Amendment B fails – where does this leave us?

April 27, 2009 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Religion 

This past weekend, two presbyteries voted against Amendment B – the Book of Order amendment to G6.0106b that would have removed the fidelity/chastity rule – making it easier to ordain lesbian and gay people as deacons, elders or ministers in the Presbyterian Church (USA).  This time around the vote was much closer than in the past, indicating a shift in cultural and scriptural beliefs on the subject.

I’m going to write two articles on this – this one and one to come.  Today’s article is about where we are left (in my personal interpretation) by the combination of this amendment failing and the changes to Authoritative Interpretations made by the 218th General Assembly in 2008.  The next article will be on where we should go from here politically, with my recommendations for the progressive, conservative and moderate factions.

What happened?

The 218th General Assembly took three important actions related to ordination standards:

1.  Removal of all prior Authoritative Interpretations.

As part of the same resolution that sent Amendment B to the presbyteries, the General Assembly stated:

Interpretive statements concerning ordained service of homosexual church members by the 190th General Assembly (1978) of the United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, and the 119th General Assembly (1979) of the Presbyterian Church in the United States and all subsequent affirmations thereof, have no further force or effect.

That has the net effect of throwing out all prohibitions on gay ordination other than G6-0106b.  It also throws out all PJC precedents that are not based on G6-0106b.  We are left with the Authoritative Interpretation on ordination standards that was part of the PUP report, stating that ordination standards are not defined nationally, but that each ordination decision is a local decision and individual to the person in question.  Plus, there is one new AI ….

2.  Authoritative Interpretation on ordination standards

The General Assembly passed a new Authoritative Interpretation:

That the 218th General Assembly (2008) to approve the following authoritative interpretation of G-6.0108 of the Book of Order:

the requirements of G-6.0108 apply equally to all ordination standards of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Section G-6.0108 requires examining bodies to give prayerful and careful consideration, on an individual, case-by-case basis, to any departure from an ordination standard in matters of belief or practice that a candidate may declare during examination. However, the examining body is not required to accept a departure from standards, and cannot excuse a candidate’s inability to perform the constitutional functions unique to his or her office (such as administration of the sacraments).

Some call this a codification of “local option”.  I think it’s simpler than that.  It’s a codification of “individual option” – the classical Presbyterian idea that each ordination decision is made based on the individual to be ordained.  Each of us is sinful – none of us are perfect.  The question that Sessions and Presbyteries face is this – can this person do the job, is there a call, and are this person’s particular sins so heinous as to preclude their ordination?

It’s important to remember that each presbytery or session gets to make this decision based on the candidate in front of them.  And it’s also important to remember that this is done in person – with the assistance of the Holy Spirit.

In a GA PJC case from earlier this year, the PJC made it clear that G-6.0106b was a mandatory standard in the Book of Order.  The decision practically warned that any future cases involving a clear departure from this standard (should it survive, which it has) would preclude ordination.

It is my sincere hope that this AI will stop the “fly-over” disciplinary cases that have been filed by the most extreme conservative members of the denomination.  Some cases have been filed by people who do not know the candidate, did not attend the meeting, and are at most only peripherally affected by the ordination decision.

3.  Amendment B

The General Assembly sent to the presbyteries the following amendment to G-6.0106b:

b. Those who are called to office in the church are to lead a life in obedience to Scripture and in conformity to the historic confessional standards of the church. Among these standards is the requirement to live either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman (W-4.9001), or chastity in singleness. Persons refusing to repent of any self acknowledged practice which the confessions call sin shall not be ordained and/or installed as deacons elders, or ministers of the Word and Sacrament. Those who are called to ordained service in the church, by their assent to the constitutional questions for ordination and installation (W-4.4003), pledge themselves to live lives obedient to Jesus Christ the Head of the Church, striving to follow where he leads through the witness of the Scriptures, and to understand the Scriptures through the instruction of the Confessions. In so doing, they declare their fidelity to the standards of the Church. Each governing body charged with examination for ordination and/or installation (G-14.0240 and G-14.0450) establishes the candidate’s sincere efforts to adhere to these standards.

I’ve only included the G-6.0106b amendment – there were corresponding amendments to G-14 regarding instructing Candidates on the rules.

This is the amendment that failed.  It was closer than ever (at this point 69-89 with voting continuing) but it still did not pass.  In my second post, I will talk about the climate that exists today to cause this near-success, and what that means for the future.

