Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Conservative Fears in the PCUSA

 This is a rather long winded response to something Alan said in response to me on one of John Shuck's comments pages.  The link to that page is above.  I had commented about Evangelical fears that ultimately we would be required to ordain sexually active homosexuals or we would not be ordained or installed. 

Alan the fear is not that one would be required to vote for a particular candidate for office.  The fear is rather that one will be refused ordination or installation if one does not agree to ordain sexually active homosexuals.

To understand what the slippery slope argument as it pertains to ordination and installation you have to take a look at the history of Fundamentalists and Evangelicals in the PCUSA and the PCUS beginning in the 1920's or more particularly how they read that history. 

In 1920 the Fundamentalists had control over the PCUSA.  At the end of 1929 they didn't even control the seminary which was their flagship: Princeton.  Why and how this happened is terribly important.  The Liberals (this was the word used at the time) didn't have the votes to change anything.  The reason their position ultimately won is because there were Fundamentalists who were not willing to split the denomination.  They valued unity over purity of doctrine.  Charles Erdman is an example of such a Fundamentalist.

This compromise was ultimately reached on the basis of what became a slogan and a way of life in the PCUSA "theology divides, mission unites."  The PCUSA did not resolve its theological differences in the 1920's.  It decided to ignore them.  Jack Rogers contends, and I agree with him, that the present conflicts in the PCUSA are a second fight that is a result of failing to find a central theology against which candidates for office can be measured.

One more important item.  The decision made on who could be ordained was based on a statement by the GA that if it wasn't in the Book of Order (this being a reference to the 5 fundamentals) then you couldn't refuse ordination to someone if he (it was he back then) on the basis of the 5 fundamentals.

Two important things happened in the 1930's.  Neo-Orthodoxy became the core doctrinal position in the PCUSA and provided a new theological center in the PCUSA.  The conflicts of the 1920's were forgotten (although not by the Fundamentalists) as Neo-Orthodoxy became ascendant.  The Fundamentalists thought that even Karl Barth was of the devil.  On the other hand those who continued to fight what had become the status quo were kicked out of the denomination.  Machen was kicked out not for any theological reason but rather because he refused to support the denominational mission agency and started his own.  Instead of theological orthodoxy the denomination made organizational orthodoxy the test for ordination.

The Fundamentalists and later the Evangelicals who remained quietly formed their own educational and mission organizations outside the denomination.  Young Life, Campus Crusade, Intervarsity and other organizations were born as evangelizing agencies and also as educational agencies.  Mission organizations were formed like World Vision.  Finally Evangelical Seminaries were formed like Fuller and Gordon Conwell.  Curiously Evangelicals were being ecumenical!  Their shared beliefs enabled them to reach out across denominational lines to form organizations based on their theology.  What the Evangelicals did was stay in place but form their own organizations parallel to the denominational agencies.  They believed they were shut out of the denominational structure and that they had no power in the denomination.  And Evangelical and Fundamentalist churches were criticized for not supporting the denominational agencies even for using non denominational curriculum.  I got jumped on back in the 1970's for supporting the use of Kerygma and Youth Club materials and methods because they weren't denominational.  Yet both organizations were developed by mainline center oriented Presbyterian seminary professors.

Then theological consensus fell apart in the 1960's.  Ironically just as the Confession of 67, a Neo-Orthodox document, was passed the Neo-Orthodox consensus fell apart with various liberation theologies, process theologies and others taking their place.

Then in the 1970's two things of great importance happened.  Evangelicals coming out of the Jesus movement started to go to seminary and became MWS's in the PCUSA (acutally the UPCUSA then).  They/we went to interdenominational seminaries and mainline seminaries as well.  As the 1980's began Evangelicals had the potential of becoming either a very large minority or maybe even a majority in the PCUSA.  But we were too young.  Our power became greatest in the late 80s and the 1990s.

