In the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures, covenants between persons of faith are commonplace and blessed by God. The prophets and Jesus Christ our Lord affirmed that justice, mercy, and faith constitute our core as people of faith. As people of faith, in covenant relationship as proclaimed in Scripture and affirmed by our church’s Constitution, we affirm that all persons are created in the image of God and called to partake fully in the covenantal relationships that God has provided for all persons.
The practice of pastoral care honors our core covenantal responsibility to care for one another. The Book of Order declares that pastoral care is an imperative responsibility for the whole church; and has recognized that worship is an important context for the exercise of pastoral care: “All Christians are called to care for one another in daily living, sharing joys and sorrows, supporting in times of stress and need, offering mutual forgiveness and reconciliation. This care is primarily offered as the community of faith worships together. …” (W-6.3002).
Pastoral care is specifically mentioned as being important for Christians during major life events such as loss and death, healing the effects of broken relationships, and life transitions:
The church recognizes transitions which bring joy and sorrow in human life:
a. children are born, grow up …
b. people begin work, change jobs, …
c. households are established, …
d. people are empowered, restored, make new commitments.
The ministries of pastoral care support people in recognizing, accepting, and celebrating these and other such times of adjustment, assisting them in working toward a new role in life and affirming their identity through transition. [W-6.3010]
To exclude an entire population of the church, namely same-gender couples, from the privilege of Christian marriage denies these persons the pastoral care they desire for fulfilling their service to God. While it has always been the case that persons authorized to conduct services of Christian marriage may not be required to marry a couple against their conscience and better judgment (Book of Order, W-4.9002b), to bind the conscience of ministers and commissioned lay pastors by forbidding them to conduct a legal marriage that they have prayerfully considered would be an unjustified interference in the exercise of pastoral care. Excluding same-gender couples from the privilege of Christian marriage where it is legally authorized undermines the peace, unity, and purity of the church. Section W-4.9000 was written and adopted before any state created the possibility of marriage between two persons of the same gender. The call of the prophets and the Word of God summon us to declare the holiness of the gift of marriage for all faithful couples, regardless of gender.