So Where are we now?

At this point, we need to turn to case studies.

Case 1 – a straight candidate for an ordained position, who is married and faithful to the spouse but unchaste at some point in the past (before marriage, perhaps even with the current spouse).  It is highly unlikely that this candidate will be asked about prior sexual practice.  It is also highly unlikely that the candidate will self-acknowledge this sin, or even consider it a sin.  If the issue does not come up, this person is ordainable.  If the issue does come up in the examination, the examining body would be required to decide whether or not the sin is a sufficient departure from standards.  Other bodies/people could only challenge through a disciplinary case alleging continuing conduct or lack of repentance.

Case 2 – a straight candidate for an ordained position is either married and unfaithful or single and engaging in sex.  This is a continuing practice.  It is highly unlikely that this candidate will be asked about prior or current sexual practice, unless someone has first-hand or hearsay knowledge.  It is also highly unlikely that the candidate will self-acknowledge this sin, or even consider it a sin.  If the issue does come up, the person is not ordainable.  Other bodies/people could challenge this decision by a disciplinary case alleging conduct, or via a remedial case alleging insufficient examination.  As a practical matter, the remedial case could only be filed by a church member or other session against a session, or a member of presbytery or other presbytery against a presbytery.  The immediately higher governing body could also investigate and take administrative action.

Case 3 – a homosexual person who is celibate.  It doesn’t matter how it comes up, only that the celibacy is on the record of an examination.  This person is ordainable.  Other bodies/people could only challenge this decision by a disciplinary case alleging that the candidate lied about celibacy – if that were to happen it might be beyond the pale of what Presbyterians would accept from an investigation given that it would require proof of sex (people would be mad that privacy was invaded to the degree necessary to allege this).

Case 4 – a homosexual person who is not celibate, but who is not questioned about the issue during examination.  This person is ordainable, though there will be a disconnect between his/her personal beliefs or practices and the Book of Order.  Other bodies/people could challenge this decision by a disciplinary case alleging conduct (also very ugly), or via a remedial case alleging insufficient examination.  See above for who could file a remedial case.

Case 5 – a homosexual person who is not celibate, and who is questioned during examination and makes a statement as such.  This also fits the case where a homosexual candidate is self-affirming of practice.  This person is not ordainable.  Other bodies/people could challenge this decision by a disciplinary case (based on self-acknowledged conduct) or a remedial case alleging violation of G-6.0106b.  This is the biggie – and the likely test case.  I believe that no matter what the presbytery or synod do, the GA PJC will rule that the person is not ordainable – based on their early warning in a prior case.

Case 6 – a person who states that they refuse to abide by G-6.0106b when making ordination decisions for other people.  This person is ordainable or not, depending on the ordaining body’s decision.  Other bodies/people could challenge this decision by a remedial case alleging violation of G-6.0106b.  I believe that such a case would ultimately fail at the General Assembly level.

Case 7 – a person who states that they refuse to ordain others who are elected who would violate G-6.0106b.  This person is NOT ordainable normally as a solo pastor, based on the new Authoritative Interpretation, because the person is unable to perform the constitutional function of ordaining a local officer.  I believe that special arrangements could be made with a temporary leave from their position and a Stated Supply in the extremely unlikely case that a solo pastor with such convictions would be leading a congregation that chooses to elect such an officer.  However, it would show a serious problem between the church and pastor and should come to the Committee on Ministry’s attention.  There are many other roles that this person could perform in an ordained role (pastor or associate pastor on a multi-clergy staff, teaching, mission, etc) that would not cause this problem.  If this ever happens, it’s gonna be a mess.

It should be noted that nothing above REQUIRES that a governing body find that a person is ordainable.  I believe that case 3 would be an interesting case if an elder-elect were refused ordination solely on G-6.0106b grounds – I don’t know which way the GA PJC would rule but I believe it would rule that the person should be ordained.  In all of the other cases where the person is ordainable the ordaining body has sufficient latitude in their decision to decide to ordain or not without challenge.

I know of at least one very chilling case where a person was not voted ready for ordination by his Committee on  Ministry based solely on the fact that he wanted a gay preacher of another denomination to give the charge at his ordination.  This action, and others like it nationwide, make me very concerned for the ability of the church to remain together.

