his same-gender partner.

The Rev. John Merz married William Starowski in 2009 in Connecticut, where same-gender civil marriages are legal.

In an article published in the March 2009 issue of Presbyterian Promise news, Merz wrote “… on January 8th in our still decorated from Christmas living room, surrounded by members of our church ‘covenant group’ (a church fellowship group) Bill and I were wed a third time. This time it was a legal marriage, recognized by the state of Connecticut and officiated by two faithful Christian ministers. And it was Presbyterian. The liturgy was Presbyterian. The witnesses were Presbyterian. The two grooms were Presbyterian (Bill became a new member and deacon of our church in 2008). Everything was Presbyterian about it except that it will not be a marriage that is recognized by the Presbyterian denomination. All those present agreed that God was surely in our midst that evening and God once again blessed our relationship.”

Following the ceremony, he wrote that a toast was given to “hope for the Presbyterian Church (USA) that it will one day (soon) recognize this marriage (and others like it) as one of its own.

Not guilty

The PJC unanimously found Merz not guilty in all six counts:

  1. Violation of vows of ordination from the Book of Order W-4.4003b. “Do you accept the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament to be, by the Holy Spirit, the unique and authoritative witness to Jesus Christ in the Church universal, and God’s Word to you?”
  2. Violation of vows of ordination from the Book of Order W-4.4003c. “Do you sincerely receive and adopt the essential tenets of the Reformed faith as expressed in the confessions of our church as authentic and reliable expositions of what Scripture lead us to  believe and do, and will you be instructed and led by those confessions as you lead the people of God?”
  3. Violation of vows of ordination from the Book of Order W-4.4003d. “Will you fulfill your ministry in obedience to Jesus Christ, under the authority of Scripture, and be continually guided by our confessions?”
  4. Violation of the vows of ordination from the Book of Order W-4.9001. “Marriage is a gift God has given to all humankind for the well-being of the entire human family. Marriage is a civil contract between a woman and a man. For Christians marriage is a covenant through which a man and a woman are called to live out together before God their lives of discipleship. In a service of Christian marriage a lifelong commitment is made by a woman and a man to each other, publicly witnessed and acknowledged by the community of faith.”
  5. Violation of the Book of Confessions paragraph 5.246. “Marriage: For marriage (which is medicine of incontinency and continency itself) was instituted by the Lord God Himself, who blessed it most bountifully, and willed man and woman to cleave one to the other inseparably, and to live together in complete love and concord (Matt. 19:4) Whereupon we know that the apostle said “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled (Heb. 13:4). And again, “If a girl marries, she does not sin (I Cor. 7:28). The Sects: We therefore condemn polygamy, and those who condemn second marriages.” Second Helvetic Confession.
  6. Violation of the Book of Confessions paragraph 6.131. “Of marriage and divorce: Christian marriage is an institution ordained by God, blessed by our Lord Jesus Christ, established and sanctified for the happiness and welfare of mankind, into which spiritual and physical union one man and one woman enter, cherishing a mutual esteem and love, bearing with each other’s infirmities and weaknesses, comforting each other in trouble, providing in honesty and industry for each other and for their household, praying for each other, and living together the length of their days as heirs of the grace of life.” Westminster Confession of Faith.

In filing the original charge Stephen Nazareth, a ruling elder at Greenwood Community Church (PCUSA), stated that the charges were filed “out of frustration that the Presbytery of Southern New England has been unwilling or unable to enforce its own constitution.  Since Rev. Merz “marriage” his specialized ministry has been repeatedly renewed in spite of this lifestyle not being in compliance with Holy Scripture and the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (USA), and the specific standards of the presbytery through the Committee on Ministry. His recent appointment to the Committee on Ministry was my personal breaking point on this matter.”

The trial was held Nov 23 at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Cromwell, Conn. Beginning at 10 a.m. the trial lasted until 12:10. Deliberations took place over lunch and the verdict was given at approximately 2 p.m.

An article on the arguments made at the trial and the written rationale of the PJC will be posted next week.

About the author: Paula R. Kincaid

Paula R. Kincaid is the editor of The Layman and The Layman Online. She has been employed by the Presbyterian Lay Committee since March 3, 1998. She lives in Hudson, N.C.

14 comments

  1. Sam Dechter says:

    I really do not understand the ruling. We have not yet changed the Book of Order regarding marriage. How can the actions by the gay couple not deviate from the Book of Order? In that Presbytery, apparently the Book of Order does not matter. Maybe they are sending an overture to GA to dismiss the Book of Order so we can have a free-for-all make your own rules PCUSA. So sad for the rest of us.

  2. Carl Smith says:

    It should come as no surprise that the “not guilty” verdict should be the result of this trial. The homosexual agenda for the PCUSA is in full bloom and all Presbyterians should come to the conclusion that they will have to choose between believing the Word of God and the confessions or join the ranks of those who deny the authority of Word, creed and confession.

  3. Steve Jones says:

    The groom – no, not that groom; the other groom – “became a new member and deacon of our church in 2008″? Do they give new members an office along with their certificate of membership? Do they take anything seriously?

  4. Lucille Robbins says:

    As usual, it’s a Good News/ Bad News event. The bad news: with this ruling, the PJC has effectively made a profound declaration: words have no meaning. Scripture, consisting of words, must therefore have no meaning.
    What does it matter if the Emperor has no clothes, if clothes may be both visible and invisible? Now, the good news: with such a ruling from a PJC, the future of PCUSA is unmistakable. Those of us who respect the meanings of words, can rejoice that the period of confusion is over! Hallelujah!

