20 February 2008

THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK

As anyone who has stayed abreast of the situation in the Presbyterian Church (USA) is aware, the bureaucrats have seized control of the institution. When the choice is between Scripture and the Book of Order (Constitution), they go for the Book of Order.

I recently met an elder of a PC(USA) church in California. She told me about what she described as her "last" (i.e., final) Presbytery meeting. A candidate for ordination as a Minister of Word and Sacrament was being examined. So far, the toughest question posed by the Committee on Ministry was "If you are called to this church, what color will you paint the sanctuary?" (She admitted to being "slightly facetious.") Bottom line: the examination was far from rigorous.

My friend rose and asked, "Your Statement of Faith confuses me. Do you have an understanding of the atoning nature of the Cross? If so, what is it?"

She was immediately showered with boos, hisses and cat calls from the other members of the presbytery. The Moderator ruled the question out of order as "designed to embarrass and harrass the candidate."

Afterwards, another older elder came to her, took her hand and patted it gently, as a grandmother would a confused child. "Oh, my dear," she said. "I was once young like you. But don't worry. I'm sure you will see the light and return to our beloved Book of Order."

For over a decade, the Book of Order has contained as an ordination requirement the mandate that the candidate live a life of fidelity within the bounds of marriage between a man and a woman or of chastity in singleness. As soon as it was adopted, there were repeated attempts to amend that requirement out of the Book of Order. The idea that marriage was confined to a man and a woman was anathema to gays. They insisted that their lifestyle was not sin (Scripture be damned) and that they had a right to be ordained. Each time they managed to get an amendment to strike the orination requirement through the General Assembly, it was defeated by ever-increasing majorities of the presbyteries.

Finally, realizing that amendment was probably not going to work, they looked for an end run on the Constitution. A "Theological Taskforce on the Peace, Unity, and Purity of the Church" (referred to as the PUP Taskforce) was formed and commissioned to report back to the General Assembly in one year. In the end, it took five years. As part of its report, the Taskforce proposed an "Authoritative Interpretation" of the Constitution that seemed to say that candidates whose lifestyle would pordinarily bar them from ordination could declare a scruple (a mental reservation) against the standard. The examining presbytery could then decide if the scruple went to an essential tenet of the faith. If the answer was "No," the candidate could be ordained.

As would be expected, many in the denomination were appalled by this extra-constitutional effort to amend the Book of Order without the consent of the presbyteries. Ah, but the bureaucrats and the liberals had an answer. "This changes nothing," they declared. "Those pesky evangelicals are just being alarmist. The requirements remain in force."

Nonetheless, several presbyteries adopted resolutions stating that in those presbyteries, the fidelity and chastity requirement would be deemed an essential tenet. No one who declared a scruple would be ordained. Those actions were immediately appealed to higher judicatories by the proponents of gay ordination.

Recently, the General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission (the "Supreme Court" of the PC(USA)) ruled that those resolutions were an impermissible act, but also ruled that individuals could declare scruples only to provisions of the Constitution but not to conduct. In other words, they could say "I disagree with the orddination standard as written," but they could not say "and I do not intend to follow that standard." In effect, the GAPJC said that the authors and proponents of the Taskforce report were right; nothing had changed as a result of the Authoritative Interpretation.

But that was not what the bureaucrats and the lobbyists for gay ordination wanted. A member of the Taskforce has now introduced an Overture (resolution) for consideration at this summer's General Assembly. The Overture would have the General Assembly declare that the Authoruitative Interpretation adopted as part of the PUP Taskforce report was intended to allow candidates to declare a scruple with respect to forbidden conduct. The Overture declares that it was always the intent of the Taskforce and the General Assembly that candidates could do so.

Another nail has now been driven into the coffin of the traditional understanding of presbyterianism in the PC(USA). The imperial bureaucracy that has hungered for a monolithic hierarchical church has stricken back. Now we need wait only for June to see if the PC(USA) is a connectional church or an episcopal monarchy.

1 comment:

Red_Cleric said...

OMG did that really happen!! In not doubting ya but that Pres by try moderator should be changed with violating his/her ordination Vows!

I wish yard amerced what Presbytery it was. My thoughts go to two I'm aware of that would be so heretical.

Alan