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.

Paula R. Kincaid