I believe this rule applies to the courts and the law of all kinds of institutions. This Sunday I have in mind the Permanent Judicial Commission of the Presbytery of Boston in their ruling on Rev. Jean Southard performing a same-sex marriage in First Presbyterian Church of Waltham.
Everyone agrees on the facts. Jean Southard, a Presbyterian minister, did perform the usual wedding service in a normal church, joining two women. Everyone involved called it a marriage, both in the civil and in the religious sense. Yet the church's Directory of Worship clearly says that Presbyterian ministers and Presbyterian churches can only assist in the marriage of a man and a woman.
Southard's defense was that the language of the Directory is "merely descriptive" and reflects outdated social conditions. The Boston PJC bought this argument. Or rather, as part of their desire to overturn church law, which has been reaffirmed by the votes of the whole church several times and recently, the judicial commission legislated for the church. Worse, as the dissent of two members of the commission strongly protested, the majority of the commission is ruling that the church law should be determined by the lead of the state law.
The Southard decision follows on the Orwellian reasoning of General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission last spring in the Spahr case. Rev. Jane Spahr had also performed a same-sex marriage (actually two, just to be sure) in order to create a test case. The GA PJC ruled that since the Directory says a marriage can only be between a man and a woman, the thing that Spahr performed, which all present regarded as a marriage, couldn't really be a violation of the Directory since it didn't involve a man and a woman. Case closed.
Such games undermine the whole church. Wrong, wrong.