Friday, August 25, 2006

They Say Nothing's Changed, But...

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.

25 comments:

Larry said...

Both the approval of PUP #5 and the receipt of the Trinity Report upset Presbyterians. Now to pacify the ill informed, various leaders throughout the denomination keep saying nothing changed.

Well, if nothing changed, then I say to those various leaders: "Why don't you make a statement that the 217th General Assembly immediately return in Special Session to unapprove PUP #5 and unreceive the Trinity Report?"

Some will point out to me that reconvening a General Assembly is a costly affair. Well, maybe Kirk of the Hills, centrally located in the USA will host a one day Special Session of the GA for the 534 Commissioners.

Such a gathering might cost about $500 per commissioner or $250,000 total and I will gladly be the first to contribute $500 to defray the cost of said gathering.

I do not expect to have to write the check, because in truth much was changed by the approval of PUP #5 and receipt of the Trinity Report.

Mark said...

Dear Tom and all,

I'm a lifelong Presbyterian, died in the wool. I cut my teeth on the RSV and the 1955 red hymnal. My father is an ordained PCUSA minister and my mother is an ordained elder who is active in PW. My parents met at seminary and taught us the faith at home, not just at church. I was ordained a deacon before going to seminary. I'm also an ordained minister of the Word and Sacrament in the PCUSA who has served many churches, all of them small. I am currently serving a congregation in another presbytery of the synod.

Years ago my father applied for a position at The Kirk. At 7:00 a.m. on the morning he was to have breakfast with the search committee, someone from the committee called and cancelled the meeting. They discovered that my father had once protested for the rights of underpaid migrant workers, so they broke off the conversation. Therefore, my first experience of The Kirk was not positive. (Don't worry, Tom; it was before your enlightened pastorate began.) I hope and trust that attitudes have changed over the years, and that advocating for the rights of the marginalized is no longer considered inappropriate to the good people of The Kirk.

I was raised in a home steeped in the Bible. We were taught that Jesus cared for the poor and marginalized. I was also taught that homosexuality was wrong, and I believed what I was taught.

Years later, while attending college, I discovered something I had never realized before: the Old Testament is silent on the issue of same-sex female relations. I wondered why, if God was so worked up about homosexuality, God would not have stated explicitly that women were forbidden to lie with other women as they do with men. That got me to thinking, so I did some research.

"Men lying with men as they do with women." I learned in college that some of the laws in the Pentateuch revolved around ensuring that husbands and wives would have sex when the wives were ovulating, thereby strengthening the nation with more births. Propagation of the faithful is difficult to do when men inseminate each other. The prohibition against same-sex male relations made sense as a means of increasing the Israelite population.

Over time I learned that it was common in some of the ancient Mediterranean cultures for male warriors to rape vanquished male warriors on the battle field as a way of shaming them and exerting dominance. It was not about sexual gratification, per se, but about sexual violence as a means of establishing power.

After taking classes in the Wisdom Literature of the Bible, I learned about the deep and abiding hospitality code of the ancient Near East. No matter who came your way, you were to provide them with food and shelter if you had it to spare.

And of course, there is the refrain that runs throughout the Old Testament, that the faithful are to care for the needs of the widow, the orphaned, and the stranger in their midst.

Then I reread the story of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19 and my mind was opened. Without the aid of any commentary, I realized that the sin of the Sodomites was not "homosexual perversion" but an extreme inhospitality to alien residents and visitors. The men of Sodom meant to rape the angels and Lot as a violent act of domination, not for sexual gratification.

This interpretation was further strengthened as I read Ezekiel 16:49-50 and Matthew 10:14-15 (and its parallel passage in Luke 10:10-12).

"This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. They were haughty, and did abominable things before me; therefore I removed them when I saw it."

[In the context of Jesus sending out the twelve] "If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town. Truly I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town."

So I turned to the New Testament and found that Jesus was silent on the issue of same-sex relations.

Next, I turned to Paul's well-known words in Romans 1:18-32. I saw that his primary concern was idolatry, of which female and male cult prostitution were a regular expression in the fertility cultus. Paul was speaking not of faithful, monogamous relations, but of idolatrous fertility worship.