2008: My personal year in review

December 31, 2008 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Admin, Job Search, Life, Religion, Work, Young Adult, Youth 

Good riddance.

It’s not that the year was all bad.  Some of it was really very good.  It’s just that the bad outweighed the good.  Most of this was due to one very bad thing.

Work
This was a particularly bad year.  I’m not going to go into details, but you should assume that life at my former employer wasn’t particularly fun before August.  In August, I was laid off from a job that I’d held for 13 1/2 of the last 15 years.  It only helps slightly that this employer ultimately filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy in November.

And if that wasn’t enough – the economy tanked at the same time.  The cause of the company’s failure wasn’t solely the economy, but it was a big part of it.  Jobs just plain dried up from September through early December.  There are signs that things are easing now.

If it weren’t for positive things and positive people in the rest of my life, I don’t know how I would have handled this.

Church
The good:
I LOVE my youth group.  The young men and women that I work with more or less every week are all wonderful, and I learned a lot about myself, them, life and God over the last year.  Sunday afternoon/evening is the high point of my week.

The summer trip to the Montreat Youth Conference was one of the top 10 experiences of my life.  I truly feel that God spoke to me that week in some fashion.  I know that my faith deepened, and that the same happened to most if not all of the group from our church that went on the trip.  I also feel that I grew outside of the religious aspects.  (Of course, this high leaves me wondering where God is in my life now, when things are not so good.)  The biggest thing that I learned this year – while I care a lot about our youth, they care about me too.

Putting together the Moderator Meet and Greet event in April was a lot of fun as well as being a lot of work.  I met a lot of new and wonderful people.  The event was well attended, and I hear that it helped commissioners make a decision at General Assembly.

Meeting in person and working online with other church leaders has been mostly positive.  I’m amazed at how strong the online Presbyterian-and-beyond religious community is.  I’ve felt support when I needed it and given and watched it flow the other way when others needed it.

Serving as a deacon has been rewarding.  This is work that I know that I can do and do well, and that is relatively easy, and that aids the church.  That’s sort of the point, isn’t it?  I just have to be careful not to schedule myself too heavily (like the Sunday that I had coffee service AND served communion AND agreed to set up tables for a later event).

My committee studying hospitality, visitor and community issues for the church has nearly completed its work.  We have identified 19 issues and more than 19 suggestions for how to change/fix/handle those issues.  We present to the Session in February.  The team has worked hard and learned a lot.

Serving as the new webmaster for the church’s website and weekly e-mailed newsletter has been a growth experience for me.  It has forced me to learn new technical skills and also to generate a little content independently.

The bad:
The worst has to have been the controversy over my blog in March/April/May/June of this year.  I don’t know if people realize it, but the church was about 12 hours from losing me in April – the only things keeping me were the facts that Youth Sunday and the Moderator Meet and Greet were imminent responsibilities of mine.  This event only took 2nd to the loss of my job in how poorly I felt while in the middle of it.

I am also continually dismayed by the negative tones in some conversations/fights/battle-royales in the church community over the hot button issues of today.  Those of us within the church fight harder and with less love than we do with our colleagues in other denominations or religions, even though the points of disagreement are far smaller and unimportant.

Home
Home life continues to be solid.  Carolyn and I have ridden out the very rough patches of the 2nd half of the year with no negative effect on our relationship.  Most of this is due to Carolyn’s very conservative nature when it comes to money, and the strong planning ability that both of us have.  She continues to be supportive at a very difficult time in my life and it has brought us if anything closer together.

The cats are still fine.  They turn 13 tomorrow.  Isaac is still suffering from a bit of arthritis in his hips, but the daily Cosequin is helping.  Both of them still have a fair amount of kitten left and still go running around like crazy animals occasionally.  Albert has had no recurrence of his kidney issues.

The house is fine.  We have had to put off a bit of home repair work (mainly fixing the fireplace chimney that failed a while back) for economic reasons.  Nothing important is wrong, and we continue to love living here.  It’s a great neighborhood – not too noisy, not too quiet, and plenty of kids running around.
My car has had a rough year.  I was rear-ended in July and minor damage was done to my rear bumper.  It was fixed pretty quickly, but it took about 4-5 months before the insurance companies paid my deductible.  Here’s a tip – no matter how late you are, don’t pass on the right on a one-lane on-ramp.