The second important event was the Kenyon case.  While the Book of Order did not require anyone to ordain women as elders, deacons or MWS's the GAPJC interpreted the Book of Order to say this.  This is the great underlying fear of Evangelicals.  We are afraid that when sexually active homosexuals are allowed to be ordained within 20 years a candidate for ordination or even an already ordained MWS would be required to say s/he would ordain a sexually active homosexual or be denied ordination or a new call.  After all, it's a justice issue, isn't it?  So shouldn't everyone be required to fall in line?  If one congregation refuses to ordain sexually active homosexuals the COM might/will come down on them like a ton of bricks.  This happens in some presbyteries if a congregation doesn't have at least one woman on the session.

Then comes the 1990's.  A large minority on the GAPJC suggest that since there is no prohibition of ordaining sexually active homosexuals in the Book of Order that, despite Authoritative Interpretations, sexually active homosexuals could be ordained.  And thus was born amendment B or G-6.0106b.  The Evangelicals, remembering the 1920s (that the fundamentals could not be used to deny someone ordination because they weren't in the Book of Order) and hearing the minority of the GAPJC decided to put the prohibition in the FoG.

Now a bit of honesty.  In 1996-7 Amendment B would never have passed if it had only denied ordination to sexually active homosexuals.  The amendment was written as it currently reads to pick up votes from the center.  Curiously I think such an amendment that only denied ordination to sexually active homosexuals would have passed back in the late 1970's but it was decided then that an AI was enough.

So we combine several things. First the experience of the Fundamentalists back in the 1920's of losing even though they were the majority based on the fact that the 5 fundamentals were not in the Book of Order.  J. G. Machen got kicked out for opposing the entrenched bureaucracy.   Kenyon was denied ordination because he refused to participate in the ordination of women.  Evangelicals fear that the day will come when one cannot get ordained unless s/he believes that sex between two people of the same gender is blessed by God in a lifelong, committed relationship which ultimately be marriage.   And we don't trust those who say this won't happen because we remember Machen and Kenyon.

And that is where my comment came from.  I'm not worried that I will be forced to vote a certain way.  I vote the way I want, even when I'm the only person saying "No!"  I am concerned that the day will come when someone like me will be denied ordination in the PCUSA because of what I believe.  Or that I won't be able accept a new call because I will be told that promising to obey the Book of Order means that I agree that I will ordain sexually active homosexuals. 

After all, it happened to Kenyon.  Ordination of women became an essential not by denominational vote but by a GAPJC decision.  How do I know that a future GAPJC won't make the same decision about ordaining sexually active homosexuals?


Aric Clark said...

Great to hear your reading of the history on this one. I would quibble that Machen wasn't kicked out he actively split off and started his own club, but I'm sure it was probably a bit of both.

I can see your fear. It is not unreasonable. I don't have any problem with our denomination requiring ordained ministers to be willing to ordain women. By the same logic I can see where it would inexorably lead to the same situation with ordaining homosexuals some day. It would be the right decision for the same reason that ordaining women is the right decision regardless of whether it was a GA or a PJC that intitiated the process. You are not advocating against the ordination of women are you?

So I guess I have little comfort to offer, but I do have questions...

As I understand ordination it is the Holy Spirit through the church, not me, who does the ordaining. I of course make my choice to participate, but ultimately it is beyond my authority. Like Peter I cannot deny the activity of the Spirit. Refusing to participate in ordaining someone who is obviously called and gifted is just hubris, whatever my reasons. Even in the church I am a small authority. The elders on my session are more responsible than I for deciding who in the congregation is worthy of a particular ministry. I have a role as a teacher, but I am not a gatekeeper. I am one voice in the crowd, and it would be arrogant of me to imagine I was so wise as to know better than a host of others. However, ultimately, no one can force me to do anything and I can in fact refuse to participate or find another minister to do my job if I am unable.

Thus even if we one day arrive at a decision to require ministers to be willing to ordain homosexuals, what are we really requiring? That they not claim a power that was never theirs - to decide who does and does not have the Holy Spirit.

Pastor Bob said...

Ah, but what if one cannot ordain someone when to do so is to violate one's conscience?

An example: the nominating committee nominates someone who is in an adulterous relationship. This relationship is common knowledge in the congregation and the person admits it's true but says he doesn't believe what he's doing is sin. The Session examines the man and even though he says he is practicing adultery the Session votes to approve his ordination.

If I cannot participate in the ordination of this man the only choice I have is to resign, yes?

Alan said...

