I received this morning a copy of a letter from the Synod Executive, Judy Fletcher. She had had a meeting with the administrators of all the presbyteries in the Synod of the Sun (includes Oklahoma), and said the following:
“In congregation after congregation there are people like you trying to be faithful to Christ and diligent in mission and ministry. That was just as true before the Assembly.
Here is some of what I heard from the 65 presbytery representatives at our meeting in Dallas.
…All 11 presbyteries affirmed that the Book of Order has not changed and the ordination of non-celibate gay and lesbian persons is still prohibited. Presbyteries expressed commitment to uphold our constitution."
The official news release from our Stated Clerk and Moderator said the following:
“--Report of the Theological Task Force on Peace, Unity, and Purity of the Church: With the approval of this report, the assembly did not alter our historic standards for ordination. However, it did make clear that more responsibility is to be exercised by sessions and presbyteries regarding the examination of candidates for ordination. By an overwhelming majority, the assembly also affirmed our covenantal partnership, our common theological roots, and the need for prayer in Christian communities as we make decisions.”
Is this really all that happened last June? Why, then, are so many churches, members, and organizations so upset?
Look at other responses:
From the official press department of the PCUSA, just prior to the GA:
The TTF is proposing that no changes be made to the constitutional standards for ordination or the authoritative interpretations that buttress them, while giving ordaining bodies ¾ congregations in the case of elders and deacons and presbyteries in the case of ministers — some leeway in applying the standards to particular candidates for ordination, thereby creating the possibility that some bodies could ordain non-celibate gays and lesbians.
Jerry Van Marter, Presbyterian News Services, May 23, 2006
From the blog of Presbyterian (PCUSA pastor and writer, Mark Roberts:
Let me put all of this in simple terms:
1. The PCUSA has authoritative standards for ordination.
2. Until today, candidates are expected to follow these standards if they are to be ordained.
3. But, as of today's vote, when it comes "fidelity and chastity," an ordaining body has the freedom to decide that a candidate's departure from a constitutional standard, namely fidelity and chastity, is not a failure to adhere to the essentials of Reformed faith and polity.
4. Thus, if any governing body believes that "fidelity and chastity" are not essential, then that governing body has the freedom to ordain candidates who are not and do not intend to practice fidelity in heterosexual marriage or chastity in singleness. Persons both straight and gay who engage in sex outside of marriage would thus be ordainable.
I know this sounds strange if you're new to the Presbyterian soap opera. But the fact is that the General Assembly has strongly reaffirmed the standard of fidelity and chastity, and in the same day has granted freedom to governing bodies to decide whether this standard is essential or not. If they decide it's not essential, then they are free to ordain people who intend to engage in sexual intimacy outside of marriage.
From the More Light organization, activists for gay ordination:
The Presbyterian Church (USA) General Assembly approved Tuesday an authoritative interpretation of its constitution that will allow local churches more leeway in ordaining openly practicing homosexuals - which is still banned in church law….
More Light Presbyterians, "a network of people seeking the full participation of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people" in the denomination, welcomed the decision.
"It's a step in the right direction," said national field organizer Michael Adee, a gay elder in the First Presbyterian Church of Santa Fe, N.M.
Although the task force gave very little direct mention to the issue of homosexuality, "we know who the elephant in the room is and so does everybody else," Adee said.
The Birmingham News, June 21, 2006
From the Christian Post:
The Presbyterian establishment, including all seminary presidents and many officials, promoted the flexibility plan, which was devised by a special task force. The idea is to grant modest change to liberals but mollify conservatives by keeping the sexual law on the books.
June 20, 2006
From the Pro-gay press:
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- A Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) national assembly voted Tuesday to create some leeway for gay clergy and lay officers to serve local congregations, despite a denominational ban on partnered gay ministers.
A measure approved 298-221 by a Presbyterian national assembly keeps in place a church law that says clergy and lay elders and deacons must limit sexual relations to man-woman marriage. But the new legislation says local congregations and regional presbyteries can exercise some flexibility when choosing clergy and lay officers of local congregations if sexual orientation or other issues arise.