  5. Ron Scates says:

    What a sheer gift to the thousands and thousands of folks, and numerous congregations, who have recently exited the pcusa……..but may have had some second thoughts as they were walking out the door………not anymore !!

  6. Dan says:

    The arguments by the Prosecution failed the common sense test.
    The arguments by the Defense cited GA-PJC cases that are binding on all PCUSA jurisdictional maters.

    Christians all cite the Bible as the definitive word of God. Everybody agrees.

    In many cases there is no definitive interpretation of the Bible, otherwise we would not have so many Christian Denominations (this is common sense). Especially so many reformed denominations. Everybody disagrees. We can argue, and as Christians, we look no better than Congress.

    When you start arguing my interpretation of the Bible is right and yours is wrong, you stand in Judgment.
    This is the Lord’s. I think we all can agree that we fall short of the Glory of God. I fear my day of judgment.

    There has to be standards. Those standards were argued effectively at this trial.
    The defendant was found not guilty on all counts.

    • What arguments were cited by the defense? What previous GAPJC decisions ??

      The prosecution was not allowed to present its case, as the only thing the PJC wanted to know was if there were any previous decisions on like cases. As it is, there was no precedents so the PJC made its own without listening to anything the prosecution had to say.

      Make no mistake, this was a disciplinary trial for offenses under D-2.0203:

      A disciplinary case is one in which a church member or a person in an ordered ministry may be censured for an offense.
      a. Persons in ordered ministries are teaching elders, ruling elders, and deacons.
      b. An offense is any act or omission by a member or a person in an ordered ministry of the church that is contrary to the Scriptures or the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

      In ruling that the prosecution witness had nothing to testify about, the PJC itself violated the Book of Order’s Book of Discipline D-11.402g which states: “The prosecuting committee shall present its evidence in support of the charges, subject to objection and cross-examination by the accused.”

      Evidently, it was not allowed to do so.

      I hope that the prosecution exercises its right to an appeal as there are ample grounds under the BOO paragraph D-13.0106:

      The grounds for appeal are
      a. irregularity in the proceedings;
      b. refusing a party reasonable opportunity to be heard or to obtain or present evidence;
      c. receiving improper, or declining to receive proper, evidence or testimony;
      d. hastening to a decision before the evidence or testimony is fully received;
      e. manifestation of prejudice in the conduct of the case;
      f. injustice in the process or decision;
      g. error in constitutional interpretation;

  7. Bruce Becker says:

    The PC(USA) has worshiped so long at the “communion table” of fatuous inclusivity that we have accomplished the unfathomable. We have created a denomination in which a thing and its opposite are the same! Trampling the Constitution and violating the Bible are the same as submitting to and upholding them. Belief and obedience are now whatever I choose, as long as I consent to and affirm the prevailing fashions. For indeed, now we have fashions and no theology.

    We were intended to love inclusively and to think exclusively. “Here, O Israel, the LORD your God, the LORD is one!” Not two! Not three! Not “whatever!” It does not get more exclusive than that!

    Ordination vows used to mean that one was obligated to abide by the truth. “No opinion can be either more pernicious or more absurd, than that which brings truth or falsehood upon a level, and represents it as no consequence what a person’s opinions are.” We actually used to believe that. Now we are merely guided by it, but instead we must be subject to the “Fashion.”

    We have lived this before. Inevitably the only real troublemakers are the Elijahs. “Is that you, you Troubler of Israel?”

  8. Eric Wells says:

    For those within the PCUSA that hold to traditional values, this is yet another sign that they are behind enemy lines. Time to vote with your feet…period.

  9. To the extent that this article is accurate, does not this decision by an official body of the PC(USA) demonstrate once again that we are both non-confessional (i.e., the once officially adopted confessions of faith are no longer binding on, or even a guide for, the faith and life of the church or of its members and officers) and also post-constitutional (i.e., the provisions of the once officially adopted constitution for faith, good order, worship, and discipline are not only broadly ignored but now firmly dismissed and here officially set aside)? And if we are both non-confessional and post-constitutional, is it not the case that we are no longer properly constituted as a denomination or as any part of the true church of Jesus Christ? Is this the price that the PC(USA) is willing to pay for approving, condoning, and celebrating same-sex marriage, that we tear all the way down to the ground the faith and order of the church that we have received? And would not any additional efforts to amend the constitution be entirely superfluous now, since we no longer follow the rules of, or abide by, the constitution we supposedly already have?

  10. Larry says:

    He should have been convicted on 5 counts – number 4 isn’t an ordination vow (although it was conctained within the BoO in the Directory for Worship – and he did violate that as well, though not as a violation (directly) of hie Ord Vows…he should be defrocked and an apology made to the presbytery in which he has served for allowing him to serve for so long when he was in violation of the Constitution – we poften forget that there are THREE parts to the Constitution: the BoO, BoC and THE BIBLE (we usually leave that out when referring to ‘the Constitution but it is the MOST IMPORTANT PART!!!)

  11. Frank says:

    1. Kind of illustrates the Reformed principle of “total depravity.” Shame on the PJC for having nonsense of morality.

    2. Henceforth, no one should expect a rational religious based decision from any PCUSA PJC, anywhere. They are rank pagans.

  12. Deliberations continued over lunch??

    What did they do .. walk in there, say are we all agreed ?? Good, pass the salt ???

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