Monday, June 19, 2006

The Center is Holding

On the first day of committee work at the Presbyterian General Assembly, they rejected an attempt to make the definition of marriage more restrictive or to oppose government recognition of gay unions. That set a limit on the right side.

On the second day of committee work, they rejected an attempt to undo the rule that officers of the church must be chaste in singleness or faithful in marriage (of one man and one woman, in case anyone were confused). That set a limit on the left side.

Last night the Ecclesiology Committee finally approved the Peace, Unity, and Purity report, 41 to 22. They had made a couple of minor changes, but basically passed it as the Task Force wrote it. The one real addition that the committee made to the report strengthens its centrist character. Listening to the hours of debate, what struck me as the weakest point of the report was the language about judicial review. The relevant section of recommendation 5 reads:

Ordaining and installing bodies, acting as corporate expressions of the church, have the responsibility to determine their membership by applying these standards to those elected to office. These determinations include:

d. Whether the ordaining/installing body has conducted its examination reasonably, responsibly, prayerfully, and deliberately in deciding to ordain a candidate for church office is subject to review by higher governing bodies.

This last point has disturbed some people, who read section d as limiting judicial review of local decisions to the process that the locals used, but not the substance of the decision. If, for example, a presbytery ordained an atheist, the General Assembly's Permanent Judicial Commission (the "supreme court") could only look at whether the presbytery used proper process, but not stop the ordination because the candidate was an atheist.

The Task Force, and the representative of the church's Advisory Committee on the Constitution, were repeatedly questioned on this point. In their reading, "reasonably" and "responsibly" covers the substance, as well as the process, of an examination. The ACC representative said that this language was taken from judicial decisions of the church courts, which have already interpreted this standard to include substantive judicial review.

Nonetheless, the plain words do invite misunderstanding, at least. So the Ecclesiology Committee amended section d. It now reads:

d. Whether the examination complies with the Constitution of the PCUSA, and whether the ordaining/installing body has conducted its examination reasonably, responsibly, prayerfully, and deliberately in deciding to ordain a candidate for church office is subject to review by higher governing bodies.

Three committee actions, all strengthening the loyalist understanding of how the church should work.

Let the plenary begin.

3 comments:

Michael W. Kruse said...

This change may be enough to make it work. We shall see.

Jon said...

Yes, the "center" is holding. The PCUSA as an institution will continue for quite awhile. On the other hand, the PCUSA as a church is continuing her steady march to conform herself to this world. The PCUSA is basically following the same path as the Episcopal Church USA; it is just 10-15 years behind.

Gruntled said...

My hope is that returning to the Adopting Act standard will free the congregations and presbyteries with real standards to grow, and the anything-goes churches to continue to decline, without putting either in a conflict-producing compromise.