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.


drmom said...

Well, the news folks have already picked up on this story. This is actually a pretty fair article.

Pretty discouraging overall, though.

John Haley said...

You can watch the webcast of the General Assembly. Go to and click on the "Log into Les" button and set up an account. Then you can click on the "Streaming live" button to see the GA in living color.

I warn you that much of it is like watching paint dry.

Click on the "docket" link to see approximately when issues of interest are to be considered. For example, the PUP report will be presented by the Ecclisiology committee sometime in the middle to late part of Tuesday morning.

Blessings to all,

John R. Haley

Rev Dave said...

I agree with you on the future use of this awful paper. It's Jim Berkley who invented the phrase 'doucment creep,' where as, with the sexuality curriculum that you metnioned, a document is treated as policy and quoted authoritatively no matter what the actual action of the GA that voted on it did.
Me? I'm using this paper for firestarter when it shows up in my mailbox. Where this one breaks down is in two places: first, the previously mentioned lack of distinction between metaphor and reality. Second, in missing the point that _any_ mention of the Trinity using terms that aren't relational breaks down into job descriptions (modalism). You simply can't string three things together and claim, "Behold, the Trinity." Back to seminary for the writers of this one.

Mark Hildebrand said...


Regarding the comment about a committee moderator intimidating the committee members:

In your opinion, is the current theological drift that we are experiencing a result of the denominational staff (and their influence) or do the majority of GA commissioners embrace the departure from "sola scriptura?"

Keep up the good work. I know that all of us at the Kirk are very proud of our entire contingent that is representing us so faithfully.


TomGray said...

I think it is a combination of staff and GA that have departed. What I find most frustrating here is that commissioners (some) tend to want to be "nice" and go along with what is presented to them.
Because the average member (commissioner) is not highly Biblically literate, thery are vulnerable to "experts." Combine that with the "niceness" factor and we have a high speed slippery slope.
There are, though, significant commissioners who speak up eloquently and passionately. Let's hope they're heard.

Neil Erickson said...

I agree with your comment about the real-world. The church's role in the real-world is to "..go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you."

The real-world hears GA speak for the church. Lord have mearcy!

You are in our prayers, Tom.

Anonymous said...

"Mother, child, and womb" [ Tulsa World - 20jun06 - Church debates gender in Trinity - a2 ] is taken directly from Unitarian WICCA indoctrination. Just add, 'There are truths in other religions [new age, eastern] not found in male centric Christianiy.'

You can use this smogasbord theology to create your own personal doctrine - one in which you are to good to be damned.

In some Unitarian Churches you can literally go a month of Sundays without hearing the word "God".

Been there. Done that.


Truth is whatever it is - not what we want it to be.