Some time later, quite on my own, I read Galatians. The words stood out in bold relief: "There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus." I realized that God is concerned about the nature of our relationships, not about the gender of the people in them.

Therefore, having studied the scriptures for myself -- in Hebrew, Greek, and English -- over the course of several years, I underwent a change of mind and heart. I believe that the Holy Spirit led me to disagree with what I had been taught. Homosexuality, per se, is not a sin. What matters in sexual relations between consenting adults is that they are called by God into that relationship and that they remain faithful to each other; gender is inconsequential.

I did not know until later that my parents and siblings underwent a similar transformation based on their Biblical and theological studies.

Only several years later in seminary did I read commentaries that supported the interpretation the Spirit led me to make. I was angry that more than one Biblical interpretation of sexuality was not being offered freely in the Church.

Of course, I've heard many "evangelical" arguments about the passages I've cited. The primary one is that there are different classes of laws in the Old Testament. Some evangelicals have said that the cultic laws having to do with dietary and worship rituals like sacrificial offerings no longer apply because of the sacrifice of Jesus upon the cross, but that the moral laws are still valid. Yet I read in James 2:8-10, "Whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it."

It sounds like some "evangelicals" are as willing to pick and choose the Biblical laws with which they are comfortable as they claim the "liberals" are. As Huldah once said, and I paraphrase, "We're ALL in deep doo-doo" (2 Kings 22:3-20).

It offends Christ and the Church that people on this blog continually bandy about the word "apostate". I, for one, am tired of it. I self-describe as liberal. The majority of liberals I know (and I know many, though we are in a minority) are quite orthodox in their faith. They (and I) believe, in no particular order, that

-God is God, we are not;
-God is sovereign, we are not;
-the Trinity is God's eternal reality and self-expression;
-there is only One God;
-Jesus Christ is the Word of God Incarnate, fully divine, fully human;
-Jesus Chris is Lord of all and Head of the Church;
-the Bible is the only written Word authoritative for faith, and there is no other;
-the Bible is conditioned by the humans who transmit it (meaning that we don't have the originals in any language, and some people messed with the text during transmission from generation to generation), therefore we must apply principles of textual and historical criticism when studying scripture;
-all translations of the Bible are in some way interpretative;
-ALL humans sin and fall short of the glory of God;
-God redeems us in Jesus Christ, and sanctifies us by the Holy Spirit;
-salvation and eternal life are through Jesus Christ alone;
-it is not for us to judge how Christ chooses to work through unbelievers or "the apostate" for their salvation, but we must trust that he does;
-God does not desire for any to perish, but for all to come to everlasting life;
-what God desires, God accomplishes;
-Jesus died upon the cross for our sins, and was buried;
-God raised Jesus bodily from the dead;
-after his bodily resurrection, Jesus ascended into heaven and rules over all creation;
-Jesus Christ will return bodily at an undisclosed time and judge us;
-we are justified by grace through faith in Christ, not by works;
-we are called to act out our faith in Christ, not simply believe it;
-the prophets were always in the minority, so the majority isn't always right (be it "conservative", "liberal", or "moderate");
-the minority isn't always right, either, because the Holy Spirit works through the people as they are gathered together;
-sometimes ALL of us are wrong;
-the communion of the saints is so essential to the life of discipleship that what affects one of us, affects all of us, for good or for ill;
-we are called to be The Body of Christ, even when we don't like each other;
-no member of The Body of Christ can claim that other members are superfluous;
-sometimes Christ works through people we disagree with;
-sometimes Christ chooses not to work through us because we're getting in his way;
-sometimes Christ works through ALL of us;
-only Christ may judge the faith of others;
-any judgment we make about the faith of others is provisional, prone to human frailty and ignorance;
-the Holy Spirit inspires, guides, directs, assures, and protects us in many different ways, some of which are quiet and stately, and others of which are loud and boisterous;
-the Holy Spirit does not abhor decency and order, nor does the Spirit abhor spontaneity;
-God gave us brains, and expects us to use them critically and often!

I also self-describe as evangelical. Long ago the word evangelical was wrestled from the vocabulary of the majority of the Church and used in a way that led many of us to view it as a dirty word. To be an evangelical was to be judgmental, hypocritical, and hateful. No way did some of us want to be that.

