Friday, September 02, 2005

Tough Calls

Guest blog by the Rev. Rich Zimmerman, pastor of Tualatin Plains Presbyterian Church in Hillsboro, Oregon.

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.


Anonymous Dr. Ned H. Benson said...

Jim, I think the propose AI does little more than overturn or over-ride Maxwell v. Presbytery of Pittsburgh (1975), aka "the Kenyon decision". That was the PJC decision that first over-ruled the determination of an ordaining governing body as to the fitness of a candidate for ordination.

12:51 PM, September 03, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I believe what the task force is proposing is close to the same thing the ELCA task force proposed last January, a proposal that was rejected at their national meeting last month. The ELCA proposal was widely described as keeping the same standards but recommending that they not be enforced.
How could the ELCA and PCUSA task force propose something like local option? I believe the fault we find here is placing "unity" as the chief goal. How anyone on our task force could believe this proposal, if put into place, would end the battle that has been occuring is simply beyond me---literlaly beyond me. They had to have been operating on their emotions and not their mind.
This is a local option proposal and our polity simply doesn't work that way.
Now, if this proposal has the same fate as the recent one in the ELCA where will all this work by our task force leave us? What a waste!
Matt Ferguson, Hillsboro, IL

2:21 PM, September 03, 2005  
Anonymous Al Sandalow said...

Hi Ned, and all.

Ned, if this new AI does overturn Kenyon, would this also mean that Presbyteries could then ordain ministers who would NOT ordain women?

Funny how so many of the people who now want this argued for the necessity of a unified national standard for ordination when Kenyon was being debated.

9:03 AM, September 04, 2005  
Anonymous PD Johnston said...

Dr. Benson is probably correct when he wrote "the proposed AI does little more than overturn or over-ride Maxwell v. Presbytery of Pittsburgh (1975), aka 'the Kenyon decision'." But the Task Force seems to be trying to correct a mistake it can't quite admit the church made.

Suppose the Task Force were to come out and say clearly, directly and forthrightly "Maxwell" was wrongly decided. What about all the harm that wrong decision caused in the UPCUSA? What about all the congregations split because of that decision? The ministers and members driven from the denomination? That decision -- and the church leadership's enthusiastic promotion of it -- caused a real schism in the church. Is that leadership now prepared to offer sincere repentance for that harm?

I don't mean vague declarations of regret for the unpleasantness and hurt feelings. I mean something like Cliff or Rick ringing up the Moderators/Clerks of the PCA and the EPC asking for an opportunity to bring official apologies to the General Assemblies of those denominations. I mean someone opening up discussions about how to make whole again those ministers, members, and congregations who suffered losses because of that wrong decision.

Al Sandalow correctly notes the irony of "how so many of the people who now want this [task force proposal] argued for the necessity of a unified national standard for ordination when Kenyon was being" denied ordination. As one of my McCormick professors once said, it's a matter of whose ox is being gored.

7:21 PM, September 06, 2005  

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