Health

No major changes.  On the Montreat trip I lost a number of pounds due to the stairmaster-like qualities of the village of Montreat (to get anywhere you have to walk down a big hill and up a big hill).  The emotional strain of being out of work took off some more.  I’ve managed to end the year a net 10 pounds down.  Otherwise, my health remains the same.

I’m hoping that 2009 will be a combination of the continuance of good things, and an end to the bad things that are happening now.  I see new hope in the elections of both our PC(USA) Moderator and the new President of the USA.  It remains to be seen if that hope turns into a better reality for the country, church, and me.

Happy New Year!

Prayers for our Moderator’s Family

November 15, 2008 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Religion 

Please pray for the family of Bruce Reyes-Chow, PC(USA) General Assembly Moderator.

Bruce’s brother-in-law, Brian Pugh, was killed in a workplace shooting on Friday in Santa Clara, CA.  Bruce and his eldest daughter are in NYC on a Moderator trip as of the writing of this post.

Ham and Eggs – Breakfast with Moderator Bruce Reyes-Chow

November 12, 2008 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Religion 

(I forgot to bring my camera, but Sara didn’t.  Pictures as soon as I get them from her.)

Today Rev. Bruce Reyes-Chow – the Moderator of the 218th General Assembly of the PC(USA) – came to Lawrenceville, NJ.  The Presbyterian Church of Lawrenceville hosted him for the 2nd time for breakfast and conversation.

I’m not going to go into details on any issue in particular for several reasons.  One – I don’t remember the details so well.  Two – this post is about both national issues and my local congregation, and I’m reticent to be controversial locally.  Three – at one point Bruce said “Let me get my words right – you never know who is blogging about this” and a number of folks from my church reportedly looked at me.  Hmmm.

The group of about 50-60 that attended was made up primarily of ministers serving in a congregational capacity – mostly from the Presbytery of New Brunswick but also from quite far away in some cases.  There was a smaller contingent of seminarians, another group of non-congregational ministers, and some others who aren’t ministers from our congregation and other places (like me).

The food was excellent – egg strada, homebaked breads, and lots of fruit.  The tables were particularly well-decorated.

The conversation took the form of about 90 minutes of question and answer.  The topics varied broadly but included:

  • Multi-cultural churches – how they succeed and when they might fail
  • New Church Developments, including tips from Bruce based on his experiences at Mission Bay Community Church
  • The use of web 1.0 and web 2.0 technology in ministry, including the upcoming re-design of the PC(USA) website
  • Bringing even the smallest PC(USA) churches onto the Internet through the use of single-page websites for the church (at a cost that Bruce estimated to be about $100 per church)
  • Preserving mission in an era when church budgets may be shrinking
  • Shrinking congregations – when is it appropriate to talk about the end of a congregation’s life?  How do we talk about leaving a legacy through the church’s property and other assets?
  • Supporting small congregations that are not New Church Developments, do not believe they are at the end of their life, and want to redevelop.
  • Providing a living wage for pastors in small churches
  • Campus ministry and keeping young adults engaged with the church
  • Seminaries realizing that not all graduates will be able to go into full-time ministry, and potentially helping them get ready for 1/2-time ministry, 1/2-time something else
  • Information on how many appointments the Moderator makes after General Assembly (a very high 100+ this time around), and how little impact the Moderator has on the work of those task forces after making the appointments
  • Praise for New Brunswick presbytery for having enough interest to need a waiting list for the Social Witness Committee
  • an off-hand reference to “Friends Are Friends Forever” that went over the heads of anybody who wasn’t in the 30-45 age group
  • a reminder that Bruce and Vice-Moderator Byron Wade are willing to send video greetings to any group that requests such far enough in advance

I know that I’m missing some of the topics, but that’s most of them.

As always Bruce was engaging, funny, very authentic and willing to tackle the tough questions.  I’m impressed that while he is clearly more comfortable addressing groups of strangers now that he has 6 months of Moderator experience under his belt, he still speaks very openly and authentically and humbly.  His content and delivery are surprisingly consistent between his in-person appearances, his blog writings, and his blog videos (and his tweets on Twitter for that matter).

In short – a good time was had by all, and it was worth getting up early to be there.

Thanks, Bruce, for including Lawrenceville in your NYC/NJ trip.

