The recommendations of the Theological Task Force on Peace, Unity and Purity are out, and the Task Force vehemently denies that they are recommending a local-option ordination. But they seem to have written an Authoritative Interpretation of G-6.0108 that would allow for local interpretation of the essentials of the Reformed faith. This seems like an open door to ignoring G-6.0106b, no matter how hard they protest otherwise.
As I see it, the recommendation amounts to putting into an Authoritative Interpretation what is sometimes already done, albeit illegitimately. The recommendation is to keep the present sexuality standards in place. But the proposed new authoritative interpretation would make it possible for a presbytery to determine that failure to live up to G-6.0106b is “an inessential departure from Reformed faith and polity, and therefore no bar to ordination,” as Presbyterians For Renewal Executive Director Michael Walker described it.
Isn’t that what some are already doing? That is a good summary of the Katie Morrison ordination out of Redwoods Presbytery a few years ago. But now her ordination would be fully endorsed under the new Authoritative Interpretation.
I keep thinking of sports analogies for this. Let’s say there is a base runner on third with one out. The batter hits a fly ball to center fielder. The runner tags up and just as the center fielder catches the ball, the runner heads for home. The center fielder makes a perfect throw, right into the glove of the catcher, and the catcher makes the tag, right as the runner slides into home. All eyes are on the umpire. Is the runner safe or out? The umpire is in a tough position, because it was very, very close. If the runner is out, the inning is over and no run is scored. If the runner is safe, a run is scored and the team at bat still has one more out to go. The umpire has to try to decide if the runner beat the tag or not.
What if the league officials issued a new interpretation of the out rule? What if they said that the umpire did not need to be so literal? What if they said that the umpire could look at the total picture—how hard the catcher was trying, or how nicely the base runner was running, or whether the runner was an all-star or not—when determining whether to call the batter safe or out?
I think it is a dangerous departure from all we hold dear to say that officers don’t need to aspire to live up to all of the church’s standards of conduct. Where is this going? It is as though the Task Force doesn’t believe that the church is laying the very hands of God on a person when we ordain.
Ordination has always been a discipline of unity in the Reformed faith. We ordain those whom Christ has called to ministry through the voice of the church. We ordain with fear and trembling, and we withhold ordination with fear and trembling. Ordination is nothing less than the discernment of the will of God.
If enacted, this Authoritative Interpretation would make ordination into a matter of human decision and compromise, when it is meant to be a matter of prayerful discernment and aspiration by the whole church.
I would love to believe that this compromise would end the fighting and not result in widespread ordination of people who know from the outset that they will not obey the Constitution. But what I have seen in the last several years tells me that this A.I. would intensify our anguished debates.