Sunday, November 19, 2006

"Examining" Candidates III

Often, when we are complementing someone’s honesty, we say, “you can take him at his word.” I know of one organization you shouldn’t trust in that way. The Covenant Network has entered into George Orwell’s domain of “newspeak” (a word that is often referred to today as “doublespeak”).

In 1984, Orwell coined a word for his invented future, “blackwhite,” defined as the ability to accept whatever “truth” the party puts out, no matter how absurd it may be. Orwell described it as “...loyal willingness to say black is white when party discipline demands this. It also means the ability to believe that black is white, and more, to know black is white, and forget that one has ever believed the contrary.”

Such is the content of part of the Covenant Network’s “Guidelines for Examination of Church Officers” paper (GECO). The paper recommends novel definitions to aid judicatories and candidates overcome constitutional obstacles for GLBT ordination.. Most of us remember President Clinton giving a lawyerly answer to a question saying, “That depends upon what ‘is’ is.” Several points in this paper remind me of such a response.

GECO approaches words in a way that coaches a dishonest cover for people wanting to get by a presbytery committee’s questions on sexual morality. They introduce the “newspeak” concept with, “Here we talk about some of the key terms in G-6.0106b—‘chastity,’ ‘singleness,’ ‘refusing to repent,’ and ‘practice the confessions call sin.’ As we’ll discover, there is room in all of these terms for some kind of same-sex relationship.” (p 42)

The meaning of these terms would seem to be obvious. But that’s before one employs a lawyerly angle. Most people will describe a “chaste” relationship as one without sex. Repentance means meaningfully admitting a wrong with the intention of never repeating it. But such definitions would give actual meaning to the paragraph, requiring real adherence.

Chastity is redefined in three categories: supposed usage in the Middle Ages, the concept of “justice-love,” and the idea that chastity is a spiritual, not a physical, concept.
  • Thus they instruct readers that clergy in the Middle Ages emphasized “chaste marriage” to their congregation, meaning sexual faithfulness to one’s spouse.
  • In terms of “justice-love,” chastity means that sexual acts involve “true mutuality and intimacy.” Interestingly, they go on to say that chastity, in this context, means that “’recreational sex’ is generally prohibited in this view, but monogamy is not necessarily required.”
  • Regarding a “spiritual” view of chastity, they say, “…some Church authorities have taught that ‘chastity’ is essentially a spiritual concept, depending on a person’s right beliefs.” “…’chastity’ depended less on whom one held with one’s body than on what one held in one’s heart.” (all above quotes from p 43)
They also have recommendations for presbyteries who want to ordain those who redefine chastity.
“Section G-a6.0106b of the Book of Order, and the 217th General Assembly’s Authoritative Interpretation of it, make clear that sessions and presbyteries must determine what ‘chastity’ means, and must apply that standard in light of the life and witness of each particular candidate.” (p 43)
Lest the above be inadequate for the purposes at hand, the paper goes even further:
“Many believe that Christian sexual ethics do not depend on the gender of the partners, but on the parties’ faithfulness to each other. In that case, even if we believed that ‘chastity’ meant ‘celibacy,’ G-6.0106b might well leave room for monogamous, same-sex relationships.” (p 44)
This answers a question for me regarding what really changed with the PUP report. It means, to those most concerned, that candidates, presbyteries, and sessions are free to bend language to fit any form they desire. When words mean nothing, they also can mean everything. There is no limit to what can be authorized in a church that permits such a fluid understanding of truth.

Finally, one of the most appalling sections of the paper regards repentance. Repentance is a key element of Christian faith. Jesus’ first words called people to repentance. Listen to what it now means:
“Our Confessions emphasize that repentance is a state of inward conviction that what one has done is wrong—what the Westminster Standards call one’s ‘true sense of is sin.’” (p 45) So, if you believe what you are doing is right, it must be right, regardless of what Scripture clearly teaches!
“Many faithful GLBT Presbyterians believe that their sexual orientation is a good and natural part of God’s creation that can be responsibly acted on. They are not alone in that: Half of the Bible faculty in our seminaries believe the same thing.” (p 45) I would point out that those same professors probably do not believe that Scripture is the Revealed Word of God.
So goes the thinking of those who would infiltrate the PCUSA with false representation of themselves based upon clever redefinitions. If this is allowed to continue, as it seems that PUP intends, there is no healthy future for the PCUSA. Those within the denomination need to rise up in their churches and presbyteries and demand the simple truth.

Keep praying—keep the faith,

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