Then while I was in seminary I decided to take back that word as it finds its true roots in scripture: good news. Christ came with good news that we are commanded to share with all people. "The kingdom of heaven is at hand. Repent and believe the good news." The evangel is a call to grace, not a bludgeon for the "pure" to wield against the "apostate".

When The Kirk congregation votes to leave the PCUSA and join the EPC (for that appears inevitable) it must come to terms with the fact that some among them will be LGBT, shamed into silence and self-loathing by the prevailing "evangelical" culture. I once knew someone who left The Kirk after coming to terms with their sexual orientation. It was a beautiful thing to see them embrace their true, homosexual, God-given identity, though a sad thing to see them silenced by the PCUSA.

Finally, I've heard so much moaning on this blog about how the new authoritative interpretation has changed the constitution without the vote of the presbyteries. Hello! If you don't like the fact that the General Assembly exercised its right to be the sole body to make authoritative interpretations of the Book of Order, then let's just undo that pesky AI from 1978 that says homosexual practice is a sin. I don't hear you saying that AI was unfair, yet we all still have to conform to it. Talk about double standards!

I want to make one thing perfectly clear: my liberal colleagues, friends, and I believe that the PUP report does not change the current ordination standards in ANY way. We are no more free to disregard G-6.0106b now than we were before the June GA meeting. No synod PJC will uphold the ordination of a sexually active LGBT, even if a session or presbytery ordains such a candidate. The ordination WILL be nullified. We are still bound to the constitution because of our ordination vows. The standards have NOT changed.

However, there has been A change. What has changed is that we are supposed to be kinder to one another when applying the unchanged standards unflinchingly. Kinder, as in no longer vilifying each other. Kinder, as in no longer calling people apostate because they want to change the laws, but have yet been unable to do so.

That means we liberals must continue to work within the denominational process to help remove what we believe to be the sin of G-6.0106b from the Book of Order. Only then will the PCUSA be free to ordain ALL the people God calls to ordained ministry, regardless of sexual orientation.

It seems that the "evangelicals" and the "liberals" are left with the only thing we've had in common during our struggles: Jesus Christ as our foundation, the Holy Spirit as our purifying inspiration, and almighty God as our sovereign. Split or no, let's at least agree upon that.

Faithfully yours in Christ,
Mark

Mark said...

Tom and all,

I went to the prayer page on The Kirk's website and saw a call for six weeks of prayer. "Let's pray for this, pray for that." They look like marvelous prayer causes, but I wonder why three key prayers are not listed.

First (top of the list), pray that the Spirit will help us discern and do God's will.

Second (pretty high up on the list), pray that we all (friend and foe alike) may be one in Christ Jesus, so the world may know God has sent the Son.

Third (anywhere on the list, but it would probably end up last), pray for blessings upon those who disagree with us.

It's a tall order, I know, but "What Would Jesus Have Us Do?"

Faithfully yours in Christ,
Mark

Jim Loughlin said...

Mark has just made probably the best argument I have read for churches to leave the PCUSA - either those whom are in his camp or those whom are in the Kirk's camp. Since the way the PCUSA is run favors and coddles Mark's camp, then the churches in the Kirk's camp should be able to leave unencumbered. Mark's camp is not going to change their mind and neither are the evangelicals. Why prolong our joint misery? Mark uses a very imiginative theology and reasoning for his points. The problem is, his argument is circular and self condemning. He has accused evangelicals of being literal on some things and not others. After reading Mark's reasoning, he is in the exact same boat. He is using a creative interpretation of scripture to point out the evangelicals are wrong, but not applying other parts of scripture. You know, maybe if the people in Sodom and Gommorah only had brought Lot a Welcome Wagon basket and been more hospitable, this whole problem in the PCUSA could have been avoided.....

Anonymous said...

You know I always thought as a hole people were not blindly lead up until this. The GA changed nothing. But you will not belive that. The simple fact is that the Kirk has never really done much for anyone but you spoiled selfish members that think that the only view is there's. But there is a slight problem for you Pastor Gray if you resigned form PCUSA you can not lead anything as in the meeting on the 30th or the so called vote. I also found it interesting that you did things in the "dark" and not in full view. Sounds to me you have a lot to explain to everyone.

