Wednesday, June 28, 2006

I'm Baa-ack!

I've had a little time to refect on what transpired at GA, as well as what's going on in other renewal groups and at home at the Kirk. The dust is beginning to settle, but what I see is still a bit confusing.
There are two views on what the GA approved with the PUP report. Some presbytery officials, and our national ones, are saying that "nothing's changed." At best, such a statement is obfuscating by telling half the truth. We did not formally amend our constitution so, on the surface of things, it hasn't changed. But what PUP did was to change radically how we interpret our constitution. There is no question in my mind--or in the minds of others on both sides of this issue--that the approval of the PUP report will now allow the ordination of practicing gays, lesbians, bi-sexuals, and trans-sexuals.
People like me believe that the denomination has gone too far--way to far. My feelings are shared by pastors of centrists churches like Highland Park in Dallas (Ron Scates), and our largest congregation, Peachtree Presbyterian in Atlanta (Vic Pentz). Those on the gay-approving side see this as a step forward, but too small of a step. While it will allow the ordaining of some gays, it is not going to be in all presbyteries.
In response to this, conservatives have aligned with one of three groups (which are not mutually exclusive). There is the Global Mission group that will be meeting in Atlanta in August. This group seems to be encouraging people to stay in the denomination nominally, but begin to act separately in mission. Its advertised meeting looks like many of our past Coalition meetings. Another group is calling people to affirm constitutional behavior. What this will accomplish toward denominational change is not immediately apparent.
The third group is New Wineskins. Some are calling us (I'm on its board) schismatic and divisive because we've had the courage to publically raise the question everyone is thinking: "Should we stay in the denomination or leave?" Asking the question is not taking the action. New Wineskins will discuss all of our alternatives in July at our national meeting, held at the Kirk. We are asking people to join in prayer for all of the days preceding the meeting. I've asked those of you who attend the Kirk to pray every morning, noon, and night for our denomination, the Kirk, and the convocation.
Keep the faith,

Wednesday, June 21, 2006


Today, Chrissie and I celebrated our 38th wedding anniversary. I do my best to be romantic and figured that the GA would do the trick.

Seriously, we took some time out this evening and just spent time together. One of the greatest blessings of my life is my wife and best friend. We have known each other for 43 years, so we have something good going for us. It is important to reflect, in the midst of a meeting that defies traditional and scriptural teachings on marriage and sexuality, that God's design of marriage is a wonderful, pleasurable, rewarding, supportive, and encouraging thing.

Marriage doesn't get a lot of good press in our culture. In a throw-away society, there is little thought given to life-long committments of any kind. This is so sad. If people could just know how wonderful life can be when living according to God's law, they'd never seriously consider anything else.

I thank God for my life-long partner and friend, Chrissie.

Are we in the same PCUSA?

I am still trying to measure my thoughts and feelings since yesterday’s vote to approve PUP. I looked at the comments on this blog and found one that said,

“Are you in the same PCUSA I'm in? Are you at the same GA?”

Obviously, this pastor feels that nothing has changed. Looking on his blog site, I found, repeatedly, “None of our ordination standards have changed.” Technically, this is correct. In fact, it is not. What has changed is our constitution, in that what has been deemed essential is now optional for any presbytery, synod, or session.

If you don’t believe this, consider the following. After the vote, ALL of the organizations pushing for gay ordination and same-sex marriage expressed views similar to the one from the Covenant group: “the General Assembly has called the church to a higher standard of life together."

Conversely, ALL of the conservative groups who have been fighting gay ordination and same-sex marriage issued a joint statement that includes the following: "These ordaining bodies have been told that they need not obey the explicit instruction of the apostles: that all Christian believers should “abstain from… sexual immorality” (Acts 15:29)

Believe me, if this is the case, SOMETHING HAS CHANGED! No one needed to change ordination standards when ALL standards have been changed.

