PUP 3 – Naysayers 0 – Overoptimistic 0

February 13, 2008 by
Filed under: Religion 

The PCUSA General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission issued three rulings today that have to do with the Peace, Unity and Purity report, essential tenets, ordination, and indirectly homosexuality.

(For those who don’t know what I’m talking about – the General Assembly PJC is like the Supreme Court for the Presbyterian Church (USA) denomination.)

In the first case involving the Presbytery of Olympia, the PJC ruled that the PUP report’s Authoritative Interpretation did not change ordination standards (including the “Fidelity and Chastity” standard).  It further ruled (referencing the next case) that an ordaining body may not establish a list of essentials or standards to which each candidate must conform in all respects.  In other words, no checklist where if you fail any item you may not be ordained.

The second case involving the Presbytery of Pittsburgh contains most of the meat of these decisions.  The GA PJC ruled that the Fidelity and Chastity standard remains in effect until amended or removed from the Book of Order.  It ruled that you may not scruple a behavior – only a belief.  It also ruled as above that an ordaining body may not establish a list of essentials – that they are redundant and unnecessary and therefore “an obstruction to constitutional governance”.  (Side note – expect the conservative Naysayers to make a statement about “Scriptural governance”.)  The PJC also ruled that each examination for ordination or installation must be done individually.  “The examining body is best suited to make decisions about the candidate’s fitness for office, and factual determinations by examining bodies are entitled to deference by higher governing
bodies in any review process.”  An important note is that the GA PJC decided that they had not been asked to rule on the presbytery’s prohibition of ministers performing “same-sex marriages” within the jurisdiction of the presbytery because that clause had not been argued.

The third case involved the Presbytery of Washington [state].  In this case, the GA PJC ruled:

  • that the Resolution A passed by the presbytery is void.  This resolution required adherence to all statements in the Book of Order that contained the words “shall”, “is/are to be”, “requierment” or equivalent expression for anyone being ordained.
  • That the presbytery may not require adherence to a list of essentials, including the document “Biblical Standards for Christian Leaders”,  by ordained or installed ministers.
  • That the presbytery may not require any standards for elders or deacons.  The presbytery had in both documents (Resolution A and the BSCL) intended that they apply to elders and deacons within the presbytery and there was a threat to take action against any ordained officer who refused to sign and “subscribe” to the BSCL document.
  • In a Concurring opinion, the presbytery was reprimanded for their processes in handling the presbytery minutes and the confusion as to the state of these resolutions that was caused.

Here’s my analysis.

This is a victory for those who crafted the Peace, Unity and Purity report.  It is also a victory for those who said “Nothing has changed” in response to the complaints after the General Assembly adopted the report.  Some conservatives (though he took some of the invective back here) have railed that the recent presbytery decisions ordain or re-install gay ministers meant that those who said “Nothing has changed” were lying.   It’s just not true.  Our Presbyterian system takes TIME to work through new ideas and new rules.

So this is a loss for the Naysayers who complained about the PUP Report.  Truly, these decisions reassert traditional Presbyterian doctrine – that each ordinand/transferee is examined on their own merits.  None of us are perfect – the ordaining body (presbytery, session) must make a decision in each case on the merits of that person alone.  And the “fidelity and chastity” clause is still in force – in my opinion to the detriment of the church.

This is also a loss for the folks in the lesbian and gay (and liberal in general) community who saw the PUP report as a backdoor to ordination of homosexuals.  This is particularly true in the case of Scott Anderson, who was on the PUP task force.  The PUP report as amended and passed by the General Assembly truly changed nothing.  Lisa Larges (who was approved to seek a call) and Paul Capetz (who was reinstated to the office of Minister of the Word and Sacrament) will probably face remedial cases related to their status.  I believe that this GA PJC would overturn their presbyteries’ votes to accept their ordination while they assert a lifestyle in contradiction to G-6.0106b.  I’m sad to say this because I feel for them and believe that G-6.0106b should be removed from the Book of Order.  My commitment to the PCUSA is shaken every day by discrimination against homosexuals.  But these are the rules today.  We have to change them or accept them, or leave.  We can’t just ignore them; when we do the whole connectional/convenantal structure is brought into doubt.

It is important to note that even the GA PJC sees a need for alternative resolution of conflict.  In the 3rd case listed above the PJC quoted its report to the upcoming General Assembly:

There is little guidance in Rules of Discipline about how the conciliation and mediation should take place… . The experience of this Commission leads us to urge the General Assembly to consider adopting revisions to the Rules of Discipline that would promote alternative forms of dispute resolution and consensus building in lieu of adversarial judicial process. The Church should strive to resolve disputes in a manner that minimizes divisiveness and expense and promotes consensus, leaving this Commission to resolve disputes by judicial process as a last resort.

Let’s hope that the General Assembly listens to them.  The best part of the PUP Report is the part most often ignored – the need to TALK and LISTEN to each other when resolving disputes.  Too often today we are talking past each other and appealing to higher authority to solve our disputes.  That just leaves us angry and frustrated.


4 Comments on PUP 3 – Naysayers 0 – Overoptimistic 0

  1. Alan on Wed, 13th Feb 2008 3:43 pm
  2. None of this surprises me. The GAPJC rendered a decision that looked at both the letter and the spirit of the PUP report.

    I’m not sure many in the LGBT community saw the PUP report as a back door to ordination. MLP’s press releases, for example, say just the opposite. And, we continue to see the numerous Delete-B overtures that keep being passed in various presbyteries as further evidence. Some may have believed, after the fact I think, that it might be used as an end run, but I think most out there saw this as just another delay.

    I’ve been saying for a long time that nothing changed, and if anything did change, the PUP report actually makes LBGT ordination more difficult, not less.

    One hates to say “I told you so.” But…. 😉

  3. Alan on Wed, 13th Feb 2008 3:45 pm
  4. BTW, it will be interesting to see how this gets spun. The “Everything has changed!” faction has been getting lots of mileage out of that incorrect assertion, particularly as an excuse for secessionist churches to leave.

  5. Christine on Thu, 14th Feb 2008 11:21 am
  6. Mark, I agree with your analysis, except for one small part: I suspect the amendment B is ignored (selectively) all the time. How many sessions really question their officer candidates about their sexual behavior? (All the hue and cry is about candidates for minister, but we hear almost nothing from the pro-B crowd about potential elders or deacons.) How many sessions, who would never dream of questioning straight officer candidates about their sexuality, would nevertheless refuse even to consider an openly gay candidate? Amendment B is very inconsistently applied, which is one more reason why it is an example of bad polity and should be gotten rid of.

  7. Quotidian Grace on Fri, 15th Feb 2008 8:56 am
  8. Mark, thanks for your excellent analysis. Although I don’t agree with your position vis-a-vis 6.0106b, I agree with everything else you said, especially the need to talk with each other rather than running to the church or secular courts to settle our disputes. In this blog and your comments elsewhere you set a great example of doing just that.

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