Lisa Larges Decision – Synod PJC half right

March 25, 2009 by
Filed under: Religion 

Yesterday, the Synod of the Pacific PJC released it’s decision in Remedial Case 08-01, Naegeli vs. Presbytery of San Francisco.

Here’s a quick summary for those not in the know on this case.  Lisa Larges is a lesbian.  She was ordained as a Presbyterian deacon some time ago.  She has also attended seminary, and for many years has been fighting to remove prohibitions against gay ordination in the PC(USA) – in part (though probably not the greatest part) so that she can fulfill her call to ministry.  At the time of the relevant events, she was enrolled as a Candidate with the Presbytery of San Francisco.

In December of 2007, the Committee on the Preparation for Ministry (CPM) of the presbytery voted to certify her as “ready for examination with a departure”.  The departure was her unwillingness to agree to abide by the G-6.0106b requirement for chastity or fidelity in a marriage between a man and a woman.  Others call this a “scruple”.  This process was apparently made possible by the Peace, Unity and Purity report received by the 2006 General Assembly.  A CPM minority report was made recommending that she be stripped of her Candidate status.  The presbytery voted in a close vote to choose the majority report, which was passed.  After that a large number of people requested a stay of enforcement and this remedial trial against the presbytery ensued.

The Synod PJC ruled the following (to the best of my ability to understand – it’s a bit confusing):

  1. The vote to certify Lisa as “ready for examination, with a departure” was out of order, because departures are considered at the time of examination.
  2. The Synod PJC denied a number of specifications related to the actions of the CPM, on the basis that it had no jurisdiction over a committee of a presbytery.  Most of those involved forcing the CPM to “uphold church-wide standards”.
  3. The Synod PJC admonished the presbytery to “faithfully execute its constitutional obligations to the entire church to enforce mandatory churchwide ordination standards”.  It also admonished the CPM (through the presbytery) to meet it convenantal obligations to candidates who insist on departing from mandatory standards.
  4. The Synod PJC did not remove Lisa from the roll of Candidates because it cannot do so – only the presbytery may.

I believe that the Synod PJC got it half-right and half-wrong.

First, they were half-right in that the action taken by the presbytery was out of order.  It is not correct to rule that a Candidate is acceptable with a departure (or scruple) when declaring the candidate ready for examination.  That is putting the cart before the horse.  The decision on a departure is properly part of the examination itself.  The PJC pointed out that the elements of an examination were not present – Lisa’s Statement of Faith was not presented, she was not questioned.
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Second, they were half-wrong in their admonishment of the presbytery on mandatory standards.  The General Assembly PJC has recently ruled that examinations are made on an individual basis by the ordaining body.  The GA PJC hinted that G-6.0106b as it stands today (and likely will stand – I believe that Amendment B will fail, unfortunately) is a mandatory standard and not allowed for a departure.  However, there has yet to be a test case under the PUP rules and recent GA PJC ruling.  I don’t know what the PJC will rule when a real examination with a real departure from G-6.0106b comes before it.  But I don’t believe that the Synod PJC is right in issuing this warning as a blanket statement.  The General Assembly PJC was VERY clear that each examination is an individual case.

If I were the Presbytery of San Francisco, this is what I would do:

  1. I would again hold a vote, but this time certify Lisa as “ready for examination” without mentioning the departure.  This action should be unchallengable under this ruling, as no examination takes place.  I don’t believe further CPM action is required as their recommendation would be properly before the body as a result of the vote being rescinded.
  2. I would expect that the action described in #1 would again be the subject of a remedial case, and prepare to defend it.
  3. I would expect that the General Assembly PJC would support the step of approving for examination.
  4. When it comes time for an actual call and examination, that’s when the real fur will fly.  I suspect that the presbytery would approve the examination, and then be the subject of a remedial case.  I expect that the General Assembly PJC would rule that Lisa is not eligible for ordination, based on their previous rulings and comments regarding the mandatory nature of G-6.0106b.