What effect will this change have? Setting aside the sexuality issue, we have a crisis in polity. Presbyterians have always believed that if one is ordained in or for one church, that person is ordained for the Church. Trusting in this, we accept pastors from different presbyteries with a minimum of investigation, and elders and deacons as they change churches with almost no investigation. In the immediate future, some presbyteries will use one standard for approving the ordination of pastors, other presbyteries still a different standard. Congregations will elect elders and deacons with one set of perceived rules, making it dangerous to assume that an elder moving to another congregation should or could serve there.

This is why I and others are saying that our denomination has broken covenant. It is no longer inherently Presbyterian, no matter how much anyone protests that “nothing has really changed.

In answer to this pastor/blogger’s question, “We may be in the same denomination, but we are miles apart.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

There's more??

There is one more “big” item to be considered by this GA. It is the Form of Government (FOG) recommendation, which is calling for a radically-reduced Book of Order. This proposal hides at least one clause that could have maximum impact on local churches.

FOG includes the proposal that presbyteries be empowered to remove a pastor from a church without the church’s concurrence if they believe the pastor is “incompatible” with the church. This is license to play havoc with any congregation undergoing struggle.

One could look at the history of any pastorate and find times when there is enough conflict, involving enough people, that a presbytery could blithely choose to step in and take over. (After all, some pastor might even suggest moving the choir down front!)

It is clear that the PCUSA is interested more in control than in something, say, like evangelism.

The denomination now believes in local option just so long as it doesn’t involve property, and leaves the door open for presbyteries to shuffle the decks almost at whim.
I’m still trying to keep the faith,

PUP is passed intact. What's next?

Late Tuesday afternoon in Birmingham, Alabama, the PCUSA officially broke covenant with its Presbyterian roots and its churches who still cling to those roots. When it passed the Peace, Unity, and Purity report essentially unchanged, it broke covenant in at least three ways:

1. It changed its historical practice of one denominational set of standards for ordination to variable local standards. The PCUSA is now a congregational denomination.
2. The PCUSA rejected clear, important Biblical injunctions on sexual behavior in order to adjust to our culture’s standards. "Sola Scriptura" has become "Via Vulgaris."
3. The PCUSA has placed itself into an Orwellian doublespeak position of maintaining (on paper) the standard of “fidelity in marriage, chastity in singleness,” while clearly giving the go-ahead to say that a standard is not a standard.

I had the chance, following the vote, to visit with many people in the various conservative renewal groups. Some are claiming “victory,” since there was a minor alteration in one paragraph, and because the GA did not strike down G-6.0106b (the “chastity and fidelity” clause).

On the first they are, I believe, deluded. The whole point of the PUP report has been to start a new “experiment” in being the church; an experiment that allows for the ordination of practicing homosexuals and, inevitably, the encouragement and endorsement of same-sex marriages. On the second, retaining G-6.0106b is irrelevant since local option negates it.

People are openly speaking of what was once whispered: will we leave the denomination? This certainly is one of several considerations before every evangelical, conservative congregation. There needs to be some time for the dust to settle, though, before such decisions are made.

I met this evening with my friends in New Wineskins. First on our agenda was how to encourage people to come to the Kirk in July for our convocation. We desire, at that time, to have full and frank discussions of the options before us. One of our greatest concerns is for those congregations whose pastors and elders have not kept them up-to-date on what has been going on in our denomination, much less what happened today. Another is for those pastors and members in congregations that are split over these issues.

We believe that we need to make clear decisions soon, but in a context that will allow these other congregations time to consider what is now before us. I have always said that the Kirk will never be a maverick congregation, going off somewhere on its own. That is still true. The essence of Presbyterianism is being connected as a body. The fact that the PCUSA has effectively rejected this is no reason for us to operate alone.

The convocation in mid-July will be a time for consideration of all the above in a timely fashion. While what has happened is, in my mind, terrible, God never wastes anything. He will take this event and use it to His glory. My prayer is that we stay faithfully one step behind the Lord.
Keep the faith,

Monday, June 19, 2006

Votes are starting to count

The first decisions were made today as the plenary GA voted on the theological paper, "The Trinity: God's Love Overflowing." The paper created no small controversy.