Anonymous said...

Dear Mark (and Tom):

I thought I had said my last and my peace on this blog, but this master-piece by Mark (8:33 pm Aug 25) deserves special recognition. This I would print and post on the doors of Wittenberg. This I would be proud to confess. There have been two or three really inspired pieces on this blog, but this is the one I have been waiting for, the one that makes it all worthwhile. Thank you Mark and Thank you Tom for posting it. For that I honor you.

Jodie

stjones said...

The AI deliberately distorted the clear meaning of G-6.0108b. This provision establishes the limits of freedom of conscience: the candidate's conscience "is captive to the Word of God as interpreted in the standards of the church".

There is nothing here that allows anyone to declare G-6.0106b "non-essential". Hence the need for the AI - which also had the agreeable effect of bypassing the presbyteries.

Please follow the links from my name to my blog "The Curmudgeon's Progress" for an admittedly harsh analysis....

Classical Presbyterian said...

This is what Mark is saying to us all in the Church of Jesus Christ:

"Jesus was wrong--a man and a man and a woman and a woman can become one flesh. Paul was wrong. Peter was wrong. Jerome was wrong. Augustine was wrong. Aquinas was wrong. Luther was wrong. Calvin was wrong. Knox was wrong. The Roman Catholics are wrong. The Eastern Orthodox are wrong. The Puritans were wrong. The Reformed Faith is wrong. The holy, catholic church is wrong. For 2000 years, you have all been wrong...

..I and I alone--I am right!"

So whom will YOU stand with? This is the question for us.

As for me and my house, we shall stand with Scripture and the Church Universal:

"What more can be said, than to you God hath said, all ye who for refuge to Jesus have fled?"

Mark Smith said...

Classical,

You are also saying to Mark (btw - another Mark, not me) that "I and I alone -- I am right!" You are saying it by telling him that his study of scripture is wrong.

What do you have to say to his assertion that evangelicals pick and choose which Bible verses to apply as essentials and which to ignore?

The other Mark does not stand alone.

TomGray said...

To the "other Mark"
Classical Presbyterian is not saying that he is right, but that Scripture is right. Also, he certainly is not saying that he alone is right. His (and my) view are supported by the entire history of the Church, prior to the late 20th Century.
The contemporary interpretations that find so much license in Scripture are tortuous, at best, based on eisegesis rather than exegesis. We all tend, from time to time, to find what we want to in Scripture, but this late development is egregiously wrong.
Tom

Jim Loughlin said...

I am sorry that the anonymous poster (1:21 AM, 8/26) feels that "the Kirk has never really done much for anyone but you spoiled selfish members that think that the only view is there's.". You don't leave your name but you do leave an opinion which you are certainly free to hold. The problem is your simple fact is not fact. Let's just take today's activities of not doing anything for anyone. Approximately 20 people headed out at 8 AM to work on two different houses. About half a dozen more will show up in the afternoon. One group to repair a home and finish a wheelchair ramp and another to build a new ramp. This happens every Saturday with few exceptions year round - for over 20 years. Today it is 95F or so. The only qualification is that client needs the help and whomever owns the property agrees. No limus test. No faith test. No means test. No cost to the resident (the materials cost about $1000) other than the electricity that is used for the tools. I could certainly go on. Next time please substantiate your claims and maybe even sign your name.

drmom said...

quote from anonymous poster:
"You know I always thought as a hole people were not blindly lead up until this. The GA changed nothing. But you will not belive that. The simple fact is that the Kirk has never really done much for anyone but you spoiled selfish members that think that the only view is there's. But there is a slight problem for you Pastor Gray if you resigned form PCUSA you can not lead anything as in the meeting on the 30th or the so called vote. I also found it interesting that you did things in the "dark" and not in full view. Sounds to me you have a lot to explain to everyone."

You [u]clearly[/u] have not been reading or keeping up with the actions that have led up to the Kirk disaffiliating.

First, Dr Gray can lead the meeting on the 30th. He and Dr Hardy resigned from the denomination, then the session of the Kirk voted to disaffiliate from the denomination, and then the session re-hired Dr Gray and Dr Hardy.