General Assembly Reactions – it’s too early

June 30, 2008 by · 6 Comments
Filed under: Religion 

Dear blog readers,

This past weekend, and even into this week, many bloggers will be writing about what happened at General Assembly.  A significant number will write or have written about how upset they are or how joyful they are about what happened.

I want to make one recommendation – wait.  Don’t take these first emotional reactions too seriously.  As they say on Battlestar Galactica, “this has all happened before; it will happen again.”  The dust has not even begun to settle.

Let me use a fellow blogger as an example.  (Toby – if you object let me know and I’ll delete this from this post.)

On Friday evening, an upset blogger wrote that he would suspend blogging.

On Sunday, he recanted and started blogging again.

Many others are posting the blog equivalent of tearing hair and rending garments.  Let’s be real – many people have been hurt by this sea change in the denomination.  Others will be hurt in the future by either the events now set in motion or the backlash against them.

Still others are failing to be good winners, and are insulting their conservative opposition either before or after the emotional reaction of the folks on the losing side.  Come on, folks.  We don’t do this.

A few important reminders:

  1. Most of the changes are simply a reminder of what our polity has traditionally been, and how it has worked.  For too many years we took the ordination decisions out of the hands of the presbytery or session, and put them in the hands of the text of a rule book.  These actions return us to the days when people made individual judgments about people.
  2. The presbyteries have to approve the removal of G-6.0106b.  Some say that the removal of the old Authoritative Interpretations makes that clause moot – I don’t think so.  It seems to me that fidelity and chastity are STILL the law of the land.  Others say that the ability to scruple makes that clause moot – this idea may have more merit but will require a test case.
  3. Nobody will be required to ordain a gay person against the will of the ordaining minister.  One quietly passed interpretation points out that a session moderator (pastor, or some temporary replacement or supply) is obligated to ordain whoever the congregation elects as long as the session approves their examination.  This interpretation ALSO points out the session’s requirement to understand the conscience of the moderator and to make arrangements for someone else to perform ordinations where necessary – ironically under the “outdo one another in honoring one another’s decisions” clause of the PUP report.  I find this situation unlikely in the extreme – I really can’t see a session forcing a minister to ordain a gay person against their will.  In that case, the church is ready for the COM to take a look at the whole congregation/pastor relationship – it’s probably broken in many ways.  Any session that cares about their pastor would make alternate arrangements in this situation, and any pastor would do well to reconsider their call if they are in a congregation that elects someone that they disapprove of to such a degree that they will not ordain them.

I urge my fellow progressives not to celebrate too loudly.  Your cheers and in some cases jeers are painful to conservatives.  Be a good winner.

I also urge my conservative peers not to give up.  You are doing what you believe to be the most faithful thing right now (as are the progressives).  Don’t take any hasty actions.  Take time to hear God’s call for you.  Then do what you need to do.

General Assembly – BREAKING NEWS

June 27, 2008 by · 5 Comments
Filed under: Religion 

The General Assembly passed the following resolution just now:


Interpretive statements concerning ordained service of homosexual church members by the 190th General Assembly (1978) of the United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, and the 119th General Assembly (1979) of the Presbyterian Church in the United States and all subsequent affirmations thereof, have no further force or
effect.

And earlier they passed:

The Presbytery of Boston respectfully overtures the 218th General Assembly (2008) to do the following:

1. Direct the Stated Clerk to send the following proposed amendment to the presbyteries for their affirmative or negative votes:


a. Strike the current text of G-6.0106b and insert new text to read as follows: [Text to be deleted is shown with a strike-through; text to be added or inserted is shown as italic.]


“b. Those who are called to office in the church are to lead a life in obedience to Scripture and in conformity to the historic confessional standards of the church. Among these standards is the requirement to live either in fidelity within the covenant of
marriage between a man and a woman (W-4.9001), or chastity in singleness. Persons refusing to repent of any self acknowledged practice which the confessions call sin shall not be ordained and/or installed as deacons elders, or ministers of the Word and Sacrament.
Those who are called to ordained service in the church, by their assent to
the constitutional questions for ordination and installation (W-4.4003), pledge themselves to live lives obedient to Jesus Christ the Head of the Church, striving to follow where he leads through the witness of the Scriptures, and to understand the Scriptures through the instruction of the Confessions. In so doing, they declare their
fidelity to the standards of the Church. Each governing body charged with examination for ordination and/or installation (G-14.0240 and G-14.0450) establishes the candidate’s sincere efforts to adhere to these standards.


b. Amend G-14.0240 as follows: [Text to be deleted is shown with a strike-through; text to be added or inserted is shown as italic.]


