Friday, July 28, 2006

A compliance check on sexuality materials

In June General Assembly approved an overture from Shenango Presbytery that should prove to be a blockbuster resolution. At the point when our denominational leaders and entities actually comply with this resolution, the PCUSA will once again be biblically and confessionally sound in relation to its public teaching on marriage and sexual practice.

I realize that’s a knock-your-socks-off claim. What do I mean?

Item 12-11, approved by General Assembly, bears this title: “On Sexuality Curricula and Other Materials Being Consistent with the Biblical and Confessional Teaching.” The overture reads:


The Presbytery of Shenango overtures the 217th General Assembly (2006)to direct the General Assembly Council (Congregational Ministries Division) and all other PC(USA) entities to use the biblical and confessional teachings that sexual relationships belong only within the bond of marriage of a man and a woman as the standard for the development of any future materials or recommendations for materials in print or in its website. The curriculum should include information on reproductive health to allow for an open discussion between teachers and youth in light of our understanding of God’s plan for sexuality.

The language is a little convoluted, so to see more clearly what is really being said, here’s a more graphic version of the key provision. The overture directs

(1) the General Assembly Council (Congregational Ministries Division) and
(2) all other PC(USA) entities

to use the biblical and confessional teachings that

sexual relationships belong only within the bond of marriage of a man and a woman

as the standard for

(a) the development of any future materials or
(b) recommendations for materials
(i) in print or
(ii) in its website.

Let me boil that down to even simpler language:

All PC(USA) entities are directed to use the teaching that sexual relationships belong only in heterosexual marriage as the standard for any materials being developed or recommended.

That's what it says, folks. And General Assembly approved it.

Note that the directive covers sexuality curriculum materials, but it is not limited only to such materials. In fact, the overture itself doesn’t even mention curriculum; it uses the more inclusive word “materials.” The overture title proves that sexuality curricula aren't the only intended subject: “On Sexuality Curricula and Other Materials Being Consistent with the Biblical and Confessional Teaching” [emphasis added].

This General Assembly directive to all entities covers all materials of any kind in development, and all recommendations, in print or on the Web. This is remarkable! I like it.

But what will it mean in practice? Let me hazard a few answers:

  • The Washington Office will need to take steps to ensure that all of its print and electronic materials comply with the standard that sexual relationships belong only within the bond of marriage of a man and a woman. That will mean they can no longer press for gay marriage or civil unions, nor can they recommend materials that do so.
  • Any materials such as newsletters and e-mail alerts developed from now on by any Presbyterian entity cannot be in violation of the standard that sexual relations belong only in heterosexual marriage.
  • Curriculum Development within Congregational Ministries Publishing and Christian Education will need to conform to this standard all their curriculum pieces being developed, and when they recommend other reading, that reading will need to conform, as well.
  • No entity such as Presbyterian Health, Education, and Welfare Association or its networks can develop materials or recommend items that promote or permit premarital, extramarital, or homosexual sexual expression.
  • The Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy will need to conform its coming papers and policies to the standard of heterosexual marriage as the only moral setting for sexual relations.
  • Materials circulated by the National Network of Presbyterian College Women will need to conform to this standard as well.
  • Church magazines, such as Presbyterians Today, cannot promote or excuse such things as cohabitation or same-sex marriage.
  • Presbyterians Affirming Reproductive Options will need to cease treating premarital or extramarital sex as normal and will need to affirm abstinence outside of marriage.
  • Articles, books, and websites that approve of or promote premarital or extramarital sex, homosexual sexual expression, same-sex marriage, or same-sex unions would not be appropriately developed, used, or recommended in any Presbyterian source.

Well, we’ve got the General Assembly resolution, and it sets an excellent standard. Let’s keep an eye out to identify ways the resolution is either followed or defied. Defiance would be the most natural course of events, given that the resolution itself is not particularly popular with many of the entities noted above. Compliance, however, ought to be the only possible response open to entities and leaders under the authority of General Assembly.

So watch with me the implementation--or not--of this amazing resolution.

5 Comments:

Blogger David said...

Jim: It's a nice thought, but my experience with another mainline denomination is that when the powers-that-be don't like a given resolution, they simply ignore it. It wasn't the PCUSA, and I know that polity does make a difference, but I'd be willing to bet that this resolution will be a dead letter within six months, with all kinds of rationalizations to follow about how the "spirit of the resolution" is being adhered to while the letter is ignored.

7:10 PM, July 28, 2006  
Blogger Rob said...

Agreed -- I'm expecting "not."

9:43 PM, July 28, 2006  
Blogger Leslie said...

Thanks, Jim for reminding us of this. It kind of flew in under the radar what with all the sound and fury over the PUP Report and the Trinity brouhaha. Reminds me of many years ago when we ordered the sexuality curriculum materials rewritten and the old stuff destroyed. You should have heard the cries of how wasteful that would be and why we had to use up what we had. Of course, we used that up and they printed more of the same stuff. You're right - they usually just ignore it counting on the fact that the next GA won't know what went on previously and no one will hold their feet to the fire. Let's do that this time!!

9:40 AM, July 31, 2006  
Blogger Aric Clark said...

I'd just like to note that the language of the resolution is vague on several fronts. First of all, it says that we should use the biblical and confessional standard, but does not say that we must use it exclusively, in fact it suggests that we include information about sexual health in an 'open conversation' - this in fact implies that various view points should be presented _including_ the confessional standard, but not exclusively so. Since there is no direction as to where this information about sexual health is to come from that in itself opens up a huge can of worms about what is meant by 'health'.

Furthermore, 'PCUSA entities' is too vague a term for my taste. Does that include every individual who is a member of a PCUSA congregation? If so it is too restrictive a resolution, which contradicts another fundamental aspect of our constitution - God is the Lord of the conscience.

9:49 PM, October 29, 2006  
Blogger Aric Clark said...

To elaborate on my previous remark... since the resolution does not prohibit using other standards besides a very narrow interpretation of historical confessional standards many of your guesses for the correct implementation of this resolution are inaccurate.

The washington office will need to make sure they use the language this resolution requires in all publications, but it does not prevent them from using other language as well. In function it will be much more like you see in editorial's versus opinion pages in a newspaper - There will be a disclaimer saying "the confessional standard is x"... now here are other view points.

10:00 PM, October 29, 2006  

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