Second, the Kirk has been very open and honest about where we stand on the denominational issues at hand. There has been clear, repeated, and public discourse between our pastors and session and the denomination regarding our concerns about the direction of the denomination and the potential of us leaving. No, we didn't call up the presbytery to tell them in advance when a vote would be taken, but they were well aware of our stance and couldn't have possibly been surprised by our session's actions. The denomination's actions, however, were done surreptitiously with liens against our property and private documents about how to attack the conservative churches who want to leave the denomination.

Third, I would think that the liberal end of the denomination would be happy to see us go rather than fighting us on the issue. There are fundamental differences in belief between the leadership of the PCUSA and conservative churches like the Kirk. The denomination has moved away from traditional Christian theological beliefs. We have tried for decades to bridge the divide, but it has become quite clear that our efforts are in vain.

Fourth, a small amount of effort would have led you to information about our extensive missions programs. We have on-going missions relationships in the local community and state, other states, and multiple other countries. A significant portion of our membership participates in missions activiities and the Kirk's missions budget is over $700K this year. Your statement that we're spoiled and don't help others is nothing other than ignorant and mean-spirited.

Anonymous said...

Larry,

You make a well-stated, well-reasoned conclusion based on what seem to be an arduous and deep study of biblical history. But it is a human argument, and it is wrong. The author of Galatians (Paul) clearly proscribed homosexuality in his writings. And Christ cited marriage as the only acceptable condition for sexual relations. You conveniently use the scripture to rationalize wrong sexual choices. If homosexuality was ok, the Bible would simply say it was so. Yet, to prove your point, you had to rely on convoluted associations from various scripture. It is true that Christ wants us to love the sinner but hate the sin. And that applies to all of us and to all sin. But it is wrong of you to use scipture and your own subjective theological struggle to try to persuade others to believe that the Bible permits homosexuality. The Bible has but one purpose: To lead sinners of all kinds to reconciliation with God through Christ. It is not a body of case law and statutes that are subject to individual interpretation and application, to be accepted or rejected depending upon the jurisdiction. A fault, if you will, that is typical of libertine thinking is that the Bible is to be used to justify behavior that actually seperates people from God. It is a pity that you did not spend all of that time and research in advancing the Gospel of Jesus Christ versus builidng a case to justify homosexuality. If you had, you might understand that those of us who do not agree with you truly do love and accept all sinners as worthy of salvation through Christ.I urge you to further study and prayer in this matter. Your reasoning has the potential to lead others astray.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, Larry. The previous comment was meant for Mark. Forgive me.

Mark said...

Dear Tom and all,

In actuality, I don't spend my days combing the scriptures to "proof text" my position on the full inclusion of LGBT persons in the life and ministry of the Church. This past week or so is the first time I've ever participated in a blog. Frankly, it's also the first time I've articulated my beliefs about the LGBT so fully in writing.

Quite to the contrary, I spend my days in active ministry in a small congregation, which I have done for many years. Like most pastors, I have many priorities: relationship with God, prayer, study of scripture, family life, preaching, teaching, pastoral care, program development, administration, local ecumenical relations, and participation in presbytery. I have been about the work of the gospel, as have my congregants, as have you all.

I am tired of "liberals" and "conservatives" bashing each other with labels. I've done everything I knew to do over the years to encourage dialogue and mutual respect between people of different beliefs on the matters Tom cites as reasons for leaving the PCUSA. I believe firmly that we all give our allegiance to Jesus Christ as Lord of all and Head of the Church. Sadly, we find ourselves debating LGBT issues our Savior did not see fit to argue, and we ignore those things he held paramount: love of God, love of neighbor, love of self; spreading the gospel; uniting as one people of faith as a sign God has sent the Son.

The last time I read scripture, unity did not mean uniformity. There were twelve tribes of Israelites, not one, each with their unique roles. Christ originally chose twelve apostles, not one, each with their individual personalities. The four gospels of the New Testament are alike, and yet different from each other. And so we are told to share the mind of Christ, but not to leave our minds behind in the process.

