The Presbyterian Church (USA) opted out of signing onto “A Christian Declaration of Marriage” – a statement endorsed by the National Association of Evangelicals, the Southern Baptist Convention and the U.S. Conference of Catholic bishops – by a majority vote at the denomination’s 216th General Assembly, on July 2, 2004.
The overture called on the Assembly to endorse "'A Christian Declaration on Marriage' as an apt expression of the Presbyterian Church (USA)'s commitment to work ecumenically and practically to strengthen marriage, an institution that is honored in the Scriptures and important in U.S. society today."
The declaration, which was first penned in 2000, states, among other things:
“We believe that marriage is a holy union of one man and one woman in which they commit, with God’s help, to build a loving, life-giving, faithful relationship that will last for a lifetime. God has established the married state, in the order of creation and redemption, for spouses to grow in love of one another and for the procreation, nurture, formation and education of children.”
The General Secretary of the National Council of Churches USA, the Rev. Bob Edgar, had initially signed onto the declaration, but retracted his signature 3 days later. The PC(USA) is a strong member of the NCCUSA, and provides much of the income base for the ecumenical organization.
In support of the overture, the Rev. Donald Wade of Greater Atlanta Presbytery told the commissioners that the declaration would draw the PC(USA) closer to the millions of other Christians who support a clear definition of marriage. In addition, Wade explained that the overture would not contradict the Assembly’s decision not to endorse the Federal Marriage Amendment, since the two documents were completely separate.
"It doesn't contradict anything in our Book of Order," said Wade. "It doesn't have anything to do with the Federal Marriage Amendment … it does not take a position for or against civil unions for same-sex couples."
Nevertheless, the commissioners chose to adopt a separate resolution – one that was adopted the night before – to illustrate the PC(USA)’s stance on marriage.
The new overture stated: "That the 216th General Assembly (2004) ask all church members to join in a year of prayer for marriage renewal and reconciliation, and urge synods, presbyteries and local congregations to seek ways of working with other Christian bodies in their areas toward these same purposes."
The following is the full text of A Christian Declaration of Marriage, as posted by the NCC:
As we celebrate the 2000th anniversary of the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ, entering the third millennium, we pledge together to honor the Lord by committing ourselves afresh to God’s first institution—marriage.
We believe that marriage is a holy union of one man and one woman in which they commit, with God’s help, to build a loving, life-giving, faithful relationship that will last for a lifetime. God has established the married state, in the order of creation and redemption, for spouses to grow in love of one another and for the procreation, nurture, formation and education of children.
We believe that in marriage many principles of the Kingdom of God are manifested. The interdependence of healthy Christian community is clearly exemplified in loving one another (John 13:34), forgiving one another (Ephesians 4:32), confessing to one another (James 5:16), and submitting to one another (Ephesians 5:21). These principles find unique fulfillment in marriage. Marriage is God’s gift, a living image of the union between Christ and His Church.
We believe that when a marriage is true to God’s loving design it brings spiritual, physical, emotional, economic, and social benefits not only to a couple and family but also to the Church and to the wider culture. Couples, churches, and the whole of society have a stake in the well being of marriages. Each, therefore, has its own obligations to prepare, strengthen, support and restore marriages.
Our nation is threatened by a high divorce rate, a rise in cohabitation, a rise in non-marital births, a decline in the marriage rate, and a diminishing interest in and readiness for marrying, especially among young people. The documented adverse impact of these trends on children, adults, and society is alarming. Therefore, as church leaders, we recognize an unprecedented need and responsibility to help couples begin, build, and sustain better marriages, and to restore those threatened by divorce.
Motivated by our common desire that God’s Kingdom be manifested on earth as it is in heaven, we pledge to deepen our commitment to marriage. With three-quarters of marriages performed by clergy, churches are uniquely positioned not only to call America to a stronger commitment to this holy union but to provide practical ministries and influence for reversing the course of our culture. It is evident in cities across the nation that where churches join in common commitment to restore a priority on marriages, divorces are reduced and communities are positively influenced.
Therefore, we call on churches throughout America to do their part to strengthen marriage in our nation by providing:
· Prayer and spiritual support for stronger marriages
· Encouragement for people to marry
· Education for young people about the meaning and responsibility of marriage
· Preparation for those engaged to be married
· Pastoral care, including qualified mentor couples, for couples at all stages of their relationship
· Help for couples experiencing marital difficulty and disruption
· Influence within society and the culture to uphold the institution of marriage
Further, we urge churches in every community to join in developing policies and programs with concrete goals to reduce the divorce rate and increase the marriage rate.
By our commitment to marriage as instituted by God, the nature of His Kingdom will be more clearly revealed in our homes, our churches, and our culture. To that end we pray and labor with the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
May the grace of God, the presence of Christ, and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit be abundant to all those who so commit and be a blessing to all whose marriages we seek to strengthen.