It suggested “naming” God in creative ways, such as,

• Compassionate Mother, Beloved Child and Life-Giving Womb
• Speaker, Word and Breath
• Overflowing Font, Living Water and Flowing River
• Rainbow, Ark and Dove
• Sun, Light and Burning Ray
• Lover, Beloved and Love

The paper made the point that Scripture clearly states baptisms must be done in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, because Jesus was so specific. Beyond that, I think, the writers (for whatever reason) felt it would be good to be creative with how we describe God.

One commissioner reminded the assembly that God names God, not us, and that we cannot simply tie any three terms together—even if they are Biblical—and say that we are naming God. I agree.

I am not particularly happy (or alarmed) that this paper passed. To me, it is poor theology and potentially confusing. Other conservatives, particularly those from the Coalition, are claiming a victory in that the report was technically “received,” and not “adopted.”

In the real-world life of the church, this is a distinction without a difference. I was a commissioner in 1991, and served on the human sexuality committee. We considered the controversial task force report “Keeping Body and Soul Together: Sexuality, Spirituality, and Social Justice,” which came to be known as the “justice/love” paper. It recommended many things that the church has historically taught against. The report was overwhelmingly turned down. But—if you go onto the PCUSA official website, you can still find that paper as a recommended resource for teaching sexuality! At least, in the last few months, there has been a disclaimer printed with it saying that it was turned down by the GA.

This current theological paper, flawed as it is, will be a teaching resource for our denomination from now on. This is not an auspicious beginning to the plenary meeting.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Worship at South Highland Presbyterian Church

Chrissie and I joined with the others of our Tulsa "gang" to worship together at South Highland Presbyterian Church. Ed Hurley is pastor there and the guest preacher was Dr. Iain Torrance, the new President of Princeton Seminary. We also had greetings from a former pastor of that church, a pastor from South Africa, and the Stated Clerk of the PCUSA, Clifton Kirkpatrick. Cliff was baptized at that very church!

Ed Hurley

Dr. Iain Torrance

The service was formal and lively. A couple of hundred visitors from GA joined the regular congregation, so they had to set out extra chairs for everyone. The pastors, acolyte, beadle (Bible bearer), and choir all processed behind a bagpipe player (I don't think they do that every Sunday). Note: the choir is in front.... We enjoyed worship together and the fellowship following in the church's patio area.

South Highland's Sanctuary

The Tulsa group

I attended the Presbyterian Coalition dinner later this evening. Dr. James Edwards, a familiar friend to many of us in the Kirk (especially the Hardys) spoke. He carefully demonstrated how the pro-gay ordination movement is critically different from the civil rights movement, and different as well from the issue of women's ordination. The progressive groups have been making these two associations for years.

Jim talked about how the Bible has two "minds" on women's leadership. There are the Pauline proscriptions and, yet, Paul's own admiration for Junia, whom he calls an apostle. The Bible never equates race with evil or sin. But sexual immorality--of any kind--is singularly and steadfastly condemned in both the Old and New Testaments.

Jim also reminded us that "the Holy Spirit does not speak against its own revelation (Scripture)." That means than any new "revelation" must harmonize with what we already have in the Bible. One statement he made was particularly cogent in this context. You may remember from an earlier post the commissioner on the committee examining the PUP report who said that "we cannot judge others." We hear this from progressives with numbing frequency whenever we call something sin. Jim gave the example of Jesus' judging of the Pharisees. "Jesus was hard on the Pharisees NOT because they judged, but because they failed to hold themselves accountable to the same standard of judgment."

This principle is important for all of us to remember. The progressives have brought this issue on gay marriage and ordination repeatedly before us, and that has forced us to utter Biblical judgement. Yet we need to remember that sin of any kind falls under the same judgement. Humility is the order of the day.

Keep the faith,

Committee Decisions

Most of the committees have completed their business. All of their recommendations will be forwarded to the plenary session of GA which starts tomorrow (Monday) morning. Then it's all back to square one, because the GA can undo or redo anything changed by committees. It can choose simply to receive reports without taking any action.