I came by my understanding of scripture over a period of many years, through study and prayer and conversation with people of many views. At times I stumbled upon realizations. At other times, I researched issues. But I did not spend every waking moment on this. Come on, a person's got to eat, sleep, and make a living!

It was not an easy thing to turn my back on prior church teachings about LGBT, but I finally did it when I was convinced that the teachings of scripture as revealed to me by the Spirit were greater. What a relief to find that I was not the only one with these beliefs, but that other faithful Christians held them, too! From them, and from those with whom I disagree, I learned much more. I am indebted to people from along the fullness of the theological spectrum, people the Spirit has placed in my life, for the beliefs I now hold.

And so you disagree with me on some things. I accept that. I disagree with you on some things. Even so, I am not willing to call you apostate simply because you disagree with me. I am willing to call you Sister or Brother in Christ. You are a Sister or Brother with whom I happen to disagree on some points, but not on the essentials.

I am not godless. Like you, I am a child of God's covenant. Can we stop the name calling, please?

Yours in Christ,
Mark

friend in christ said...

Mark,
Honestly, my heart goes out to you. Please look into the following. This is copied from leaderu.com.

I remember clearly, and with inexpressible regret, the day I convinced myself it was acceptable for me to be both gay and Christian. Not only did I embrace the pro-gay theology-I promoted it as well, serving on the staff of the local Metropolitan Community Church and presenting the arguments cited in this series. Twelve years have passed since I realized my error, and during those years the pro-gay theology has enjoyed unprecedented exposure and acceptance, both in mainline denominations and among sincere (albeit sincerely deceived) believers.

Many Christians are unaware that there is such a thing as pro-gay theology, much less a movement built around it. And many who are aware of it have no idea how to answer its claims. Yet an answer is required; the pro-gay theology, like the gay rights movement it represents, grows daily in scope and influence. With the love Christ showed while weeping over Jerusalem, and the anger He displayed when clearing the Temple, the Church must respond.

[This article was revised and abridged from the book, A Strong Delusion: Confronting the "Gay Christian" Movement, by Joe Dallas (Harvest House 1996).]

Mark said...

Dear Friend in Christ, Tom, and all,

Again, I go back to scripture. If homosexual sex as such is an abomination to God, God would have included same-sex female relations in the Old Testament. Yet the OT is silent on lesbian sex.

Likewise, our Sovereign Jesus Christ had nothing to say about LGBT matters. He had A LOT to say about adultery, greed, self-righteousness, and abuse of power, to name but a few of the sins mentioned by all parties on this blog.

I now bow out of this blog. I've got to go be a pastor.

I'll keep The Kirk in my prayers, alongside Eastern Oklahoma Presbytery, the Synod of the Sun, and the General Assembly of the PCUSA. I'll also pray for the EPC, all "conservatives", "liberals", "moderates", "evangelicals", and even the "apostate". In truth, only God knows who's who.

May God bless and keep us all, and save us from ourselves.

Faithfully yours in Christ,
Mark

Anonymous said...

I am curious and anyone who would like can answer but my question is regarding Pastor Mark's statements: How does omission of something in the Old Testament make it ok? Can we assume the New and Old Testaments talked about every nuance of different sins? Didn't Jesus define sexual morality?
Thank you in advance helping me sort through all this.
Doug

Mark said...

Dear Doug, Tom, and all,

I said yesterday that I was bowing out of the blog, but like Jodie, I came back one last time.

The New Testament also is silent about sex between women. All that Paul says within a discourse about the idolatry of pagan religions is that "their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural" (Romans 1:26), clearly indicating cult prostitution. Similar comments about men in 1:27-28 are also related to cult prostitution. Read 1:18-32 and the context of idolatrous fertility cult prostitution is plain to see.

And no, just because the Bible is silent on something doesn't make it right. But the Biblical literalists are all to happy to tell us that God's written Word is clear. If it is so clear, then why doesn't it address lesbian sex?

My point is that if God wished to condemn homosexuality, there would be a clear prohibition across the board. Homosexuality isn't just men having sex with men; it is also women having sex with women. God would clearly proscribe both gay and lesbian sex. Yet God AND Paul (who is not God, by the way) said ABSOLUTELY NOTHING about sex between women. Therefore, homosexuality per se is not what is being condemned. I would think even a Biblical literalist would understand that.