Let me be clear – I am fully in support of ordination of gay or lesbian (or any of the other categories that they tack on to the list) people being ordained provided that they are in an equivalent relationship to an acceptable heterosexual person.  I just don’t think that the rules that we have today support it, and I don’t believe that Amendment B will pass this time (though it’s gonna be close).  I also believe that this issue will continue to harm the church until it is ultimately resolved in favor of gay ordination OR it causes a split.

A side issue – the PJC chose to “exclude all media from the trial, including all electronic devices, cameras, and recording devices.”  This caused more than a little consternation from the users of the Internet service Twitter, including our own GA Moderator.  I believe that the Synod PJC overstepped its bounds in taking this action, as it is not supported in the Book of Order’s Rules of Discipline (though it would have been for a Disciplinary Case).  I have seem a growing problem in the church surrounding the issues of authenticity and transparency, including all levels of the church from the congregation to GA committees.  This is another issue that has the potential to divide the church, as young people who demand authenticity and openness see the backroom, Old Boys’ (and Girls’) Club atmosphere that is so prevalent in our congregations, presbyteries and higher bodies.  There is a clear desire on the part of some to avoid “airing our dirty laundry”, but that actually has the potential to hurt the church.  I believe that Generation Y, the Millenials, and even parts of Generation X demand openness.  These younger folks would much rather see a dispute handled well than a dispute covered up.

We’ll see what the next steps are in this case.  I believe that the presbytery will again move forward with Lisa’s quest for ordination to her calling, but that the road will continue to be bumpy.  I respect her for choosing to be a test case.


14 Comments on Lisa Larges Decision – Synod PJC half right

  1. cheesehead on Wed, 25th Mar 2009 10:39 am
  2. As a person who serves on a PJC, I can assure you, *the* test case is coming.

  3. Clay Allard on Wed, 25th Mar 2009 3:10 pm
  4. “I also believe that this issue will continue to harm the church until it is ultimately resolved in favor of gay ordination OR it causes a split.”
    So, the only witness we have to the world is a zero-sum game? Where is Jesus in this statement? How is this any different from the world– and if we aren’t different from the world, what are we worth to the world?
    I have to believe that we can learn to live with this sore until the Lord resolves it– not because I know how, but because Christ orders me to. What about you?
    Your brother in Christ,
    Clay Allard

  5. Mark on Wed, 25th Mar 2009 4:23 pm
  6. Clay,

    I see four possibilities.

    1. The overwhelming majority of the church comes to a position where gay ordination is supported.
    2. The overwhelming majority of the church comes to a position where gay ordination is untenable.
    3. The two sides learn to live with each other in peace on this issue.
    4. The church splits.

    I believe that #3 is unlikely. This is where we are now, and it’s not working.

    I believe that #2 is unlikely. At this point, the majority of the General Assembly and a large minority of the presbyteries support changing the Book of Order in a manner that would allow gay ordination. This is a shift from a place where gay ordination was unthinkable. I do not see this trend reversing.

    That leaves #1 or #4. I believe that #1 is the most likely, given the generational differences in belief on this issue.

    I regrettably believe that this IS a zero-sum game. Are you willing to accept a denomination where gays are ordained? Am I willing to accept a denomination where gays cannot be ordained? How can this be reconciled?


    P.S. I feel that the two-synod solution as currently being discussed amounts to a split.

  7. Brian Merritt on Wed, 25th Mar 2009 4:47 pm
  8. I completely agree with you on the issue of transparency. It just seemed patently absurd that people could not text or twitter while they were observing. This does seem a bit draconian.

  9. Clay Allard on Wed, 25th Mar 2009 5:04 pm
  10. I believe in a God who specializes in the unlikely. We are not at #3 now– we have failed for 30 years to be at #3– but we could be if we could learn that belonging to Christ is our main identity, individually and collectively.
    Anything less than that is a failure on our part to act with the courage of Christ’s convictions about us. You are less than the witness to Christ that you are called to be without me, and I am less than the witness to Christ that I am called to be without you.
    How this Red Sea parts I do not know– but God has done it before. I’m going to wade in the water, and trust that God’s going to trouble it enough to make a way.

