Same-sex marriage advocates seek re-write of marriage liturgy


People attending the Covenant Network’s “Marriage Matters” conference in Chicago discuss marriage liturgies at a pre-conference workshop.

Editor’s note: The Presbyterian Lay Committee (PLC), the publisher of The Layman and The Layman Online, does not support same-sex marriage. Instead, the PLC “believes with Scripture that God ordained the lifelong marriage of a man and a woman in the very order of creation and that Jesus Christ, the Head of the Church, blessed and sanctified this relationship. The article here was posted as a news story about the Covenant Network’s 2013 conference on “Marriage Matters.”


CHICAGO, Ill. — In honor of its 25th anniversary in 2018, a thorough revision of the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s Book of Common Worship (BCW) is planned, and those attending the Covenant Network’s 2013 conference “Marriage Matters” certainly envision it containing a marriage liturgy that’s inclusive of same-sex couples.

Kimberly Bracken Long, associate professor of worship at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Ga., led a pre-conference workshop focusing on marriage liturgies.

“I am approaching this topic with an interest in a marriage rite that works for everybody,” she said, “We don’t need to have two separate rites roaming around out there. … I am convinced by my Biblical study that at the heart of it, marriage is a subset — if you will — under the great umbrella of right relationship … So what do Christians mean about being in right relationship to each other and to God, and how do we bring that to marriage?”

She said that she is “convinced that if the church is going to stay in the marriage business, we need to find a way to do it more authentically and with more integrity.”

Stating that this was work the group could do together, she added that she was glad that the pre-conference workshop was “focusing on the ceremony itself, since that is where our theology is enacted.”

During the workshop she discussed the Presbyterian church (USA)’s BCW, along with wedding rites from three denominations that affirm same-sex relationships.


Not just an ‘intellectual exercise’

“I wanted to prime the pump, if you will, with the liturgies from other bodies of Christ,” she said, because later in the workshop the group would “start thinking about what a new Presbyterian marriage rite can sound like that doesn’t make distinctions about who the people are who are getting married.”

Referencing the revision of the BCW, she added that looking at other marriage rites wasn’t just an “intellectual exercise,” but a way for those in the room to get a handle on the issue.

Looking at the marriage service currently in the BCW, Long pointed to three things she “especially affirmed”:

  1. The affirmation of families and the congregation
  2. The prayer of blessing has “so many beautiful moments in it,” she said, adding that it is”drawn closely from Scripture,” before reading a section of it. “There’s nothing wrong with that,” she said.
  3. “I always appreciate the language of the charge of blessing,” she said.

“I love those parts,” she said, “and I’m glad they are there,” before she turned to those parts that she claimed “no longer work as well:”

  • The statement on the gift of marriage. “It’s not only the man and woman language, but the ordering of life,” she said. “We talk about that in a different way now.”
  • Long said that she was not sure that “Paul’s image of Christ in the Church is about marriage. It’s about Christ.” She called into question the use of that imagery as a metaphor for marriage.
  • Speaking of the created order, blessed by God, Long thought that “there are more important things we can say about marriage.”
  • “The vows themselves,” she said were a problem. If the church is looking for more inclusive marriage ceremonies, then the “language needs adjustment.”
  • And finally, she asked, “What do we mean by covenant language?” She said that the covenant between God and Israel is not one of equality, so if “we use covenant language, we need to make the mutuality of it clear.”

Following a time of small group discussion, participants shared Biblical texts and theological concepts that most informed their understanding of marriage.

Responses included:

  • Radical freedom given by God for human choices, from the Bonhoeffer letter.
  • Instead of speaking of procreation, speak of creation, from Genesis 1.
  • The Incarnation — its uniqueness to the Christian tradition … how the fleshly, physical stuff is good
  • Vocation. The purpose of the couple is to transcend beyond what the couple does for each other
  • Community. It’s not good that we should be alone. Marriage is a new creation, so lift up the new creation.
  • The nature of covenant as something stronger than just making promises.
  • The coming out into something new — into a new community; just as God in Christ came out, in marriage we come out.
  • Grace and forgiveness
  • Micah 6:8
  • Colossians 3:12-17
  • Psalm 136
  • Romans 12
  • Song 8
  • Galatians 3
  • Ecclesiastes 4


Three wedding liturgies

Also in small groups, Long had those in attendance discuss the marriage services for the United Church of Canada (UCC), the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and The Episcopal Church (TEC). Of the three denominations, only the TEC relates to same-sex couples, but it is a blessing ceremony, not a marriage ceremony. The other two were traditional marriage ceremonies.

Reporting out of the small group meetings, comments about the ELCA marriage service included:

  • The prayer of intercession was powerful: Praying for those of whom we love easily and those we do not … praying for those who are separated from us by distance or discord. The small group did not like the language of “male and female.”
  • Some of the Scripture used would not be understood by most of the people attending the service. The example given was the reference to the wedding feast that will never end.
  • Another small group questioned the statement that “God established marriage”

Responses to studying the UCC marriage ceremony included:

  • Speaking of the exchange of vows, one person said that there was “too much fusion for me.” She continued that she would prefer words like respect or respecting one’s identity.
  • “I don’t remember the words marriage or wedding being used,” said one person. They liked the act of covenanting rather than a “big wedding show.”
  • Two unusual things that were appreciated: a powerful prayer of confession right up front and the acknowledgement that there might be pre-existing children.
  • The balance between traditional language and accessible language. It’s good that the language is accessible to all who are attending the ceremony, but there is no nobility in the language.

Responses to the TEC same-sex blessing ceremony included:

  • “It’s very liturgical and has a very nice flow, but it is a half way measure,” said one person. “It’s a route that the PCUSA may follow … it is a blessing and not a marriage, so there is still a class distinction.”
  • “It’s a compromise, and there are some who don’t want to compromise.”
  • “We thought the language was beautiful. There was prayer language all the way through … the Scripture suggestions they use are Jonathan and David from I Samuel. We thought that was a nice touch.”
  • “The vows say I give myself to you, rather than I take you. It’s a little less aggressive.”
  • “None of these marriage rites can be used to marry me and my partner,” said one man. “They are still in effect exclusive to those in this church …. It’s very difficult to look at the language that might be welcoming, but to realize that none of this applies to us.”

The Covenant Network’s 2013 Covenant Conference  — Marriage Matters — is being held this weekend, Oct. 31-Nov. 2 at Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago, Ill. The conference can be followed on Twitter at #covnet2013.

Paula R. Kincaid