What has been decided?
• The polity committee recommends against a mandatory per-capita assessment.
• The same committee has also recommended against allowing congregations leaving the denomination and taking their property with them.
• The ecclesiology committee has approved PUP almost as-is and recommends such approval by the whole body. Rumor is that there will be a minortiy report. A minority report is from the opposite side, and will be considered by the GA.
• The church orders committee has approved a theological paper on the Trinity which contains some controversy over how we should address or "name" God. There is even some controversy as to whether the committee has included an amendment that demotes Jesus in relationship to God the Father/Mother/Source...

I have read the paragraph in question and do not believe that it does so, but I CAN see how someone could twist the wording (even though it is taken out of Scripture) to do mischief. The phrase in question is "Jesus is the very image of God."

I'll keep you posted on the debate that starts tomorrow. The posts will be late, because business goes until 10pm. Keep us all in your prayers.

Thanks for all your comments

Some of your comments have included important questions. I've not yet been able to answer these. I don't have internet access during the day, so I have to upload my blogs after I get back to my hotel room. Please be patient. I intend to answer every question I get

When Process Is More Important Than Truth

I have deep reservations about the committee process at General Assembly. When commissioners first arrive they are instructed as to how to work in the committee. This is done, in my experience, through a process where the commissioners are repeatedly enjoined to suspend their previous opinions. The upshot of this, particularly for vulnerable commissioners, is the sense that opposition to what someone else says is in bad taste.

The Ecclesiology Committee had an even more pernicious introduction. They went through “discernment” periods where they were guided by a leader as to how to discern God’s will. I was able to sit through one such session, and what follows is an accurate, mostly verbatim record of what transpired.

Committee member Meg Scott led this discernment period. She opened with prayer (not prayed in Jesus’ or God’s name), then led the commissioners in a process strongly similar to New Age guided imagery.

“Feel yourself present in your body, aware of your breath. Aware of the tense places of your body. Ready to go into neutral gear. Ready to be more guided by the Spirit. This is willingness, openness to ‘Thy will be done.’ Treasure now moments of silence, knowing that this is space and time to sit at the feet of Christ, to be silent before God.”
[“neutral gear” is emptying the mind. This is unpresbyterian, since Reformed faith is cognitive, not intuitive—Tom]

This was followed by a long period of silence. Then Meg spoke again.
“Pay attention to where you feel blockages, resistances, stuckness [sic], anxiousness. It may be the tension of unnamed or named fears. And give those to the living God. And notice where you feel open to God. And notice what is in this space for you.”

“If there are words, take notice, sensations, take notice, images, take notice, and lift them to God. And in this space, notice…Feel your breath. Form a prayer. Pray it to God. And be aware of the prayer the Holy Spirit is praying for you. In the name of Jesus, the Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, Amen.”

The commissioners were then told to “write out feelings of what you are against and present them before God and listen for the response.”
[What seems most important in this process are feelings, not facts, emotions, not reason. –Tom]

The leader then described how one could tell that a thought or idea is God’s will:

“One of the ways to know the opening of God is when there is energy; when there is freedom, openness and freshness. Another is in that neutral place, letting go of agenda or outcome. Imagine one of the options open to you and imagine going down that pathway.”
[Letting go of agenda is what the “standard” commissioner preparation tries to accomplish. Is it a bad thing to have a strong opinion? Why?—Tom]

“Is there openness or blockedness [sic] there? Is there fruit of the Spirit there? Then go back in your imagination and go down another, different option and see what comes in your imagination. What kind of energy is there. Is there freedom, constriction?”
[How do you make important decisions? By energy? Freedom? Constriction? Again, reason is supplanted by emotion. Emotions are a part of every decision, but if they’re the only part, most decisions will be poor ones.—Tom]

Think of this—you cannot debate emotions. When someone feels something it is real to them, even if it is empirically proven wrong. For our denomination to encourage the above process is tantamount to guaranteeing poor decisions. The life of our denomination is at stake. We deserve better than this. In fact, I believe that the Lord demands better.

Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ (Matthew 22:37)

Or am I like people of the world who say yes when they really mean no? As surely as God is true, I am not that sort of person. My yes means yes because Jesus Christ, the Son of God, never wavers between yes and no. (2 Corinthians 1:17-19 )

Responses to the “Discernment” Process

The committee members were asked to share what they felt during the discernment time.
One man talked about some gifts a friend left him. One of the gifts was a box of non-toxic crayons. That was the image that came to him during “discernment,” and he felt that the word “toxic” was very important. He also read a short passage from “All I needed to know, I learned in Noah’s Ark”

A young woman related her image. “I’m an artist, and the first thing that came to mind was a sunset. I questioned everything. Now I feel I’ve had a revelation of confidence of what I believe.”

Another young woman said an image of a music class came to her. “I’ve taken music theory this year, and we learned about dodecaphonic music…you basically throw the notes down on the floor to make your original theme, and then create a piece using only those themes. I personally disliked that part of music theory because I like to pick my pitches…We were all worried about it, but when I stepped back, the piece was beautiful. That is what we are going to do in this committee. It will come out as whatever God intends and we will go home happy because it all works out.”

Can we overcome Biblical unfaithfulness by focusing on the word, “toxic”? Is the “vision” of a sunset sufficient to reveal Truth? Will anything True and Good come from “throwing notes down on the floor?”

Once again, we deserve better than this.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

The Debates Begin

The Ecclesiology Committee at Work

Saturday was packed with committee business and the beginnings of actual decisions from committees. Remember, though, that what a committee does can be undone at the plenary sessions of GA next week and vice versa.

Committee people at their small-group tables

I spent my whole day with the Ecclesiology committee again, listening to debate within the committee over the PUP report and some of the overtures related to it. My immediate reaction is that the committee is operating on sentiment, rather than critical thinking. Following are some of the comments made during the debate. Almost all the focus was on proposal #5, which is commonly called the “local option” where local sessions and presbyteries would be freed to determine which of our “essentials” are essential.

• “What we need to do differently is have some trust in each other. We need to come together in conversation and look to each other in love.”

• “What we’ve done for 30 years hasn’t worked, this is at least an effort to do something.

• We have to trust our sessions and presbyteries. This is what we’ve always done. The examples [those opposing PUP] have given are extreme.”

• “The gates of hell will not prevail against the church. Let’s trust each other. Let’s come together and stop fighting…and put it in God’s hands.”

• “PUP is a way in which the church can live more faithfully in disagreement. The task forces report has given her greater hope than ever. Their coming together in a unanimous decision is nothing short of a miracle. The moderatorial candidates were all negative people. We need to get beyond that.”

• “If we take proposal #5 away we won’t give people a chance to have God’s love. Also, we are not to judge; only God is the judge. We can’t decide who can or can’t do God’s work.

• “I hope that the GA will trust this committee’s decision and that the denomination will trust the GA’s decision. It doesn’t matter if we agree, but do we love one another and will agree to stay together. I trust them, even if they hold to different essentials. The presbyteries have the right to decide what they want.”

There were, thankfully, some people who looked to Scripture for guidance.
• “I’ve heard a lot about the Book of Order and the PUP, but very little about the Bible. The Bible is way more important than these others.”

• “My presbytery has voted twice not to ordain a homosexual because it is not Biblical.”


A vote was taken on a motion to completely remove proposal #5 from the report. The VOTE: will we strike number 5? yes 23, no 37. This may be a portent of things to come.

The Two Synagogues

Chrissie and I had the blessing of being at two synagogue worship services on Friday night. The first one was at Birmingham’s Conservative Synagogue, Temple Beth-El, the second was at the Reform (liberal) Synagogue, Temple Emmanu-El.

There was a significant difference between the first synagogue and the second. The first was a place where Scripture was clearly at the center. The second was much like Unitarian churches in belief, while it maintains the Hebrew ethos of Judaism.

