Fawning Pretense or Cloying Obsequiousness?
The Covenant Network is like a parallel universe. There are some nice folks who populate that universe, along with some real scoundrels. But their values, their reasoning (or lack thereof), and their heroes are just so very different from those of the general majority of Presbyterians with more orthodox beliefs and practices.
I see that Jack Rogers, once an evangelical scholar, remains near the top of their panoply of heroes. He speaks at their conferences and touts his new book on homosexuality. Rogers can be counted on these days to conveniently grant supposed legitimacy to homosexual practice, blithely reversing all of Christian moral history and most of biblical theology. Rogers is very handy for Covenant Network to keep around to try to divert people’s attention from the true scholar in the field, Robert Gagnon, who can twist Rogers into a limp knot, scholastically.
I see also that the Covenant Network is producing yet another resource that finds a way to re-imagine both the Bible and the Book of Order to actually condone (if not wildly promote) homosexual practice. The previous resource, prior to the 2004 General Assembly, was woefully tendentious and misleading.
But it is the “Message from our Co-Moderators” on the last page of the newsletter that really gets my attention. Read what Kimberly Richter and Jon Walton have to say, and I think you’ll see why the terms cloying, pretense, obsequious, and fawning come to mind. Why do I say this?
First, the letter attempts to position Covenant Network as the pleasantly loyal crowd in the PCUSA. They try to appear so devoted to the denomination--the denomination whose Constitution they are intent on reversing if at all possible, or undermining if they remain unsuccessful in changing it.
Their manner reminds me of the wastrel son in a family, who attempts to play nice to dear dying Mother. He’s just full of fawning words and boxes of candy, but what he really wants is for her to forget that he ran astray and has violated her values, while his siblings were there for Mother and yet remain her stalwart caregivers, sometimes having to deliver unhappy news or make difficult decisions with her. His attempts to sound so loyal and true (when he is just the opposite) while conning Mother are really rather pathetic, but he sure wants her estate! It’s not hard to see through such transparent efforts.
Second, the letter attempts to grab “the middle” and elbow others out by labeling them “strident voices.” To hear the Covenant Network speak, you would think it represents the longstanding tradition of the PCUSA and the vast majority of Presbyterians. They do not. They represent a very vocal and prominent few who are a distinct minority that wants to actually reverse the longstanding and faithful convictions of the PCUSA.
Third, the letter appears to highly regard the report of the Theological Task Force on Peace, Unity, and Purity of the Church. Out of one side of their mouths, Richter and Walton speak approvingly of the report and commend it for serious discussion, but out of the other side of their mouth, they mumble almost imperceptibly behind their hand, “But we aren’t going to follow it.” That is obvious in the fact that they want to directly defy the report’s Recommendation #6, which pleads for Presbyterians to leave the Constitution’s ordination standards in place. They support overtures to remove G-6.0106b and the Authoritative Interpretation from 1978.
This is not an unusual situation for the Covenant Network. They have a history of giving lip service to honoring the Constitution of the PCUSA while ignoring, defying, or sidestepping it with an embarrassing lack of shame. It is entirely consistent, then, for them to slyly treat the PUP report with the same surface “respect,” while going ahead with plans to defy a major provision of it altogether.
Fourth, they have every reason to be absolutely delighted if people would actually take their advice, pass the report, and let the chips fall where they may. The reason is that the chips will fall entirely in the Covenant Network direction!
For the minor price of retaining “fidelity and chastity” in name only in the Book of Order (Recommendation #6 in the PUP report), the Covenant Network would buy the enormously increased availability and incidence of ordinations of sexually active homosexual persons. All over the denomination, the Covenant Network could finally start doing what it has only talked about before, or done by ruse and deception in some cases. And they could do it with impunity, because the Authoritative Interpretation in Recommendation #5 would definitely lead to such ordinations.
Thus, it is really cheap talk to be “disappointed” that the report’s approval wouldn’t remove G-6.0106b (“fidelity and chastity”), because in actuality, the Covenant Network would be rejoicing in the newfound legality of ordinations in any congregation or presbytery that wanted to ordain sexually active homosexual persons.
Fifth, they talk about “open[ing] up needed theological space and lay[ing] the necessary groundwork to move closer” to the day when G-6.0106b is removed. How true! By ordaining practicing homosexual after practicing homosexual to sessions and presbyteries, they’ll be adding bulk to their currently flimsy numbers. You can bet that they rejoice over that prospect! The PUP Report plays right into their hand.
Take the newsletter message from the Covenant Network co-moderators with a grain of salt. They have to look concerned with the report’s recommendation that G-6.0106b remain in the Constitution--for now, as they would put it. By appearing to rue the idea, they appease their more radical fringe that is so doctrinaire that they can’t appreciate the win that the approval of the PUP Report would be for their intentions.
But rest assured that the Covenant Network has clearly calculated that the approval of the PUP Report would be a tremendous boost for them. It would provide the prospect of legal ordinations of practicing homosexual persons, using the means of treating immoral sexual practice as a nonessential for ordination consideration. The Covenant Network has its eyes set firmly on the goal of “removing G-6.0106b,” and the PUP Report moves them a giant step along in that process, getting them all but to the finish line.