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.
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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

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

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“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.
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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

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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.


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”.


June 25, 2008 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Religion 

One of the first rules that doctors are taught is “First, Do no harm.”  In tension is the fact that a doctor is clearly expected to do something to help the patient – watching them die is not usually an option.

There is a school of thought that teaches people to make a list of Pros and Cons for a major decision.  You list the Pros in one column and the Cons in another.  If you have more (or more important) Pros you do X.  If you have more Cons, don’t do X.

My wife and other family members have a similar principle for participating in voluntary activities – do you get more good out of it than the annoyances that it causes?

I find myself wondering how this idea – more good than bad – plays out when it comes to God’s call to each of us.  Does God call us to do things that will end up being more painful than enjoyable in the end, but which we should do anyway?

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When you are deciding to take on a new role in your church, do you use this method of deciding?  Do congregations use it to reexamine the things that they do – especially the things that “we’ve always done this way”?  Does our denomination need to make a list when it comes to the upsides and downsides of changing theology?

Is prayer the way to let God help you make the list?

These are just some random thoughts that hit me today.

Identity Concern

June 24, 2008 by · 5 Comments
Filed under: Life 

On the occasion of my 5th anniversary, I bought one of those “one share of stock in a frame” gifts for Carolyn.  I bought Disney stock, in honor of our honeymoon.

Yesterday I got a letter from Bank of New York Mellon Shareholder Services.  They lost a backup tape back in February 2008 that contained my name, address, social security number, and stock ownership information.  They state that they don’t believe that the information was misused but they are offering me free credit monitoring for 24 months and $25,000 of identity theft insurance.  They will also pay any costs associated with placing a security freeze on my credit report and removing it once.

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Watch your credit, folks.

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.

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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. on line cialis Citrulline is also good for heart health, helps support the immune system, aids in obesity and treats Type 2 Diabetes. Affordability: Helping Relationships learn the facts here now viagra 100 mg, the much publicized anti ED medicine buyers, shopping from the comforts of their home, without having to show doctor’s prescription. The simple way is to take free cialis no prescription herbal treatment to improve sex drive. browse around description cialis 20 mg This fact hold true even for oral PDE5 inhibitors.
Congratulations, Bruce!

Minor Car Accident

June 20, 2008 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Life 

I was involved in a minor car accident on the way to work today.

I won’t go into details for legal/claim reasons.  Nobody was injured, and I have minor damage to my bumper.  The other driver got a ticket.
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If the other driver hadn’t been trying to get ahead of other people through unlawful means this would never have happened.

Bruce Reyes-Chow for Moderator

June 19, 2008 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Religion 

Better late than never, I always say.

I am proud to endorse Rev. Bruce Reyes-Chow for Moderator of the 218th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA).

Let me start by saying that I think most of the candidates will do a good job in the moderator role.  The differences between them are primarily differences in style, not differences in substance (the perennial debate about homosexuality being the exception that proves the rule).  All love God.  All support Jesus as Lord.  As far as I can tell, all meet the essentials of our faith as I see them.  I enjoyed meeting all of them when they came to Lawrenceville, NJ.

Bruce stood out in one huge way – he has a plan for the future.  Well, maybe not a plan per se, but a direction.  Bruce is the one candidate who gets the problem of the aging of the church.  He sees both the problem (that young people are not remaining engaged after high school, and that they are NOT following the pattern of returning when they have children) and solutions.

Most importantly, Bruce sees the need for local solutions for local cultures.  He pastors a very successful congregation in San Francisco called Mission Bay Community Church.  This church is at the same time traditional and non-traditional.  Services there bear some resemblance to traditional Presbyterian services, but likely would also cause some members in our churches to blanch at the differences.  Bruce has found a way to reach out to a population not being fed by traditional practices and bring them into the faith.  Too often, we expect people to become like us (in behavior, dress, etc) before they join us (in our traditional service).  Bruce has turned that on its head, he and his church expect people to join us (come as you are) before you become like us (followers of Christ).
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I also believe that Bruce challenges the assumptions about the essentials of our faith.  How many of us believe that it is essential to the Presbyterian faith to sit in rows of pews, sing 100+ year-old hymns with a pipe organ, and have a choir sing at us before the sermon?  I believe that we have confused practice with faith.  Bruce has undergone a process where he has broken down the essentials and his church sticks to those that are truly essential while ignoring those that are simply the product of our cultural inertia.

And it works.  His church has people of all ages present in reasonably well-spread numbers.

Another area where Bruce excels is in listening.  When the candidates met in Lawrenceville, the format had each candidate sitting in the center focus of a U-shaped set of tables.  In some cases, the discussions were straight question and answer sessions – even when the candidate chose to ask questions of his audience.  In the case of Bruce’s session with each table (and in one other case), there was more of a dialog.  Bruce was truly listening to what the questioner was saying, and thinking.  Silence was not the enemy – it was time to process.  And Bruce was remarkably consistent in his responses.  He did not shade his responses to meet the desires of the questioner – he answered them openly and honestly and authentically.  And it wasn’t “this is what I think – deal with it”, it was more like “this is what I think – what do you think?”  This is what our denomination needs now more than anything else – questions rather than answers.  Everybody (and PCUSA bloggers are particularly bad at this, including me) comes to the forum ready to present and defend their answer before they hear the question.  What we need now is more understanding of what the other person is saying and thinking – how they came to their answer – and less posturing.  Bruce is humble when working with others in discernment – he really tries to get your point of view.

If you are a commissioner to General Assembly, I hope that you will consider Bruce Reyes-Chow for the Moderator position.  I won’t say “hope that you will vote for Bruce”, because that’s not how it should work.  You should consider Bruce, (and Bill, Carl and Roger) and make your own choice.  I just hope that I have provided an opinion that is useful as you and the Spirit decide how to vote.

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