Saturday, September 03, 2005

Mirror-Image Theology and Logic

One of the dependable things in life is that if Gene TeSelle of the Witherspoon Society writes in favor of something, it’s an idea I would generally oppose, and if he writes opposing or bemoaning something, it’s an item I’d most likely favor or cheer.

Sometimes, while commenting on a given subject—say, the issues at a given General Assembly—I wonder to myself, “Why do I bother? Why not just point people to what TeSelle writes and suggest they take the exact opposite approach?” I could save myself a lot of work.

When reading TeSelle’s analysis of the Theological Task Force’s report, all was true to form. Apart from both of us appreciating some general attributes of the report, the particular aspects of the report that he liked, I worried about. And, of course, the aspects of the report that gave me some hope and reassurance, he decried.

For instance, TeSelle liked the reliance on “alternative forms of discernment and decision-making.” Many of us, however, find a consensus approach highly fraught with the possibility of abuse, allowing a determined and vocal minority to dictate outcomes. TeSelle’s affection for the idea does make some sense, however, since his viewpoint is in the minority. He couldn’t win a majority vote on the ordination matter, so the search for an end run around the vast majority’s position obviously would be tempting. And isn’t it interesting that when his viewpoint was in the ascendancy on another matter (such as in the 1970s on women’s ordination, something that uncharacteristically we both favor), I don’t remember him mounting any big push for alternative forms of decision-making about that hot topic.

Not surprisingly, TeSelle also likes the part of the report that would allow sessions and presbyteries to decide that our clear national ordination standards aren’t important enough to follow, and thus they can be set aside as immaterial by ordaining bodies. That, again, is the direct opposite of what Presbyterians have chosen to hold important.

TeSelle, as expected, also disparages the recommendation that would keep our Constitution from being reversed in respect to ordination standards. He wants to remove our standards and permit the heretofore impermissible.

Certainly TeSelle is allowed his opinions, but it is in this part, in particular, that I am amused by what he writes. First, he takes Presbyterians For Renewal to task for a proposed overture that would create a ten-year period of peace in which we wouldn’t have to fight about the standards whenever we gather. He says of this that it is “contrary to the spirit of the TTF report,” and he dismisses it as “political maneuvering.”

That’s odd, because the PFR overture would do precisely what the Task Force Report vigorously recommends. The Task Force, itself, strongly encourages the General Assembly “to send to the presbyteries no proposed constitutional amendments that would have the effect of changing denominational policy.” The PFR overture would accomplish that exact end, and yet TeSelle calls it “contrary to the spirit of the TTF report.” By what possible logic?

And what’s more, TeSelle then goes ahead and, himself, completely opposes the spirit of the TTF report and absolutely contradicts its recommendations by insisting that “The presbyteries have every right to continue what they have been doing—send overtures for revocation of all previous AIs and removal of G-6.0106b.”

So let me get this straight: To Gene TeSelle, PFR is nefarious for proposing a measure that would do exactly what the Task Force requests. Yet the Witherspoon Society is perfectly within its rights to totally contravene the Task Force report by doing exactly what the Task Force asks them not to do. I believe that’s commonly known as the pot calling the kettle black.

I’m just wondering, if I said “Hello” to Gene TeSelle, would he reply “Olleh”?


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