Stated Clerk Clifton Kirkpatrick sent a letter to his counterpart in the Evangelical Presbyterian Church urging them not to receive us until the lawsuit was settled and we had gone through “the process.” As a part of that letter he added,
“As you are undoubtedly aware, our recent 217th General Assembly adopted an Authoritative Interpretation (AI) of our Constitution that clarified our historic ordination standards and the processes by which they are applied and by whom. Sadly, a number of advocacy groups have characterized this statement as somehow creating a fundamental change in our standards. My office has been working hard to assure the Church that such characterizations are inaccurate.”Up until the moment of the vote, everyone involved understood that the AI was an escape clause for candidates who did not want to be limited by the PCUSA constitution’s G-6.0106b, which clearly states that no candidate can be approved for ordination if he or she is unrepentantly practicing what the Bible and Confessions call sin. The AI now allows presbyteries and sessions to consider that such a sins may not be “essential” to our corporate faith and, therefore, the candidate may be approved of.
Jack Haberer, a member of the Task Force and now editor of the Presbyterian Outlook writes,
Yet another cause of confusion comes from the various ways people answer the simple question, “Does the TTF report change anything?” We TTF members have argued that we were not inventing any thing new. At most, we suggested, it was simply dusting off and bringing back into practice a step in the ordination process that had gone out of fashion. However, many readers of the TTF report have argued that the report was cutting a loophole that individuals and ordaining bodies could exploit.Haberer at least admits that the Authoritative Interpretation did something different. He hangs his hat, though, on the peg of history. At the very birth of our denomination in the USA, pastors were allowed to declare scruples (disagreements) with the Westminster Confession.
Jack Haberer, Presbyterian Outlook, November 13, 2006
Such scruples were allowed on many issues where Christians had disagreed. A good example of such would be the way in which the Sabbath is kept. For some Presbyterian Christians it was an all-out ban on work or entertainment on the Sabbath (some extended this to the night before, or even the day after). Others simply saw Sabbath as a time of rest, without detailed descriptions of what could or couldn’t be done.
Would those Presbyterians back in 1729 have allowed for scruples which opposed clear Scriptures which had been universally accepted up until that time? Would they see that offending the following could be scrupled?
- For an elder must be a man whose life cannot be spoken against. He must be faithful to his wife. (1 Timothy 3:2)
- Let there be no sexual immorality, impurity, or greed among you. Such sins have no place among God’s people. (Ephesians 5:3)
- “Do not practice homosexuality; it is a detestable sin. (Leviticus 18:22
John Knox Presbytery's Committee on Preparation for Ministry has unanimously recommended that the presbytery enroll Scott D. Anderson, the only openly homosexual member of the Theological Task Force on Peace, Unity and Purity, as an inquirer on track for ordination as a minister of Word and Sacrament.There you have it in full. One of the members of the task force who wrote the PUP clearly understands that it “opens the door” for someone unrepentantly practicing what the Bible and Confessions call sin. How anyone can argue “nothing’s changed” after this confounds me.
Anderson believes the 2006 General Assembly's approval of the PUP report and authoritative interpretation on ordaining practicing homosexuals opens the door for consideration of his request to be re-ordained in the Presbyterian Church (USA).
In 1999, Anderson spoke at the denomination's "unity in diversity" conference in Atlanta, describing his coming out as "a self-affirming gay Christian" as the theological equivalent of "justification" and his "same-sex bonding" as the equivalent of "sanctification." The Layman Online
The TTFPUP had a purpose, to propose change to the PCUSA in terms of whom it will ordain. In one way the standards have not changed, since they’ve not been removed from the Constitution. But what good do they serve in the Constitution if they can be creatively ignored?
Another writer to the Presbyterian Outlook (who approves of the AI) has, unintentionally I believe, prophesied what will come of the PCUSA because of this.
The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has lost members annually since my ordination in 1983, and the reasons for this dieback have been laid at various doors. Repeated attempts to restructure, to move together in any particular direction, and to control one another have left the decline undisturbed. The formula offered by the task force and endorsed by General Assembly involves no new structures, but it does open the door to chaos, i.e. congregations and presbyteries having some leeway in ordination processes. This chaos is very good, in my opinion….Margaret Wheatley speaks to our situation:Chaos is what will ensue. When you believe nothing, you’ll believe everything. This is why mainline denominations are rife with incredible heresies like neo-paganism, universalism, and goddess-worship. The Bible never describes chaos as good. It is the conversion of chaos into creation that was good. For those who argue that the chaos the PUP has sent the PCUSA into is good, I would remind them that it is God alone who worked creation out of chaos. Unless the PCUSA returns to the Lord and to the Word, their chaos will be only frightening and destructive.
Chaos’ role in the emergence of new order is so well known that it seems strange that Western culture has denied its part so vehemently. In the dream of dominion over nature, we believed we could eliminate chaos from life. We believed there were straight lines to the top. If we set a goal or claimed a vision, we would get there, never looking back, never forced to descend into confusion or despair. These beliefs led us far from life, far from the processes by which newness is created. And it is only now, as modern life grows ever more turbulent and control slips away, that we are willing again to contemplate chaos (see Hayles 1990). Whether we explore its dynamics through new science or ancient myths, the lesson is important. The destruction created by chaos is necessary for the creation of anything new.
I am about to do a new thing, God says to the PC(USA). Now it springs forth, do you perceive it? Isaiah 43:19, NRSV. Opting for a measure of chaos in ordination practices allows the strange attractor of God’s Spirit to bring new patterns to our corporate life together. I believe that this chaos will prove ultimately far more life giving than we have experienced for quite some time, denominationally speaking.
“Loving Chaos,” Sam Massey, Pres Outlook
Keep praying—keep the faith,