Friday, October 15, 2004

Task Force likes its own world

CHICAGO – Today, I could describe for you the closed door behind which the Theological Task Force (TTF) spent a lot of their time. From about 11:15 to 7:30, the various deliberations of the TTF were off limits for anyone but task force members. This is the second set of meetings in which this permissible tactic has been employed, after a long stretch of sunshine at earlier meetings.

During the one segment of the morning discussions that observers were allowed to attend, the TTF looked at a global perspective of their task. How does world Christianity inform what they’re doing?

The answer was kinda, but not much. Or something to the effect that “perhaps it ought to, but we have such a shining model of unity amid diversity to offer them!

There was an obvious tension between acknowledging the vast exception most other Christian churches take with our fascination over homosexual matters, on the one hand, and seeing our “enlightened” Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) as an important model of how open minded others ought to become and indeed are becoming as they emerge from the primitive understandings that we’ve already moved beyond, on the other hand. Note that this is my impression of how they sounded, and thus it is neither their exact words nor my personal stance.

Someone mentioned the chaos in the Anglican Communion caused by the Episcopal Church (U.S.A.) consecrating homosexually paired Bishop Robinson last summer. On Monday, October 18, a major paper is coming out of Lambeth on how the worldwide Anglican Communion is going to handle this Episcopal departure from the rest of the communion. Shouldn’t the negative consequences raining in on a determined American Episcopal denomination that is disintegrating in this country and distressing the rest of their communion at least give the TTF pause?

Not exactly. It was pointed out that eleven WARC churches (5%) already allow ordination of practicing homosexuals, so we’d be covered if we ever started to do so, too. Apparently we can ignore the moral distress we're causing the massively growing Reformed churches in the southern hemisphere, because they wouldn’t be able to isolate us for our departure from the faith?

Still, aren’t those southern hemisphere Reformed churches quite opposed to what we’re contemplating—indeed, even the discussion of the possibility of ordaining persons in defiance of Christian sexual morality? A couple of TTF members said that it’s not monolithic opposition in those countries, and, given time, they’ll slide into our modern Western understandings, too. What we really need to do is show them how well we get along despite our differences.

So, in other words, they’re not that solidly opposed to our possible revision of biblical morality, and they’ll grow up and join us in the modern world one of these days anyway. We’re on the cutting edge, and they’ll eventually follow our benighted lead. I can’t help but consider this a form of patronization, caused by Western hubris and what’s called “chronological snobbery”—the belief that anything recent has to be superior to anything believed previously.

I wasn’t particularly impressed or encouraged by the somewhat random discussion today. The end seemed to be that the TTF’s example of just getting along was what everybody needed to experience, too—be they in the larger PC(USA) here or in the Reformed and other Christian churches abroad. And, of course, no decisions were made. That’s yet to come.

The next TTF meeting will be March 2–4, most likely back at the American Airlines Training Center outside Dallas-Fort Worth Airport. It will be all day all three days. Which parts of the meeting any of us may be allowed to observe is anyone’s guess at this point. Ostensibly, anyone is welcome to come and observe. But it seems that as discussions get more serious, we observers get more frequently booted.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Closed meetings are used only - ONLY - to stifle opposition to unpopular projects. It's almost a law of nature. When I was a newspaper reporter, I spent a ridiculous amount of time waving around my copy of Pennsylvania's Sunshine (open meeting) Law and demanding access to closed meetings. Invariably, my protests were met with a smirk and some patronizing drivel about how the school board or county commissioners or whoever were discussing sensitive issues that needed to be aired in an atmosphere free from intimidation, i.e., me.

The basic pattern went something like this: A school board wanted to raise taxes to pay for an unpopular building project. The law says that you have to debate that in public, but that would reveal who was pushing the project and who was resisting. So to get around it, they call a closed session to discuss "personnel matters." When they emerge, they pass a whopping great tax increase, and refuse to talk to the press about why they did it.

Public bodies have to bend or break the law to pull that kind of charade off. Astonishingly, the General Assembly gave the Task Force free rein to close the doors any time they like. Make no mistake, closed meetings are good for only one thing: insulating the decision making body from the public.

That sounds harsh, and plenty of people will assume I distrust the members of the task force. And I have to admit that insofar as they're human, yes, I do. That's why Reformed churches divest power to ever-wider bodies, so that pastors and sessions and trustees can be scrutinized and held accountable.

Andy Scott
First Presbyterian Church, Bentleyville, Pa.

7:33 AM, October 16, 2004  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You wrote: "A couple of TTF members said that it’s not monolithic opposition in those countries, and, given time, they’ll slide into our modern Western understandings, too. What we really need to do is show them how well we get along despite our differences."

As you were in attendance did these two members really say "how well we get along despite our differences"? One indicator of how "poorly we get along" is the loss of 2 million members. But then maybe that is what these two want to accomplish---let's get rid of the remaining 2.4 million members. Then there will be no one to complain.

Larry Rued

5:06 PM, October 16, 2004  

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