“Preparation and Examination for Office

“When persons have been elected to the office of elder or deacon, the session shall confer with them as to their willingness to undertake the office. The session shall provide for a period of study and preparation, after which the session shall examine the officers-elect
as to their personal faith; knowledge of the doctrine, government, and discipline contained in the Constitution of the church; and the duties of the office; and readiness to assent to the constitutional questions for ordination and installation. If the examination is approved, the session shall appoint a day for the service of ordination and installation (see W-4.4000). If the examination is not approved for one or more elected officers, the session shall report its action to the congregation’s nominating committee, which shall bring nomination(s) to a meeting of the congregation for any office(s) not filled.”


c. Amend G-14.0450 by inserting a new paragraph “b.” and by re-lettering current paragraphs “b.” through “d.” as “c.” through “f.” The text shall read as follows: [Text to be deleted is shown with a strike-through; text to be added or inserted is shown as italic.]


“Final Assessment of Readiness to Begin Ordained Ministry


“In the final year of theological education or when a candidate has satisfied all of the requirements of this section, and before the candidate has received a call, the committee on preparation for ministry of the candidate’s presbytery shall conduct a final assessment of the candidate’s readiness to begin ordained ministry. A summary of this assessment shall be reported to the presbytery and shall be transmitted to a calling presbytery when requested. The committee on preparation for ministry shall report to the presbytery when it has certified a candidate ready for examination for ordination, pending a call. This consultation shall focus on the outcomes of inquiry and candidacy and shall include each of the following requirements of certification:

“a. demonstration of readiness to begin ministry of the Word and Sacrament as required to fulfill the candidacy phase of preparation;


b. demonstration of readiness to assent to the constitutional questions for ordination and installation;


b. c. presentation of a transcript showing satisfactory grades at a regionally accredited
college or university, together with a diploma;


c. d. presentation of a transcript from a theological institution accredited by the Association of Theological Schools acceptable to the presbytery, the transcript showing satisfactory grades, and presentation of a plan to complete the theological degree including Hebrew and Greek and exegesis of the Old and New Testaments using Hebrew and Greek texts;


d. e. presentation of satisfactory grades together with the examination papers in the five
areas covered by the Presbyteries’ Cooperative Committee on Examinations for Candidates.”


2. Provide the following authoritative interpretation:

That the 218th General Assembly (2008) to approve the following authoritative interpretation of G-6.0108 of the Book of Order:

[The 218th General Assembly (2008) affirms the authoritative interpretation of G-6.0108 approved by the 217th General Assembly (2006). Further, the 218th General Assembly (2008), pursuant to G-13.0112, interprets]the requirements of G-6.0108 [to] apply equally to all ordination standards of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Section G-6.0108 requires examining bodies to give  prayerful and careful consideration, on an individual, case-by-case basis, to any departure from an ordination standard in matters of belief or practice that a candidate may declare during examination. However, the examining body is not required to accept a departure from standards, and cannot excuse a candidate’s inability to perform the constitutional functions unique to his or her office (such as administration of the sacraments).”

Here’s my reading.

  1. Right this second, it is legal for a gay person who does not admit to sex to be ordained.  This was true before, but it’s bolstered a bit now.
  2. If the Book of Order changes pass, gay ordination will be allowed, regardless of sexual practice.  It will be up to the presbyteries to determine whether an individual’s practice is a sin.
  3. It is now more difficult to file a case against a body’s examination of an individual if you aren’t involved (“fly-over” judicial cases).

The real decision will happen between now and June 28, 2009 when the presbyteries are required to vote on these changes.  I suspect we’ll have an answer next March.

I predict that the progressives will party (particularly MLP and the pro-gay folks), the conservatives will make a lot of noise about lack of faithfulness, and a few conservatives will leave.  The news media will misinterpret this as allowing gay ordination today, and this will confuse many pew-sitters.

And we’ll all still be in worship someplace on Sunday.

General Assembly Update

June 27, 2008 by · 3 Comments
Filed under: Religion 

Here’s what happened yesterday.