It was interesting to see that the Conservative congregation was more like our contemporary worship in style (the rabbi even repeated a lot of verses), while the Reform synagogue was very formal.

We witnessed a vital, loving congregation in the Conservative synagogue. It was small enough that everyone knew everyone else’s name. Part of the service included members standing to share a blessing they’d had the week before. There were also acknowledge birthdays and anniversaries. The rabbi blessed each member with an encouraging word, along with encouraging words from the Bible. Children were invited several times up to the “bema” (the pulpit area) to get a candy, or some juice. There was a lot of laughter.

The dignity of the Reform Synagogue worship was impressive. The cantor was a woman with a beautiful soprano voice. There were ritual movements and moments done much, much more formally than those in the previous synagogue. While we sang Scriptures (in Hebrew) there were no readings of or comments on Scripture otherwise. There were children in the synagogue, but they were not acknowledged in any way. There were announcements that included recent deaths and ‘Yahrzeits,” which are the 1st year anniversary remembrances of a death. The congregation was passive in this service, more like pew-sitters than participants.

Naturally, we felt out of place in both places. We didn’t know when to stand or sit, when to turn around (!), or bow or anything else. It gave me some insight to how people who come into a church—any church—for the first time must feel. I’m wondering how we can make the Kirk and its worship services more welcoming and comfortable, whether in traditional or contemporary worship.

How do people see us when they first visit the Kirk? Are we a vital, warm, welcoming congregation? Do we go out of our way to welcome people in? Would we help them in worship if they seemed uncomfortable or confused? Our experience here in Birmingham made these questions very real to me—as they should be to us all.

Tom and Chrissie’s Excellent Adventure

Friday afternoon, Chrissie heard that the father of Daniel Perl—the journalist who was beheaded by Islamic terrorists—would be speaking at the local synagogue. Any and all Presbyterians were invited to come, so we decided to join them.

I went online and found the synagogue’s address. We had some idea where it was because we’d been told it was near Ed Hurley’s church, which we had seen the day before (Ed worked at the Kirk with me as an associate pastor from 1982-84). As an added attraction, we also found out that Ed would be speaking at the synagogue, since he had just returned from a fact-finding trip to Israel.

As we turned toward the church we saw the synagogue right in front of us! A lovely woman warmly welcomed us to the fellowship. I explained that we were not Jewish, we were with the Presbyterian group. She smiled and handed us a service book. We went in and the rabbi was already in front, strumming his guitar (!) and quietly singing. 60 to 80 people were wandering in. We were the only Presbyterians.

People smiled at us as we took our seat. We sat behind a family with a cute little 3-year-old girl who shouted “Beth Torah!” (house of Scripture) when she entered. The singing was all in Hebrew, as was most of the worship book. Both Chrissie and I read Hebrew, but we couldn't read it fast enough to keep up with the singers.

We were 5 minutes into the service and still the only Presbyterians. The rabbi announced that he would be rushing through the service because everyone wanted to get through in time to go down the street to the OTHER SYNAGOGUE to hear Dr. Perl speak.

Chrissie leaned over, asking, “Should we leave?” There was no gracious way to exit, so we decided to stay. I’m glad that we did.

When the service ended everyone made a beeline out. We went in the direction of the other synagogue. We were alone—for a few moments. Who did we see behind us but the rabbi. I explained our pleasure at being at his synagogue (he called it a “church” for our benefit) and thought he could be our “guide” in the Reform Synagogue toward which we were walking.

At the end of the SECOND Jewish worship service we were in, the rabbi invited all Presbyterians to stand, which we did. Then he invited all Presbyterian clergy to come up to the Bema (pulpit) to be a blessing for them and, perhaps, one or two could speak a blessing. I didn’t know what he meant by that, so I stood far to one side. That didn’t help.

