Sunday, July 02, 2006

More Candor on PUP, Please

The Office of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) released an FAQ on what it means now that the church has adopted the Peace, Unity, and Purity task force's report. On most questions, and in the other FAQs that they released after the General Assembly, the OGA has been candid and straightforward. On the controversial question of ordaining unrepentant homosexuals, however, my friends at the OGA tried to soften their answer with slipperiness. I think this will backfire.

Here is the Q and A:
Will gays and lesbians now be ordained?

Presbyteries and sessions have been reminded of their historical responsibility to examine candidates for ordination and decide, on a case-by-case basis, about a person’s qualifications for ministry. The constitutional standard in the Book of Order (G-6.0106b) requiring “fidelity in marriage between a man and a woman” or “chastity in singleness” remains in place.

Each governing body will be required to decide if a departure from a standard of faith or practice represents a violation of an “essential” of the faith. Governing bodies have been encouraged to strive to honor one another’s ordination decisions. Still, these decisions continue to be subject to review by higher governing bodies.

What the OGA says here is absolutely true. It is important. But it is clearly an inadequate answer to the question they themselves posed.

So as a public service, let me insert a couple of new paragraphs to this answer, keeping the rest of the answer the OGA gave after that.
Will gays and lesbians now be ordained?

YES. Gays and lesbians – men and women with a homosexual orientation – have always been ordained in the Presbyterian Church. That will not change under the new Authoritative Interpretation. Some ministers do engage in sexual practices, both heterosexual and homosexual, which the confessions call sin and which the Book of Order forbids as unchaste. That has always been true in the Presbyterian Church, and will likely continue. These sins are cause for repentance and seeking God's grace.

Some would-be officers of the church have declared a scruple about the constitutional requirement that all officers live in “fidelity in marriage between a man and a woman” or “chastity in singleness.” This scruple has been declared by people of all sexual orientations. It is the duty and responsibility of the ordaining and examining body to decide whether such a scruple touches an essential tenet of Reformed faith and practice. If the ordaining and examining body's decision were challenged, it would be the duty and responsibility of the higher governing bodies to review that decision to see if the lower body acted correctly. That review includes both the substance and the procedure of the lower body's decision. Whether a scruple is acceptable or not has nothing do to with the sexual orientation or practice of the would-be officer.
I would be inclined to add a further sentence, though this might seem to the OGA to be overstepping its bounds:
The words of the Book of Order in G 6.0106b are clear. It is difficult to see how an ordaining and examining body, or any higher body reviewing the decision of a lower one, could decide that rejecting G 6.0106b was a legitimate scruple.


Mark Smith said...

Yes, the last sentence is over the top. It goes against both the letter AND the spirit of the PUP report, which the GA adopted (and the OGA is obliged to uphold).

Keep in mind that the words about working TOGETHER were also passed. That means no pot-shots at those who disagree with you.

Gruntled said...

I am not sure what you mean about it going against the letter and the spirit of the report. Both the report, and the OGA summary, explicitly state that G 6.0106b is part of the constitution, and officers are bound by the constitution.

Pastor Lance said...

It is amazing how "shall" or "shall not" in the Book of Order can be ignored by governing bodies. There are sessions, presbyteries and GA PJCs that seem to think that "shall not" means "maybe" and "shall" means "not really." When the constitution was absolutely clear concerning the ordination of GLBT persons many churches chose to ingore the constitution. How many governing bodies will ignore the constitution now that things are not as "clear cut/"

talleyrand said...

I hope you're right, especially about that very last bit, but I really doubt it. I think we're going to be told that, under the AI, the constitution now means when an ordaining body accepts a stated scruple about a constitutional standard, such acceptance is the last word. In such a case, the standard is inessesntial, period. That is what they'll say the constitution means, I fear. And that means we don't have a constitution, in my opinion.

Quotidian Grace said...

I like it. Gruntled for Stated Clerk, or whoever writes these FAQ's!!

Gruntled said...


Seriously, it is now up to the quality of our judicatories.

Anonymous said...

Gruntled: "Seriously, it is now up to the quality of our judicatories."

This is the scariest thought that you've shared with us yet! You just gave me chills.

Who controls these agencies and committees---the PJCs and the courts? The 'Institutionalists', of course! And these professional-classes are the ones who most desired PUP and its passing.

But I think that this may cause more strife than they ever imagined. Could it be that they have awakened a sleeping giant with this sneak attack on the everyday Presbyterian?

Gruntled said...

It is true that the governing bodies, especially at the lower levels, are largely in the hands of loyalists. Unlike the church bureaucracy, though, our sessions and presbyteries are fairly responsive to everyday Presbyterians.