Gay.com, Advocate News, June 20, 2006
From Robert Gagnon, commissioner to GA and leading conservative expert on the Bible and homosexuality:
In his newly released "Advisory Opinion #18: Discernment in Examining Bodies - G-6.0108," the Stated Clerk of the PCUSA, Clifton Kirkpatrick, offers no clear guidance that the amended "authoritative interpretation" of the PUP Task Force, passed by the 2006 General Assembly, would still disallow the ordination of persons engaged in self-affirmed homosexual activity. Indeed, most of what he says in his advisory opinion leans in the direction of suggesting that ordaining homosexually active persons is not necessarily an act of constitutional noncompliance.
Robert A. J. Gagnon, “Viewpoint,” Presbyweb, July 6, 2006
From an Arizona newspaper:
A local effort to lift a ban on the ordination of noncelibate homosexuals in the Presbyterian Church has failed, but a separate decision is allowing individual churches more leeway when it comes to giving clerical collars to gays and lesbians.
Nancy Hummel, an elder with the East Side Christ Presbyterian Church who was the local presbytery's commissioner at the Birmingham meeting, said the vote did not change anything, in her view.
"Every presbytery can still say no," she said, referring to the ordination of gays. "The historic standards of ordination are still the same."
Arizona Daily Star, June 24, 2006
From the Religious News Service
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- The nation's largest Presbyterian denomination, in a seismic shift on the role of gays and lesbians in the church, voted on Tuesday (June 20) to allow local and regional bodies to ordain gays to the church's ministries.
After nearly three hours of debate, delegates voted 298 to 221 to approve a complex proposal that allows local congregations and regional bodies known as presbyteries to bypass the church's current ban on "self-avowed practicing" gay clergy.
Current rules from 1996 that require "fidelity in marriage ... and chastity in singleness" will remain on the books, but local bodies can now allow exceptions to those standards if they wish.
June 22, 2006
From the leaders of 14 different PCUSA renewal organizations:
"Today, in a single vote by 298 commissioners, the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (USA) effectively was changed. The mandated requirements of ordination, rooted in Scripture and our Confessions, have been made optional. Sessions and presbyteries have been allowed to treat the Seventh Commandment as 'not essential.' 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).
"The consequences of the decision of this General Assembly throw our denomination into crisis. Many individuals and congregations will conclude from this decision that the PC(USA) has abandoned the historic faith of the Church. The decision will be regarded by others in the worldwide body of Christ as profoundly offensive.”
Signed by the representatives of 14 (purported and schismatic) renewal groups
If there has been no change, why is the church in such frantic activity in the last few months following GA? “Nothing has changed” is the official spin by denominational leaders; it is a mindless mantra designed to defuse those who have the temerity to think that something actually changed.
When I googled the phrase “everything has changed,” statements about the PCUSA PUP decision and 9/11 both frequently surfaced. That got me thinking.
After 9/11, our nation took great pains to increase surveillance and to institute rules and practices designed to find potential terrorists and their deadly tools and cargo. They didn’t put in such restrictive rules because they thought nothing had changed. They believed that everything had changed.
Currently, leaders like the Eastern Oklahoma Presbytery’s general presbyter have said (in a conversation with Kirk co-pastor, Wayne Hardy) that, “if anything, we will, because of this decision, be more diligent in our examination of candidates.” Why?
Judy Fletcher, in the letter cited at the beginning of this blog, said,
“Presbyteries recommitted themselves to be diligent in the whole process of accepting inquirers and candidates and of ordaining ministers to word and sacrament.” Why would she be concerned that there be a recommitment to be diligent if nothing had changed?
The polity and theology of the Presbyterian Church is that elders, deacons, and pastors ordained for one church, are ordained for the entire church. This is literally said in the ceremony of ordination/installation of officers.
What has happened is this. There are presbyteries that will hold fast to the Scriptural teachings on ordination. There are those who will now feel completely free to affirm and ordain those who live in opposition to those standards. Elders, deacons, and pastors nominated in the latter will inevitably, ultimately end up in presbyteries that would have allowed no such thing.
Everything has changed.