Remember, Ed Hurley was speaking there that night. The next thing I heard was “Why don’t y’all let Tom Gray come up and give a blessing. I don’t really remember what I said. I’m sure it was nice, but a bit lame. Another pastor came up behind me and spoke, saying that he had had the blessing of living in Israel for one year. He then followed with a flawless benediction IN HEBREW! I leaned over to another pastor and said, “Now why didn’t I think of that?”

Day two of the GA

Day two of the GA is when the committees begin to meet and the real work begins. I spent the morning with the Church Polity Committee which was reviewing overtures to alter our Form of Government (FOG). Most of the overtures are needed clarifications and adjustments to how we do our business. A couple of the controversial ones were
1) Changing per captia payments from voluntary to required.
2) Allowing presbyteries to remove pastors without the pastor's or congregation's consent.
Observers are allowed to sign up to speak for or against any overture. I spoke on the two above. We are each given two minutes to speak, which goes by in a flash (unlike some sermons).

Inside the meeting room of the Church Polity Committee

A view of the Exhibition area

In the afternoon I moved to the Ecclesiology Committee which has been given the task of reviewing the paper from the Task Force on Peace, Unity, and Purity of the Church (PUP). This is the paper which has, in my opinion, recommended that we allow the ordination of gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transexuals (GLBT) on a case-by-case basis, as decided by the local presbyteries. This, I believe, will remove all national standards for ordination and create confusion, conflict, and schism. This is also the paper that declares that there are certain theological essentials, but local presbyteries can decide if those essentials are truly essential.

Inside the Ecclesiology Committee meeting area

The observers' area for Ecclesiology

Over 100 observers registered to speak, so there was a drawing to see who would be allowed. I lost (along with many others). The gist of what was said by various people could be grouped in categories.

1) Those who wholeheartedly approve of the paper as-is.
“Theirs was a rare experience of Christian community.” (Susan Andrews, former moderator)
“Their affection and respect and love for one another have given us bold wisdom and a new path for getting along in the future.” "The unanimous vote [of the task force] was a miracle” (Andrews, again)

2) Those adamantly opposed to the paper.
"Standards are standards. The denomination has already determined this issue, using the word 'shall.' It was not confused or mistaken when they put these things in our constitution." (observer)

3) Those who are so tired of the subject that they are ready to take any compromise and move on.
"Let’s pass this compromise; I’m tired of 30 years debate. Just try to keep the constitution." "This has killed mission. Let’s approve PUP and go back to work." (Marj Carpenter, former moderator)
"I’ve heard so many negative terms (ie disagreement, tumult, et al), let’s end this." (A Theological Seminary Advisory Delegate)

Perhaps most accurately descriptive of why those who support this paper do, came from former moderator, Susan Andrews. "A new way of being church, focused on relationship not rules, process, not precepts.” This paper will toss out objective, Biblical standards of holiness and elevate "getting along" to essential status (the only one) in our denomination.

The people who spoke were eloquent and effective. I have been a commissioner in equally difficult circumstances, and know just how emotional and stressful this process is. Please pray for your commissioners that they will accept Godly guidance and vote in accordance with what Scripture teaches.

The debate among the committee members (commissioners) begins on Saturday morning. This is what really matters. Once the committee is done debating it will make a recommendation that will be presented to the whole General Assembly next Monday. Then the process starts anew in the plenary sessions. There should be an up or down vote by Wednesday night or Thursday morning.

I'll put out an additional blog tomorrow about Chrissie's and my dinnertime escapade as we tried to hear a special speaker. It involves two religions and a case of mistaken identity.
Keep the faith.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

First Day of Offical Business

Today is the first day of official business at General Assembly, which has taken over the entire Birmingham Jefferson Convention Complex (BJCC). It's a great facility, but... My reservation is about the amout of room allocated for observers. Assemblies like this (where there is predictable controversy) can attract thousands of observers, such as I, from all over the country. It's been my experience at past GAs that plenary meetings were held in arenas where the voters were on the floor and there was plenty of space in the peanut gallery for observers. The plenary hall at the BJCC is not an arena--only a large room. The space taken up by commissioners, advisory delegates, and press, leaves seat for only several hundred seats for observers, who have paid $125 just to observe. It will be interesting to see how thousands of observers will scramble for the limited number of seats.

