Trust No Covenant Network Bearing "Gifts"
The CN statement endorses a political tactic that relies on an Authoritative Interpretation (AI) to make a sweeping change in Christian practice concerning marriage. The endorsed AI would permit Presbyterian teaching elders “to celebrate same-gender marriages where they are sanctioned by the civil authorities.”
An AI allows a single General Assembly vote to rule authoritatively about what the Presbyterian Church (USA) Constitution means in any case where the wording of the Constitution is in dispute. An AI such as the Covenant Network is supporting, however, would presumably need to declare that although the Constitution speaks clearly in numerous places about marriage only in terms of one man and one woman, it actually means any two people.
This would be a case of an Authoritative Interpretation making absurd what is already clear and unambiguous. Such would be an abuse of an AI, by employing it, rather than an outright amendment, to reverse the actual meaning of the Constitution, rather than merely disambiguate it.
Too clever by half
Shrewd as Covenant Network is, it knows that getting a constitutional amendment past 173 presbyteries nationwide would be a monumental task, perhaps "a bridge too far." Thus, CN is cleverly opting for an AI, which is effected by the vote of only a single General Assembly.
The track record is clear that CN can likely get a General Assembly to do its bidding. The General Assembly voting commissioners are a skewed population of Presbyterians, more theologically and politically liberal in opinions and beliefs than Presbyterians as a whole. CN ought to be able to play the next General Assembly like a violin and get its AI passed without breaking a sweat. The AI would allow for same-sex marriages. Mission accomplished.
However, had Covenant Network joined its more gung ho but less politically adept More Light Presbyterians cobelligerents in opting for full-blown constitutional amendments to allow same-sex marriages, CN would have a much riskier task on its hands. It would need to amend the Book of Order, the Directory for Worship, and several confessions. That process would require approval by two General Assemblies, plus approval by two thirds of the presbyteries (for the confession amendments).
Such an undertaking would be a big order, and presumably CN would fail. Then it would have to deal with defeat. So CN has decided to take the easy route with an AI. An Authoritative Interpretation does the job—albeit cheaply, but it would work.
What's more, Covenant Network comes across as such nice folks, such reasonable diplomats for “tend[ing] to the unity of the denomination,” for not disturbing the waters with yet another constitutional amendment vote. But such unctuous talk is as phony as a $3 bill. If CN truly valued unity, it would not use the oily stealth of an Authoritative Interpretation to get illegitimately what it has hustled for years at the expense of denominational peace, unity, and, most of all, purity.
The Covenant Network is clever and effective. However, it is not and probably never will be a true statesman in the life of the PCUSA.
No one should be fooled by Covenant Network’s shrewd tactic with only the false appearance of restraint and good order. CN plans to get exactly what it wants, but at a bargain price—and with some bogus goodwill thrown in in the deal.
[Viola Larson makes two good points about the Covenant Network statement on her blog: Naming His Grace".]