Theological Task Force floating some ideas
The major portion of the day was spent talking through two two-page drafts. TTF members weren’t exactly editing them, but subcommittee members were taking notes from the discussions, in order to come back later with revised drafts. These two drafts provide some of the first indications of which direction the TTF may be leaning. While the drafts are anything but finished papers, they seem to be tipping toward some form of “local option” with “mutual forbearance.” But this is only a first swipe at the matter, and the final form may end up far from this first try.
One “revised draft” on “fidelity and chastity” tried to focus on where, exactly, our church disputes arise. The draft, mainly the work of Princeton systematics professor Stacy Johnson and not seen previously by many task force members, postulated pretty much solid agreement that marital infidelity and sexual promiscuity were considered wrong. But what about “faithful, exclusive, enduring, covenantal, and committed partnership with another person of the same gender” (a tiny fraction of homosexual relationships)? Can covenantal same-gender unions ever be proper, or at least condoned as the least offensive same-sex sexual practice?
Christians throughout the ages have said, “Of course not! They’re sin!” But the draft didn’t go there. It wondered if something made to appear as innocuous as this even qualifies as departing from the essentials of Reformed faith and polity. “Why not deal with decisions on a case-by-case basis?” the argument goes. Why not practice mutual forbearance (which means to just allow the ordination of pretty-much-socially-acceptable practicing homosexual persons)?
A second revised draft on “essential tenets” begins with affirming the importance of remaining clear about doctrinal standards, and it ends with being “open to what God is doing in the world” and the “ongoing task” of setting forth the church’s standards “under the direction of Word and Spirit.” It essentially boils down to local option “within the fellowship of the governing bodies of ordaining jurisdiction.” It frowns on “a narrow set of assertions” and “narrowing the church’s confessional tradition” and “imposing on the candidate in advance a set of doctrinal standards or formulations other than the Book of Confessions” and conforming “to a list of extra-confessional words or formulae.”
Basically it feels like it’s trying to say something like this: “Confessions are good, but let’s not try to get very specific. Let’s not make a big deal about ‘reasonable’ differences (like differences over sexual morality), especially at a time when the Spirit is busy giving new direction.” Hmmm.
Again, let me emphasize that these drafts are not final in any way. They were also discussed quite thoroughly, with a major number of problems and confusions mentioned and hashed out. TTF members were not buying them wholesale. There will probably be numerous and substantial changes made, or the drafts themselves might even disappear—a preliminary but untenable idea. We’ll see what the TTF comes up with in the end.
But if these two draft papers were to fly in a form similar to what we’ve seen today, Presbyterians have reason to be concerned. These drafts appear to be aimed toward a form of local option, where the issue of biblical morality is downplayed to the point of becoming nonessential, and everyone is encouraged just to practice mutual forbearance on such a “trivial” matter.
I would think that such a trial balloon would not fly with several TTF members, judging by their comments today. And it certainly would crash among the faithful Presbyterians who are my reference points.
But we’ll see what does eventually happen to these proto ideas.