Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Questions Begging for a Straight Answer

The report of the Theological Task Force on Peace, Unity, and Purity of the Church leaves readers begging for answers to knotty questions. If a task force presenter is scheduled for your presbytery, help your presbytery set up the time to be a genuine forum and zero in on directed questions such as these:

1) Will sexually active gays and lesbians be allowed to be ordained legally if your Authoritative Interpretation is passed? If not, then what difference would the A.I. make? If so, could you possibly explain why Presbyterians should now approve in this fashion what we have repeatedly determined to be unbiblical, immoral, and against God’s will?

2) Right now, sexually active gays and lesbians cannot be ordained without defying our national ordination standards. With your Authoritative Interpretation proposed in Recommendation #5, any presbytery or session would be able to ordain sexually active gays and lesbians. Our denomination has voted three times not to approve such ordinations, the most recent time by a 73% majority. Yet the task force brings back the same tired “solution” once again in your report’s recommendations. Why would you do that to us?

3) Would you please provide for us a clear and convincing refutation of the theological exegesis of Robert Gagnon? The reason I ask is that your task force apparently all but ignored his authoritative and exhaustive book The Bible and Homosexual Practice. In the face of all that he has so ably defended, the Theological Task Force failed to do the theological work to disprove or dislodge any of his theses; you just acted as if they weren’t there. Some of the assumptions of the task force [i.e., that we don’t know what the Bible says about homosexuality, that the texts are contradictory, that there are many equally valid interpretations, that homosexual behavior is theologically of little consequence, and so on] have been conclusively proven to be untenable by Gagnon. In what specific ways is Gagnon wrong? And if you cannot make your case, isn’t it lacking in intellectual integrity to continue sidestepping Gagnon’s work?

4) The Book of Order says that all meetings shall be conducted by Robert’s Rules of Order. The “shall” language makes it absolutely mandatory. That makes the recommendation to use alternative methods of decision making, such as consensus, actually unconstitutional. Why would the Task Force recommend to us an unconstitutional practice in Recommendation #4?

5) The most prominent parliamentarian in the Presbyterian Church, Marianne Wolfe, strongly argues against consensus decision-making as destructive to the unity of the body [see booklet pages 4 and 5]. We need more unity rather than less unity. I think Wolfe is absolutely correct. The opportunity for coercion is abundant with consensus. In what way is this parliamentarian we’ve all trusted for years wrong? Please be specific.

6) The Bible is terribly clear and consistent about the sinfulness of homosexual practice. Christians for two thousand years have understood what the Bible says. How could the Task Force so plainly ignore or downplay the universal witness of the ages and claim there is no agreement? It can't be the case that all Christians were childishly uninformed until the task force came along with some kind of new revelation distilled from the last thirty years of American cultural disintegration, can it?

7) Why would you ever resort to hiding your actions in closed meetings? Why wouldn’t you want all of us know what you went through to reach consensus? How can we learn from you if even your task force, with all your group building, didn’t have the courage to work where we could watch and learn?

8) During the last national vote on removing G-6.0106b and approving a substitute Authoritative Interpretation, the gist of the matter was to leave those decisions to the presbytery. That was disapproved nationally by a landslide 3:1 ratio. Now you present to us a scheme that would leave ordination decisions to the presbytery. It’s no different! Leaving G-6.0106b in place but ignoring it is equivalent to removing it. So what, exactly, were you thinking in giving back to us a failed, disapproved plan?

9) An Authoritative Interpretation is meant to explain a disputed section of the Constitution, and yet your A.I. does not explain the face meaning of G-6.0108, which is intended to limit unbounded personal freedoms, not expand them. Furthermore, an Authoritative Interpretation is not supposed to reverse constitutional provisions or act as a constitutional amendment, yet yours does. Your recommended Authoritative Interpretation would make enormous changes in our polity, taking from us our connectional system and uniform ordination practices, and that would be visited on the PCUSA without benefit of a presbytery-by-presbytery vote. It would seem illegitimate to make and impose new constitutional law by the mere vote of a single General Assembly, would it not?


These are tough, incisive questions, so one’s tone of voice in asking really comes into play in how they are received by the rest of the audience. The Theological Task Force members are not our adversaries, and there is no reason to treat them unkindly. However, they have made some decisions that would greatly affect the PCUSA, should their decisions be adopted by General Assembly.

Presbyteries have a right to get to the heart of what is being proposed and to develop a well-informed understanding of it. Task force members have an obligation to be transparent and forthcoming as they respond to questions, just as questioners have the responsibility to be polite and respectful, even when boring in with penetrating questions in response to facile answers.


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