The observers' area

The commissioners area at GA

The afternoon's business was perfunctory, so Chrissie and I had time to view the various exhibits, meeting with Kirk people at work here in Birmingham. John and Diana Haley were at the Literacy Evangelism International, where we also saw Sid and Christa Rice (The Rev. Sid Rice is the President of LEI). Wayne and Kay Ward were at the Presbyterian Coalition Exhibit (the Coalition is an evangelical group within the PCUSA). We also talked with the Rev. Ed Hurley, who served at the Kirk in the 1980s.

John and Diana Haley

Sid and Christa Rice

Wayne and Kay Ward

The interesting business started this evening with the election of our new moderator. The candidates were formally nominated, and then each followed with a prepared 5-minute campaign speech. After that, came an hour for questions from the floor. This is where it got interesting. After a couple of innocuous questions, it became pointed: "Where do you stand on the ordination of practicing gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transsexuals?" The two men, Kerry Carson and Tim Halverson, were clearly opposed to it. One of the women, Deborah Block was in favor; the other, Joan Gray (no relation), gave a confused answer, implying that she hoped the GA would come to a decision. Prior to this GA, it was clear to me that the track records of Block and Gray indicated support for GLBT ordination.

It took three ballots, and Joan Gray was elected moderator of the 217th General Assembly of the PCUSA. I cannot tell you what this bodes for our future except to say that the floor vote indicated that the commissioners were more interested in persons who would "just get along" over those who had a clear stand.

It's 10:00 now and there's a lot happening (committees meet to debate issues) tomorrow. So, I'll sign off for now, but please continue to check in daily, and add your comments to the blog (click on the "comment" link) so we can all carry on a virtual conversation.

Monday, June 12, 2006

I am so thankful

I am so thankful for all of you who came out to the Sunday night presentation on New Wineskins and the upcoming General Assembly. Your questions were thoughtful and your responses to me were gracious and encouraging.
I mentioned that my worst-case-scenario would be if the GA did nothing--if it just kept on with the debate of the last 30 years. It goes against the Biblical mandate to let our "yes be yes, and our no be no." Yet it is possible that this is what will happen.
I was just reading the musings of a delegate to the convention of the Episcopalian Church which is meeting concurrently with our general assembly. His concerns are the same. Institutions have a sense of self-preservation that belies the truth. The temptation is to "fudge" our statements so that we don't ruffle feathers. This is what the Episcopalian priest said:

"We want to stay in the family simply APPEARING to accede to the recommendations clearly presented in the Windsor Report [demanding correct Biblical sexual behavior] and then continue to do “our thing”. We certainly want to TALK the TALK and evade the WALK!
I looked in ROGET’S 21st CENTURY THESAURUS IN DICTIONARY FORM and found it….the word is FUDGE (v) fake, misrepresent and it read…
'Avoid, color,cook-up, dodge, embellish, embroider,
Equivocate, evade, falsify, exaggerate, falsify, hedge,
Magnify, overstate, pad, patch, shuffle, slant, stall.'"

Please pray that our GA will have the integrity and courage to speak boldy.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Special Steeple

I'm sure that the special Steeple you received may have raised as many questions as it answered. I tried to cover all the bases, but there is only so much we can put into a publication.
To help with any other questions you might have, I've arranged for a special congregational meeting this Sunday night, at 6:30 in the Upper Room. I'll do a brief presentation, but spend most of the time answering questions. We'll have microphones available so that everyone can hear the questions as well as my answers. Please take the time to come this Sunday night.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Read the Special Steeple

I hope that you've read the special Steeple that we sent to you in the last week of May. This Steeple contains a lot of background information about the key issues at the General Assembly and just why they are so different from previous ones, and so important today to the Kirk.
I will post a description at the end of each day of General Assembly, beginning on June 15. Since the GA meetings go late, you'll probably read this on the 16th. The GA goes until June 22. Please check in daily.