Church Manual further defines marriage

Church Manual further defines marriage

Business Meetings | Atlanta, Georgia, United States | Elizabeth Lechleitner/ANN

Change adds 'between one male and one female' to existing 'heterosexual' definition

Jeroen Tuinstra, a representative from Trans-Europe, asks delegates to consider an amendment broadening the Church Manual's definition of marriage. Wording suggested by the Church Manual Committee, he said, alienates gays and lesbians and might allow forced child marriages. [photo: Robert East]
Jeroen Tuinstra, a representative from Trans-Europe, asks delegates to consider an amendment broadening the Church Manual's definition of marriage. Wording suggested by the Church Manual Committee, he said, alienates gays and lesbians and might allow forced child marriages. [photo: Robert East]

The Seventh-day Adventist Church's top leadership voted this morning to further clarify the definition of marriage stated in the global denomination's Church Manual.

The vote, which adds the phrase "between one male and one female" to a statement that previously said, "Marriage, thus instituted by God, is a monogamous, heterosexual relationship," came during continued discussions this week of 95 proposed changes to the Manual.

The definition voted today matches the Church Manual Committee's original proposed change, but its approval did not come simply or swiftly. During the hour-and-a-half discussion, delegates faced a pileup of motions, amendments, amendments to previous amendments and even one amendment to reconsider.

"You do realize we've taken ourselves deep into the woods, and we are trying to find our way out now," said world church Vice President Pardon Mwansa, as confusion and frustration mounted on the floor.

It was clear that an overwhelming majority of delegates favored the added wording, but some delegates voiced concerns that it would alienate homosexuals from the Adventist Church and might not protect children from forced marriages.

Jeroen Tuinstra, a representative from the church's Trans-European region, made the first amendment, calling for the following wording: "Marriage is a monogamous, loving relationship between two mutually consenting adults." He explained that the current text could be interpreted to allow forced marriages.

"Furthermore, I believe that our church is an open, not closed church ... a gracious, not a condemning church," Tuinstra added, saying that the wording would further estrange gays and lesbians from the church.

His suggestion was not met with favor on the floor. Reno Paotonu, from the South Pacific, said he was "shocked" to hear such a statement from a member of the delegation.

Given time constraints, Mwansa and other moderators set discussion of the amendment to 10 minutes, with one minute per comment.

Delegates from the church's North American, Southern Africa-Indian Ocean and West-Central African regions all voiced vigorous disapproval for the amendment.

"We can be gracious and still hold to our standards of right and wrong that God has set up," said one North American delegate, adding that his brother is gay.

Passmore N. Mulambo, from the church's Southern Africa-Indian Ocean region, agreed. "As we exercise love, consideration and inclusiveness, we need not lose sight of our theological orientation," he said.

Mulambo's colleague, Tinto Ngulube, went further, calling for the Manual to include a "clear statement condemning homosexuality in the same way we condemn adultery."

Switta Stevens, from East-Central Africa, said calling sin "by its right name" is a means of "proclaiming Jesus' grace."

As delegates voiced their censure of homosexual marriage, some pointed out that part of Tuinstra's amendment was overshadowed.

"I think we're forgetting the part that seeks to protect against child marriages," said Birgit Philipsen, from East-Central Africa. "This should not be lost in discussion."

Soon after, Stephen Logan from Trans-Europe moved Philipsen's amendment to the amendment, suggesting the following wording: "Marriage, thus instituted by God, is a consenting, adult, heterosexual relationship between one male and one female."

Several delegates said that while they agreed with the intent of the amendment, they worried that since the definition of "adult" varies by region, the church might be opening itself to legislating, rather than simply guiding, behavior.

The amendment, however, unanimously passed. When delegates voted to accept the entire chapter of the Manual that contains the definition of marriage, the church's General Counsel Karnik Doukmetzian informed delegates they'd created a conundrum: by moving the amendment, they put the church in a legally difficult position, but accepting the chapter would block them from undoing the action.

One delegate suggested referring the entire chapter back to the Church Manual Committee, but Mwansa reminded them that due to time constraints -- Session is wrapping up this week -- the church would be stuck with the old language for another five years. That definition uses only "monogamous and heterosexual" to describe marriage.

To remedy the situation, delegates voted to reconsider the amendment that included the phrase "consenting adult." With its rejection, delegates were then able to vote on the original language proposed by the Church Manual Committee.

A broad majority of delegates raised their yellow vote cards.

"Thank you, it is carried. Wow," Mwansa said.