What IS being condemned in the Old Testament is the misuse of male sperm during a time when it needed to be used literally to bring about more births to strengthen the population.

What IS being condemned in the New Testament is ritual prostition of all sorts: heterosexual and homosexual.

What IS NOT being condemned is faithful, monogamous, adult relationships, regardless of the gender of the two partners.

There simply is NO passage in the Bible that condemns female homosexuality. Period. Therefore, homosexuality is not the issue. Both Biblical literalism and "liberal" text-critical study of scripture show the truth of this.

Promiscuity, adultery, and idolatry are the issues. And I don't know one "liberal" alive who endorses those sins any more than the "conservatives" do. You might know some, but I don't.

And no, this isn't about pro-gay or anti-gay theology. It's about sound study of scripture, using the brains God gave us, and relying upon the inspiration of the Holy Spirit acting within the entire community of faith that studies it together. The entire community is not of one mind about LGBT issues. That does not mean that any "side" is more right than the others. It means that we need to remain in respectful dialogue with each other, and worship alongside each other, and mutually build up each other in faith by the power and guidance of the Paraclete sent by Christ.

Now, I could "point and counterpoint" til the cows come home, but I simply must get back to my pastoral duties. I continue my prayers for The Kirk and for us all, that God's will may be done. God's blessings upon you in your new denomination. I, for one, shall miss you, whether or not you miss me and my "ilk".

Yours in Christ,
Mark

Anonymous said...

Pastor Mark,

26Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. 27In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion. 28Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. 29They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32Although they know God's righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.

I am really just trying to understand this.... please don't take offense. Specifically, how are these verses referring to cult prostitution?

Mark said...

Dear anonymous and all,

No offense taken. You asked a good question.

I believe I said, "Read [Romans] 1:18-32 and the context of idolatrous fertility cult prostitution is plain to see." You began quoting at verse 26. Start back at verse 18.

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of those who by their wickedness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. So they are without excuse; 21 for though they knew God, the did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools; 23 and they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles.

24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts in impurity, to the degrading of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

Vss. 19-21 introduce the classic argument for the revelation of God in nature. In its blindness, pagan humanity mistook creatures for the Creator. Vss. 23 and 25 make explicit reference to idolatry ("images", "worshiping and serving the creature"). Idolaters made images of creatures (human and nonhuman) and attributed to those idols the qualities of God.

Vs. 24 is the first reference to cult prostitution. Vss. 26-28 continue the reference to cult prostitution. Cult prostitution was the practice of buying and using the services of a temple prostitute (of either gender) in order to entice the gods represented by the idols to reward the worshiper with fertility for self, family, flocks, and fields.

In other words, you go have sex with a temple prostitute. Whichever gods or goddesses are looking down on you get all hot and bothered, and they have sex with other gods and goddesses. The divine orgy results in fertility for you, your animals, and your crops. And if you're the king and have sex with a temple prostitute, it helps ensure fertility for the entire nation. It's a belief system based on magic: the manipulation of divine powers for your advantage.

Fertility was a big issue throughout the Biblical period. Without fertility of humans, crops, and livestock, the human race would have died out. That's why so many of the ancient cultures' religious rituals revolved around fertility.

Yahwism (the faith of the Israelites) was a radical departure from the fertility cults. It said that God was too great to be manipulated. It promised fertility as a gift of God's covenant (for instance, God's promise that Abraham would be the father of many descendants) without the trap of sexual fertility rites. It promised a life free of magic and superstition. It promised holy, righteous, and just relationships between God and people.

The Old Testament prophets accused the Israelites of "whoring after other gods" whenever the Israelites dabbled in the fertility cult practices of the surrounding religious cultures instead of remaining pure in their devotion to God.

Similar fertility cults existed throughout the Roman Empire in Paul's day, which explains his discussion in Romans 1:18-24. After all, he was writing to the mixed community of Jews and Gentiles (pagan converts) that made up the church in Rome.

If you want to know more, read about cult prostitution and pagan fertility rites in a Bible encyclopedia or dictionary. Some Bible commentaries also include articles on the matter, particularly Old Testament commentaries.

