Friday, June 20, 2008

GA: Form of Government is the Primary Issue

The proposed new Form of Government (FOG) is the single most important issue before the Presbyterian General Assembly. The idea behind the proposed revision is to make the government section of the Book of Order less of a regulatory manual and more of a constitution made of basic principles. More choice and responsibility would be shifted to the presbyteries and congregations, less set by the church's central bodies. The main motivation, I think, was to keep the General Assembly from becoming a continuous constitutional convention, with each Assembly producing new constitutional amendments.

I applaud the idea behind the new FOG and most of their suggested revisions. However, I am a polity wonk. Few other people are, nor should they be. So it is normal for most commissioners to the Assembly to feel unprepared to decide about a whole new form of government.

It is possible that the committee charged with FOG will feel that they are masters of the situation after a few days of testimony and discussion. It is possible that the Assembly will trust the committee's judgment. But it is not likely.

The more likely outcome is delay for study. This would not be terrible, but it increases the odds that Nothing Will Happen.

One interesting idea on the table is a proposal from Detroit Presbytery to authorize six presbyteries to try out the new FOG for two years and report back to the next GA. This proposal is the brainchild of Ed Koster, the most serious challenger for the Stated Clerk's job. I would favor this over sheer delay.

One of the main reasons for the general ambivalence about the new FOG is sheer distrust of all the central institutions of the denomination. The nFOG Task Force did not, I think, deserve this mistrust, and it isn't really directed at then. Even critics of the proposal have generally praised the task force. The mistrust comes from a fear that if presbyteries and congregations are given more freedom, more local option in applying general church principles, some of them (especially the most liberal) will use this freedom as license to evade the standards of the church's majority.

Some safeguards have been built in to prevent local option on the most contentious issues. The property trust and chastity and fidelity provisions of the current Book of Order were specifically preserved by order of the previous GA. And there is good reason for this mistrust, as the recent PJC decision in the Spahr case demonstrates.

Still, I think the revised Form of Government proposal is a good one. I hope the Assembly gives it the attention it deserves, and that it is not overshadowed by lesser issues.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

10 Days of G.A.

The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) begins on Saturday in San Jose. In our house, though, GA began today. Gruntled Child #2, the wonderful Endub, is a Youth Advisory Delegate, a YAD. YADs represent each of the 175 or so presbyteries. They have pretty big job -- they have voice and vote in committees, and voice in the plenary sessions of the Assembly, where they also give an advisory vote.

I have been on record for some time that YADs are a bad idea, a '70s democratization that should be undone as soon as possible. Nonetheless, I believe that if we are going to have YADs, we should have good ones. Thus, Endub, a well-informed daughter of the church, flew off to California early this morning. The YADs get a few days of intensive training before the Assembly.

I will be blogging on the Assembly each day for the next week and a half. I know this is not everyone's cup of tea, so if you have already had your fill of internal Presbyterian politics, enjoy your summer vacation :-)

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Obama's Fathers' Day Sermon

Barack Obama gave a great sermon on Fathers' Day calling fathers to responsibility for their children. He aimed at black fathers especially, for whom this problem is particularly acute. All fathers, though, were the subject of his comments. Some have read this argument, and his calls for personal responsibility along with government programs, as an attempt to appeal to white religious conservatives.

I hope Obama does appeal to religious people, conservative and otherwise, of all races. I believe that the message that fathers should be responsible for their children is not especially conservative. Parental responsibility is about as centrist a message as they come, being a subset of "mom, the flag, and apple pie."

What I would like to see is for Sen. Obama, and others promoting responsible fatherhood, to ground that message in the larger understanding that marriage is the most effective, most natural, happiest, and easiest way for fathers to be responsible for and to their children.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Not Selfish Genes

Bodies are not just instruments for carrying genes around; genes are recipes for making bodies. Bodies are the point. Genes are the tools.

This is the upshot of a fine lecture by Oxford theologian Keith Ward. I have thought something like this as a rebuttal to the "selfish genes" view, but he put it much better. This lecture is available from the Gresham College online service. (For that matter, I highly commend Gresham College, an ancient adult education foundation in London.)