The Assembly passed the modifications to the Heidelberg Catechism.  These are intended to render a more faithful translation of the original German to English, removing some changes made by the 1962 translators due to their personal biases.  All other Reformed denomination have already made this change.  The conservatives are as expected bleating loudly about what they call “revisionism” by removing “homosexual perversions” from the confession.

The process works this way.  This vote creates a study committee to recommend changes to the next General Assembly in 2010.  That GA must vote affirmatively, and then send the change to the presbyteries.  2/3 of the presbyteries must vote affirmatively, and then the following GA (2012) must vote again in favor of the change.  Then it takes effect.

The GA also approved the same process for adding the Belhar Confession to the Book of Confessions.  That was surprisingly on a voice vote with no discussion.  When a few commissioners asked if people knew what they were voting on, the assembly made it clear that they did.

The Assembly sent the Form of Government revision to a new task force made up of the original task force plus nominees by the GA Moderator.  That group is tasked with taking another look at the revision and bringing it back to the next GA.  Most people acknowledged that there were some serious flaws that would doom the revision at presbyteries.

The Assembly also added a Presbyterian Men representative to the GA Mission Council.  I support this action – if we’re going to have a Presbyterian Women member we need equal representation.

The Assembly created a special account and increase in per capita of $0.92 per member, or $50,000 per presbytery or $2,000,000 in order to defend against lawsuits filed by congregations seeking to leave the denomination to join the New Wineskins presbytery of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church.  This was a commissioner resolution seeking $185,000 in reimbursement for Northern New England to cover HALF of its costs related to ONE church suing them as part of leaving.  I support this action, and decry the churches that refuse to follow our polity and graceful settle their affairs with their presbytery when they choose to leave.  I also decry presbyteries that do not act with grace when presented with congregations that want to leave.  Last, I have to wonder how the EPC views congregations that choose not to follow our polity on the way out – what will they do in the EPC?

The Assembly made it easier to change the Standing Rules of the General Assembly – requiring a majority vote of all present and voting rather than 2/3 of all enrolled members.  The Assembly did not make a similar change to Suspending the rules – suspending should be harder than amending.

That’s about it for the big stuff.  Today is gonna be a fun one.

So what’s going on at General Assembly?

June 26, 2008 by · 5 Comments
Filed under: Religion 

My loyal readers may be wondering why I haven’t posted much about General Assembly.

The truth is that the kerfluffle about my blog and my local congregation has consumed most of my blogging energy.  I am following General Assembly, though this year it’s not with the thought of “I might get there someday” but rather “I’m never gonna get there”.

But I am following it.

So here’s what’s going on.

Sexuality and Ordination

The committees involved (the sexuality question kinda got split between two committees) passed resolutions recommending changes to the Book of Order or Authoritative Interpretations that would essentially allow two things:

  1. Scruples could be declared by an ordained officer at the time of examination.  The examining body (and only that body) would be able to decide whether or not to accept that scruple.  The word Scruple was not used.  This was passed as an Authoritative Interpretation.
  2. To reword G-6.0106b, replacing the famous “marriage between a man and a woman or chastity in singleness” with:  Those who are called to ordained service in the church, by their assent to the constitutional questions for ordination and installation (W-4.4003), pledge themselves to live lives obedient to Jesus Christ the Head of the Church, striving to follow where he leads through the witness of the Scriptures, and to understand the Scriptures through the instruction of the Confessions. In so doing, they declare their fidelity to the standards of the Church. Each governing body charged with examination for ordination and/or installation (G-14.0240 and G-14.0450) establishes the candidate’s sincere efforts to adhere to these standards. This would essentially allow gay ordination in presbyteries or congregations that allow it.  This resolution also nullifies the 1978 and 1979 Authoritative Interpretations and any such later action that homosexuality is a bar to ordination.  This resolution also requires the examining body to be sure that the person is willing to assent to the ordination vows before approving them.

The committee also turned down an overture that would redefine marriage as between two persons, rather than between a man and a woman.  That committee turned back an attempt to solidify the definition of marriage as between a man and a woman, instead commenting that this issue is still in question in our denomination.

Big stuff, eh?  Remember that this is just the committee work – the whole General Assembly votes later.

The General Assembly as a whole passed a resolution to create a sexuality curriculum for youth, choosing NOT to state specifics about what must be included.  This was passed after a lively debate that included a minister from KY (speaking against the curriculum) revealing on the floor of GA that his daughter has or had a sexually transmitted disease.

