Aug 17th, 2006 · Categories: PCUSA · No Comments

PCUSA: Word games, part 3

Click here for Part 1, here for Part 2

In their thirst to conform to the culture, many in the PCUSA saw the campaign for acceptance and endorsement of homosexuality as a bandwagon worth jumping on. But there was the small matter of ordination standards, particularly G-6.0106b. Through the prescribed constitutional process, G-6.0106b had been approved by the presbyteries and added to the Book of Order, mandating that ordained officers live in monogamous heterosexual marriage or in chaste singleness. Two efforts to persuade the presbyteries to delete G-6.0106b had failed. Many attempts to amend it into meaningless babble had failed. It was obvious that a majority of presbyteries were satisfied to keep the standard in place and that by 2002, the General Assembly had no stomach to try again. Efforts to invalidate the Definitive Guidance of 1979 (establishing the theological foundation for G-6.0106b) had never even made it to the presbyteries for consideration. This was the situation into which the Theological Task Force (TTF) stepped.

In their headlong pursuit of unity at any cost, the TTF realized that they had to find a way to accommodate incompatible world views. The progressive Covenant Network and their political allies had made it clear they would allow no peace in the PCUSA as long as ordination standards remained in place (even if enforcement was selective and largely ineffective). The renewal crowd, the “right” who held Scripture and the Confessions to be utterly authoritative in matters of faith and practice, made it equally clear they would not cave to political pressure and abandon orthodoxy for cultural accommodation. The TTF apparently made the “middle” (who seemed to support G-6.0106b, but might lack commitment to it) the target of what turned out to be a massively deceptive word game.

The be successful, the TTF had to find a way to

  1. retain G-6.0106b to placate the right,
  2. enable ordaining bodies to safely ignore G-6.0106b to mollify the left, and
  3. bypass the constitutional process altogether lest those pesky presbyteries derail their scheme.

What to do? How to retain a standard and make conformance to it optional? Perhaps the TTF looked to the presbyteries, churches, and officers who were already claiming to honor their ordination vows while simultaneously ignoring constitutional provisions they had promised to bound by. In their defiance, they mostly sang the same tune – it was a matter of “conscience”. Could it be that the Book of Order would actually allow candidates and governing bodies to ignore G-6.0106b? Well, no; it wouldn’t, not as written. But maybe if we all pretended the words meant something other than what they say….

In their masterpiece of doublespeak and misdirection, the PUP report, the TTF found a way. They injected the necessary ambiguity into – not G-6.0106b (a tactic which had also been tried before without success) – but G-6.0108b. Huh? Yes, Alice, said the Caterpillar, they made compliance with ordination standards a matter of conscience. They applied the concept of “scruples” to the enforcement of standards. As detailed here, the TTF borrowed some convenient language from the Adopting Act of 1729 while leaving the substance (adherence to the Westminster Confessions) behind.

The concept of a “scruple” (i.e. a matter of conscience) is addressed in G-6.0108a which calls for adherence “to the essentials of the Reformed faith and polity as expressed in The Book of Confessions and the Form of Government” [emphasis added] and adds “So far as may be possible without serious departure from these standards, without infringing on the rights and views of others, and without obstructing the constitutional governance of the church, freedom of conscience with respect to the interpretation of Scripture is to be maintained.” G-6.0108b goes on to establish the limits of freedom of conscience: the candidate’s conscience “is captive to the Word of God as interpreted in the standards of the church so long as he or she continues to seek or hold office in that body.” [emphasis added]

All those smart folks on the TTF understood the unbroken chain of orthodox doctrine that ran from Scripture analyzed and interpreted in the Definitive Guidance to limits on individual conscience defined in G-6.0108b to the Biblical standard embodied in G-6.0106b. There is nothing in that chain – including freedom of conscience – that can be said to grant a candidate or governing body the privilege to unilaterally decide whether or not a standard is applicable. The constitution is not ambiguous.

But the TTF’s unscrupulous word game with “scruples” created the false impression that the constitution was ambiguous and then resolved the ambiguity in a way that accomplished their objectives. Specifically,

  1. By attacking G-6.0108b, they left the words of G-6.0106b unchanged,
  2. By altering the interpretation of G-6.0108b to mean something vastly different from what it says, they left everyone free to depart from G-6.0106b (or any other standard) by declaring it “non-essential.”
  3. By creating this Alice-in-Wonderland situation with an Authoritative Interpretation that required only a simple majority on the GA floor, they froze the presbyteries with their bothersome months of study, prayer, and deliberation out of the process completely.

As expected the TTF’s illusion of peace and unity lasted about as long as their self-satisfied celebration at the GA. The TTF’s word games sowed cynicism and deception. The PCUSA is already beginning to reap a rich harvest of division, distrust, and fear. Interestingly, it is obvious from the publication of the “Presbyterian Papers” that the denomination was also prepared months in advance to receive a harvest of church buildings or ransoms paid for them by departing congregations.

Indeed, the most disgusting aspect of the TTF, the PUP report, and the GA’s embrace of it all is the fact that Clifton Kirkpatrick, Eric Graninger, Mark Tammen, and every synod and presbytery executive knew that no peace or unity would result from the TTF’s deception. They knew that members, churches, and perhaps whole presbyteries would flee. They knew that the financial windfall would keep the PCUSA (and their jobs) afloat a while longer.

But as a dynamic witness to the power of the Gospel in the world, the PCUSA is dead, the victim of its own word games.

This entry was posted on Thursday, August 17th, 2006 at 10:44 am and is filed under PCUSA. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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