Monday, September 12, 2005

PUP and Circumstance

So, did the Peace Unity and Purity task force make their final report? What did it say? I'm busy with other things....


Rev. Mike said...

Theological Task Force Says Stay Together Despite Conflicts

Urges return to historic ordination principles

CHICAGO—The Theological Task Force on Peace, Unity, and Purity of the Church voted unanimously today to approve their report to the 217th General Assembly (2006) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

The vote is the culmination of the group’s work, which began in December 2001. Their mandate from the General Assembly is “to lead the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in spiritual discernment of our Christian identity in and for the 21st century.” Specific issues to be addressed include biblical authority, the nature and work of Jesus Christ, ordination standards, and power.

The task force makes seven recommendations, the first of which calls for the denomination to stay together while deep disagreement over issues like the ordination of gay and lesbian persons remain. “The gospel makes a difference in how we deal with those with whom we disagree,” remarked the Reverend Frances Taylor Gench, during the group’s discussion prior to their vote.

The group of twenty Presbyterians, chosen deliberately for the diversity of their views, recommends that the PC(USA) “avoid division into separate denominations.” They urge forming diverse “discernment groups” like the task force itself and using discernment processes to complement parliamentary procedures that Presbyterian decision-making bodies are required to use.

To deal with the most controversial issues before it, the task force recommends that conflicts over ordination be addressed by the General Assembly issuing an “authoritative interpretation” of traditional Presbyterian principles that are summarized in section G 6.0108 of the Book of Order, part of the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). The authoritative interpretation affirms both the responsibility of the whole church to set ordination standards and the responsibility of the ordaining regional body to apply those standards. In the PC(USA), regional bodies known as presbyteries ordain ministers. The session—a congregation’s governing body—ordains elders and deacons who serve as officers in the congregation.

The task force’s proposed authoritative interpretation does not change the current constitutional standard for all persons seeking ordination: “chastity in singleness and fidelity in marriage between a man and a woman.” Nor does it call for exceptions to traditional Presbyterian procedures. It does, however, re-emphasize a church tradition, dating from 1729, when ministers were permitted to dissent from an article in church standards of doctrine and government. If the ordaining body deemed that article “not essential,” the ordination could proceed.

The authoritative interpretation requires that an ordaining body assess ways a candidate departs from established standards. If the candidate does not adhere to an essential of faith and practice, the candidate is barred from ordination. But if the ordaining body decides, after considering all aspects of the candidate’s faith and conduct, that the departure is from a non-essential, ordination may be considered.

The result of this process would be that serious consideration of the question of essentials will make the examination of candidates for ministry both more rigorous and more flexible.

Several presbyteries have already sent motions to the 217th General Assembly, which will meet in Birmingham next June, asking that the current “fidelity and chastity” standard be removed. The task force “strongly encourages” next year’s General Assembly to make no changes to the Constitution in any area covered by the task force report, so that new proposals can be put into practice in a climate of less conflict.

The task force also encourages all Presbyterians to seek “conciliation and mediation” with each other rather than instituting formal actions against each other.

The task force report, entitled “A Season of Discernment,” offers a lengthy theological reflection on the denomination’s Christian identity in and for the 21st century as a demonstration that a diverse group of Presbyterians can affirm core Christian doctrines together. The report recounts the task force’s “spiritual progress” as it studied the Bible and theology, worshipped, and discussed difficult issues.

The report includes a review of Presbyterian history and church law that offers some precedents and resources for staying together in times of conflict.

Elder Jenny Stoner, co-moderator of the task force, commented on the prospects of the report: “I believe that Presbyterians who disagree about some key issues really want to find ways to live together in unity and peace, holiness and justice. That is why our task force was created. I hope our report will be considered seriously and prayerfully as a means to that end.”

The Reverend Gary Demarest, the other co-moderator, agreed: “The ultimate goal is not just to get along with each other, but to strengthen the mission of God to the world. Our witness to the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ must flow through our love for one another. In a world where people kill each other over differences, we are called to love friends and enemies midst the realities of our differences.”

Quotidian Grace said...

The final document is available at:

Gord said...

THat line about chastity in singleness and fidelity in marriage sure brings back memories of our (UCCan) own struggle in 1988--we too talked about chastity.

But what does it mean to be chaste? COntrary to common opinion, doesn't actually mean celibacy. It actually refers to purity--and to my mind purity talks more about the quality of the relationship rather than it's legal/ecclesiastical designation. Somehow I doubt that is the interpretaion favoured by many in the PCUSA any more than it was/is in the UCCan. (although there are surely clergy living with a partner-same or mixed gender-"without benefit of clergy".)