Reading the AI with Comprehension
So here’s my try for the sentence: “Interpretive statements concerning ordained service of homosexual church members by the 190th General Assembly of the United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America and the 119th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States and all subsequent affirmations thereof, have no further force or effect”:
1) Interpretive statements
a. concerning ordained service of homosexual church membersand
b. by the 190th General Assembly of the United Presbyterian
Church in the United States of America and
c. [by] the 119th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States
a. all3) have no further force or effect.
Okay. So what do we have? Numbers 1 and 2 are the subjects; number 3 is the verb phrase. “Interpretive statements and affirmations have no further force or effect.” That’s the bare-bones skeleton.
But obviously not all interpretive statements, as 1.a-c tell us. The interpretative statements being considered are strictly limited by:
(a) Only those that concern ordained service of homosexual church members. (Notice how this is written as if homosexual orientation and not homosexual practice were the main thing. The 1978/1993 Authoritative Interpretation was very careful and specific in dealing with homosexual practice. This new statement is actually more careless and less clear. In a way, there is no historical statement about the ordination of homosexual persons per se to be rendered of no force or effect, because the previous statements are about homosexual behavior, not about someone's abstract state of being homosexual.)
(b) Only the statement by the UPCUSA 190th General Assembly (1978) and
(c) Only the statement by the PCUS 119th General Assembly (1979)
Okay, so now we know that the statements that have no further force or effect are just two very specific statements, and they were mischaracterized in this new resolution as being about homosexual persons, when they were in truth about homosexual practice.
We also know that we’re talking about “interpretative statements” in their totality that were issued by these two denominations in 1978 and 1979, not the very narrow part of each statement that for some reason the Stated Clerk’s office zeroed in on in its Advisory Opinion #22.
What else do we know from the sentence diagram? We know that there is something else that has no further force or effect: “affirmations.” What kind of affirmations in particular?
a and b) “all subsequent” affirmations. That means that after 1978-79, every single such affirmation is also of no further force or effect. But still, what kind?
c) Affirmations “thereof.” The “thereof” tells us something specific. It’s not just any affirmation that may have come out of our mouths after 1979, such as “I like chocolate!” It is only affirmations that pertain to the two very specific statements delineated in the first part. So if a General Assembly affirmed something else or reaffirmed some other statement of principle, such affirmations that aren’t “thereof” are not being included here and would remain in force and effect. Only in cases where the General Assembly has affirmed the 1978 UPCUSA statement or the 1979 PCUS statement about homosexual (practice as it relates to) ordination is such a subsequent affirmation of no further force or effect.
But here’s the ambiguity: “affirmations” by whom? By any Presbyterian anywhere? One would think not! By sessions or presbyteries? I seriously doubt it. They haven’t been mentioned at all in this section of the resolution, so there is no reason to slip them in as the party making the affirmations.
No, it appears that the elliptical party doing the affirmations or reaffirmations would have to be a subsequent General Assembly, such as the 217th General Assembly as recently as 2006 that commended the statement to the study of the whole church. If we are going to supply an assumed party to be doing such affirmations, it would most likely be the only party that can with authority affirm a statement by the General Assembly: another General Assembly.
Thus, in this reading, if any subsequent General Assembly has affirmed the 1978/1979 statements, that affirmation is now left without further force or effect, because this particular, most-recent General Assembly has said so.
What about the General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission (GAPJC) and its ability to also produce Authoritative Interpretations? The Stated Clerk’s office in its new Advisory Opinion seems to think that any time a GAPJC cited the 1978/1979 statements, this new Authoritative Interpretation then basically invalidates that decision, as if the GAPJC opinion were not also rooted in the Bible, our confessions, legislative intent, and the standard practice of Christians for two millennia.
The Stated Clerk’s office, if it is being careful with the exact language of this new Authoritative Interpretation, must be interpreting “all subsequent affirmations thereof” to include GAPJC decisions as well as General Assembly resolutions. But is a GAPJC decision truly an “affirmation” of an “interpretive statement” by a General Assembly?
I would say no. The GAPJC may use the interpretative statement or rely on it or partially base its decision on the interpretative statement, but that is something different than it being an “affirmation” of the statement. The entity that can affirm or reaffirm such statements is the General Assembly.
Thus, if we read the new Authoritative Interpretation for what it says and not for what we only assume it is saying or what we want it to say, it is basically saying this: Those 1978 and 1979 interpretative statements about homosexual practice have, in their entirety, no further force or effect. In addition, all affirmations of these particular interpretative statements (and only these) by subsequent General Assemblies also have no further force or effect.
I wish the 218th General Assembly had never made such a statement, but I do believe that this is the meaning of their statement.
This reading would also mean that other General Assembly policy statements about homosexual practice or Christian sexual morality in general are not affected by this new Authoritative Interpretation, nor would Permanent Judicial Commission decisions—with the force of being Authoritative Interpretations in their own right—be affected by this new Authoritative Interpretation.
With that in mind, the Stated Clerk’s Advisory Opinion #22 seems to require either more thought and revision, or far better clarity and explanation. This is no time for muddy, ambiguous, confusing counsel. We need to know what is the case and why.