Really, now I'm done on this blog. Really. This time I promise. Goodbye.

Yours in Christ,
Mark

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry to ask one more question and I'll respect your decision to no longer respond. I just really have a hard time with the context of vs. 27. I think I understand the reality of prostitutional relations but it also seems to be talking about homosexual relations as well. Once again, I don't want to offend, just trying to make sense of it all.

Mark said...

Dear anonymous,

I had a feeling there might be another question. Again, no offense taken. I sense no offense was intended. This will be my last response.

Both genders were represented among temple prostitutes during the Biblical period. Male prostitutes would dedicate themselves to the goddess (whichever fertility goddess they served) by submitting to castration.

Castration was anathama to the Jews because it destroyed a man's fertility. For instance, Old Testament law stated that if a man got into a fight with another man, his wife was not allowed to grab the genitals of his opponent in order to give her husband the advantage. The opponent's fertility was more important than whether or not her husband won!

OT law also prohibits men who have been castrated or who have testicular injuries from worshiping at the Temple. Male animals likewise could not be offered for sacrifice if they had anything wrong with their genitalia.

Therefore, castrated men (whether by choice or by accident) were looked down upon by the Jews of Jesus' day. If it was by choice, so much the worse. This gives some insight into the plight of the Ethiopian eunuch Philip baptized in the book of Acts, doesn't it? The poor man went to Jerusalem, but wasn't allowed to worship God along with everyone else. It was a radical thing for the early Christians to break OT law and invite castrated males into their worship services.

Since the Bible views monogamous covenant relationships as the natural vehicle for sexual relations, any other sexual expression such as prostitution is unnatural. Certainly, having oneself castrated in order to serve a fertility goddess would be considered unnatural by the Bible. Having ritual sex with a castrated prostitute would likewise be unnatural.

Pagans viewed ritual sex as an opportunity to commune with the god or goddess they were worshiping. Knowing this, Paul was deeply alarmed. In this passage in his letter to the Romans, he was reminding his Gentile readers of the dangers of their former religious faith.

In that same letter, Paul made similar warnings to the Jews of that congregation who placed more faith in their observance of God's law than in God's salvific grace made known in Jesus Christ.

On a completely different issue, I'm surprised by details of the call for the congregational meeting tonight. I didn't realize that the EPC's requirements were so different from the PCUSA. PCUSA polity doesn't allow proxy votes or voting before the meeting because we understand that the Holy Spirit, acting within the body as it gathers, may lead individuals to vote differently than they would have before the meeting. Apparently the EPC doesn't mind having votes cast before a meeting. I was also surprised to learn that the congregation, not the presbytery, affirms the ordination of ministers in the EPC. Ya learn somethin' new every day!

Really and truly, I leave participation in this blog. I pray for blessings upon us all. May tonight be a calm and respectful night for everyone, and may God's will be done.

In Christ,
Mark

Mark said...

Anonymous,

After submitting my response, I realized that I failed to answer part of your last question. I'm sorry for the confusion.

Yes, the sex in vs. 27 is homosexual. In fact, today we would call it gay sex (that is, between men). The point is not that it is gay sex; the point is that it is sex with a cult prostitute. If the sin had to do with homosexuality, vs. 26 would have said that the women were having sex with women. IT DOES NOT SAY THAT. As it reads, vs. 26 suggests that the sex is heterosexual sex invovling a female cult prostitute. Vs. 27 has the sense of, "And while we're at it, even the male prostitutes have given themselves over to idolatry."

To construe that vs. 27 is condemning all homosexual sex would require that vs. 26 is condeming all heterosexual sex. On the contrary, cultic sex is what is condemned as unnatural. Vss. 26 and 27 simply cite examples of cultic sex that are both heterosexual and homosexual so that all the bases are covered.

The context of Romans 1:18-32 is idolatry and cult prostitution, not sexual orientation or monogamous covenental homosexual relationships.

-Mark

Anonymous said...

Sorry but I just can't hang with you on the meaning of vs.26 and 27...how is vs. 26 referring to heterosexual women? I did find some interesting reading at a website ...if anyone is interested please see equip.org/free/DH055-2.htm.