The fact that we’ve left the PCUSA doesn’t mean that we don’t have concerns for friends we’ve left behind. One of the principal concerns before them is what has been called “local option.” The liberals in the denomination say that, after the last GA, “nothing changed.” Others, like me, have said that everything has changed, and there are presbyteries that will exercise that local option to ordain practicing GLBTs. Everyone seems OK with this as long as it’s not their own presbytery. That may become a moot point.
If a PCUSA task force has its way, local option will be subtly enshrined in the Book of Order. The Form of Government (FOG) task force was empowered by the GA to rewrite the Book of Order, making it simpler to use. Instead, it appears that the task force is dedicated to making the BOO local option-friendly.
Terry Schlossberg has written an excellent summary of what has transpired so far in this committee. While many, including me, thought that the work of the task force would be to maintain the first four foundational chapters and rework the rest, it is obvious that they want to rewrite everything. On top of that, the meat of the document will move from constitutional status to that of a manual of operations or handbook.
Some have reacted to this with horror, recognizing that it will pave the way for individual presbyteries to rewrite their own standards of ordination. Schlossberg’s article cites one pastor saying that the new document “looks like, smells like local option.” The co-moderator of the task force replied, laughing, “Of course it does…What do you think we are doing here?”
Individual presbyteries will be empowered to define standards of inclusiveness, including sexual preference, if they so choose. Presbyteries could choose to eliminate examination of candidates on the floor, restricting such examination to tightly-closed committees. Each presbytery would essentially become autonomous, pounding the last nail into the already snug coffin lid of what used to be a connectional church.
The entire PCUSA, if such a document prevails, would be sacrificing its unique tradition in the name of the new gospel of inclusiveness. Such a goal is attractive to some on the task force. “The representative bodies of the church shall give full expression of the rich diversity of the church’s membership and shall guarantee full participation and access to representation in decision making and employment…[developing] procedures for promoting and reviewing that body’s implementation of the church’s commitment to inclusiveness and representation,” states the current draft document.
Will anything remain the same? Apparently so. The clause on denominational ownership of property will stay (probably strengthened so that it will stand up in court), medical and pension participation will be mandatory, and the frustrating limitation of terms for elders will remain. Oh yes, per capita will cease to be voluntary. Good luck.
Keep praying—keep the faith.
PS I’ll be coming back at you with some additional information on the EOP’s administrative report soon.