  11. Mark on Wed, 25th Mar 2009 5:42 pm
  12. Clay,

    I agree that the church is better for having both of us. I have spent a long time writing, speaking and pushing for a big tent solution – one that includes all of us and allows us to be faithful to our beliefs.

    I don’t see a way to do that, and given the last 30 years of fighting I’m not sure I believe that it is possible.

  13. Clay Allard on Wed, 25th Mar 2009 6:49 pm
  14. Please don’t give up believing. If what you see is right, and that is the way history unfolds, let’s go down together proclaiming a more excellent way, even if the denomination cannot or will not follow it.

  15. Mark on Thu, 26th Mar 2009 7:45 am
  16. Clay,

    Here’s an example of why I don’t believe it’s possible:

    Toby is clearly calling for me to shut up or leave. Please explain how he and I can co-exist (and he’s one of the few conservatives who has stated a respect for me personally).

  17. Clay Allard on Thu, 26th Mar 2009 10:33 am
  18. For every Toby, there is a me. We may be quieter, and no one reads what we write, but we are here. For every scar you have from a Toby, I can show you one from your side where I have been told the same thing.
    I refuse to let the ugliness and arrogance of those who confuse themselves or their beliefs with Jesus direct my path, or my vision, or my behavior. Enough of the worldly fighting.
    I refuse to be blind to the fact that Christ said, “take up your cross,” not your cause, not your comfort, not your protection. Mark, we will have to suffer for whatever future God will open for us.
    Some of us are ready, some of us aren’t. But I know, no matter what happens, that my hand will be held out to you until it’s chopped off. And I have a spare to bring to the work when that happens. Don’t stop.

  19. john shuck on Fri, 27th Mar 2009 8:20 pm
  20. Good post, Mark. Clay, I appreciate what you have said. What I hear you say is that part of our problem is that we want a solution. Yet, we are called to live in that ambiguity where no answer is readily available. In the meantime (and it is always meantime) we need to hang in there together keeping that relationship open. For me and for you, that doesn’t mean we don’t speak or act as we need to, but we must not lose sight of the larger picture which you describe quite accurately as taking up the cross.

    Biblical scholar, Kenneth Bailey, provided me with one of the best images of our situation. The surface of the ocean is rough with waves and storms. But in the depths there is peace.

  21. Jodie on Sat, 28th Mar 2009 3:55 pm
  22. Mark and Clay,

    Interesting dialog. But Clay, for making such suggestions, the Toby’s of the world would ban you as well. You are either with them or against them. There is no middle ground for them.

    I fully agree that the way of Christ is the “more excellent way”, and on this way there is no excuse for devouring each other. But I am also convinced that Mark is right. Option 1 is where things will go within the next 15 years, if the denomination lives long enough, but today option 4 is the real status quo. The thing is, the conservatives and the Fundamentalists would destroy the church in order to “save” it, and the progressives are out of patience with them.

    John, don’t know if this is relevant, but in Baily’s metaphor, that same “depth” is also a metaphor for death. And in death there is indeed peace. It’s the story of Jonah.

  23. Clay Allard on Wed, 1st Apr 2009 12:23 pm
  24. Jodie– I hope you come back and read this thread, because you are wrong. The Tobies of this denomination have not banned me. We are all so busy being afraid of one another that no one says “stop!”
    John tells us, there is no fear in love, God’s perfect love casts out fear. If we stand in that perfect love in this agonizingly imperfect situation, we call out to all as a witness– not just within the denomination, but beyond it.
    Whether it makes sense or not, that is what I intend to do.

  25. Mark on Thu, 2nd Apr 2009 11:24 am
  26. Clay,

    I think the Tobies of the world believe that they are right in saying “Stop!” themselves. They believe that they are standing for Truth in their exclusion.

    How do you fix that?


  27. Clay Allard on Thu, 2nd Apr 2009 11:48 am
  28. Mark–
    God alone can fix this. I am only operating on what God has given, not on what I/we want. Just as John Shuck said, we want a solution. God has given us a community instead. I will not throw away what God has given to find what I want– I know too well in my own life that that is a path that leads only to death and destruction.
    I have no answer. I have no solution. I have only this: you are my brother. What would a church that could live in the agony of that love look like?

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