Christian/Jew/Muslim Relations

The General Assembly last night commended for study the relationships between these religions, calling for tolerance and mutual respect.  The resolution originally included a clause stating that the God of Christians, Jews and Muslim was the same God of Abraham, but that was removed by the General Assembly as a whole.

Membership Vows

The committee passed a resolution calling for a Book of Order amendment that would require that members being received by a method other than Confirmation will also make a public profession of faith.  This replaces the overture that I wrote about previously that would have required specific membership vows.

Form of Government (Book of Order) revision

The committee is recommending that the draft be referred to a new task force consisting of the original task force and members of the Assembly committee considering it.  This group would consult with the presbyteries and bring back a revised recommendation to the next General Assembly.  It’s not quite a punt or ignore, but rather a “still needs work” decision.  This is just the committee decision – we’ll see what GA does but I suspect this will be what happens.

Confessions

The committee recommended that the Heidelberg Confession be amended to return it to a closer translation from the original German, correcting some license taken by the translators in the 1960’s.  This has the effect of removing the wording against homosexuality from the confession, though others claim that the original intent of the passage in question was to mirror 1 Corinthians.

The committee also recommended that a team be created to study the inclusion of the Belhar Confession in the Book of Confessions – to report back at the next General Assembly.

Some little but important stuff

The GA passed a statement that the Catholic and Presbyterian baptism should be recognized by the other denomination, subject to each denomination’s rules.  This means something to me, a Presbyterian married to a Catholic.

The GA passed full recognition and participation in Eucharist between the Episcopal Church and the Presbyterian Church.  We can now take Communion in the other church without question.  This also allows for limited use of ministers from the other denomination and allows further talks on allow integration in the future.

The GA passed a Book of Order amendment that changes part of the definition of the office of deacon – substituting “compassion” for “sympathy”.

The New PC(USA) Moderator on blogging

June 23, 2008 by · 7 Comments
Filed under: Religion, Web/Tech 

Bruce Reyes-Chow, the brand-new Moderator of the PC(USA), spoke about blogging in his post-election interview.  He spoke about the Internet and blogging in particular.

Reyes-Chow, a 39-year-old San Francisco pastor, husband and the father of three daughters between the ages of four and 11, said that blogging and using Facebook and other social networking sites “is part of my  way of being, how we naturally engage with people.”

He believes being transparent and prolific will “help people  feel invited to participate in the church in new way.”

He also recognizes people have “concerns about why we share so openly,” especially on the occasion when he places his political views online.

“I see something and I think, ‘That’ll blog,’ and I put it  on,” he said.

During his campaign for moderator, someone asked Reyes-Chow if he could tell the person something about himself that could not already be found on his blog. “Not really,” Reyes-Chow said. “I am an open book, pretty much. I am excited about connecting with folks and using my spiritual practice of blogging.”

It sounds like Bruce has more or less the same view of blogging that I do.  Compare this to what I wrote a while back (after a very different emotional experience than Bruce’s):

As I have written, some of my most important core values are honesty, openness and authenticity.  When my pastor asked me, “Is there anybody that you run your blog posts by before you post them?” it hit me hard.  Most of you agree that I may have a been a little too open and have said one thing
out of frustration that you wouldn’t have said, but that it’s my blog and that I’m being careful enough by leaving out names.  …  One of the things that I love most about Camp Johnsonburg is that you truly can be yourself – warts and all – and you will be accepted (and even loved).  Some folks have rougher edges than others, and it IS possible to get too far outside of the bounds of acceptable behavior for camp, but for the most part it’s a place where 90% of the folks who come there feel at home.  I expect that from the local congregation too – after all, isn’t that what we’re called to do?  I realize that this may be an unrealistic expectation, even if it is a valid expectation.

I’m glad to see that someone else sees the usefulness of transparency in our community.  (Note – other commenters here have said the same thing – this is just the first time I’ve seen it in a press article.)

Congratulations, Moderator Bruce Reyes-Chow!

June 22, 2008 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Religion 

Late last night (eastern time), the Rev. Bruce Reyes-Chow was elected Moderator of the 218th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA).  Bruce was elected on only the 2nd ballot, after leading but narrowly missing 50% on the first ballot.

I hope that Bruce will fulfill the promise of a new way of speaking to each other that I saw in him when he visited Lawrenceville with the other candidates.

Congratulations, Bruce!

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