Sounds like we need scruples.

Oh wait, your buddies the "evangelicals" are against such freedom of conscience.

To attempt to use freedom of conscience issues to stand against LGBT ordination is an amusing, though cynical rhetorical maneuver. This isn't Bizarro World where right is left and left is right. I find it amusing, Bob, that you claim to be worried about freedom of conscience, yet on every aspect of these issues you line up with those who are staunchly against it.

Here you argue against freedom of conscience for yourself, but evidently have absolutely no problem with my freedom of conscience being violated. So, perhaps you'll pardon me if I don't really buy that you're actually concerned with freedom of conscience.

But in any case, I'm sorry you spent so much time writing on what is obviously a slippery slope argument. Even worse, you acknowledge it is a slippery slope argument but never put 2+2 together and realize that slippery slope arguments are logical fallacies.

If you don't want LGBT people to be ordained, just say so, and argue against it.

If however, you have no problem with LGBT ordination, but you just don't want people to be forced to participate in the ordination of someone they do not want ordained, then argue against that. The two are not related arguments.

Sorry, I never, ever find logical fallacies to be compelling arguments. I prefer rational arguments based on evidence.

(BTW, your "evangelical" friends would surely point out that there is no analogy between the ordination of women and the ordination of LGBT people. Thus I assume they would have as much difficulty with your argument here as I do, but for different reasons. As far as I can tell, they also don't realize the problems inherent with logical fallacies, but I would imagine that they would argue against even using the analogy. So clearly from the "evangelical" stand point, this argument is meaningless because there is no analogy.)

Unknown said...


Machen was kicked out. He was angry because the Board of Foreign Missions wouldn't get rid of Pearl Buck who believed you didn't have to believe in Jesus to go to heaven and was combining Christian and Chinese ancestor worship in her theology.

Machen started a separate Board of Missions outside of the denomination. He was tried for doing this and found guilty. He was defrocked.

So I suppose you could say he left. But he had encouragement from the denomination too.

Unknown said...


Perhaps I should not have used the term "slippery slope." Rather, giving the history of the denomination this Evangelicals are afraid that ultimately people would be required to ordain sexually active homosexuals. Of course this cannot happen if The only amendment to the FoG is the removal of G-6.0106b from the FoG. An additional amendment would have to be made to G-4.0403. The paragraph would have to be amended to include the words "sexual orientations." It would then read:

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) shall give full expression to
the rich diversity within its membership and shall provide means
which will assure a greater inclusiveness leading to wholeness in its emerging life. Persons of all racial ethnic groups, different ages, both sexes, various disabilities, diverse geographical areas, different theological positions consistent with the Reformed tradition, different sexual orientations, as well as different marital conditions (married, single, widowed, or
divorced) shall be guaranteed full participation and access to
representation in the decision making of the church. (G-9.0104a)

Unknown said...

Or maybe we should look at a time line:

1930 - The PCUSA allows the ordination of women as elders

1957 (or 8, I'm not sure which) The PCUSA (I think now the UPCUSA) allows the ordination of women as MWS

1975 Walter Kenyon is denied ordination because he says he cannot in good conscience ordain a woman. Curiously he doesn't have anything against having women on the Session of the congregation he to which he had been called. He's willing to have another MWS come to his church and ordain women which makes no sense to me. I've never been able to figure out Kenyon.

So now we have a precedent. If one refuses to ordain someone that the FoG says may be ordained the one who has refuses cannot be ordained and installed.

Now I think the reasons given by the GAPJC to refuse ordination to Kenyon was bad law. Nevertheless I agree with the conclusion. I think the ordination of women is an essential part of the FoG.

Personally I don't agree with scruples about required sections of the Book of Order.

I suspect that if homosexuals with same sex partners are allowed to be ordained sooner or later it will become a requirement. And frankly I think if allowed it should become a requirement. Otherwise what is to happen to someone is called to a More Light congregation in a conservative presbytery?

It all comes down to this. In the PCUSA the left and the right both consider themselves to be oppressed minorities, accurate or not. Curious, isn't it?

Alan said...

"It all comes down to this. In the PCUSA the left and the right both consider themselves to be oppressed minorities, accurate or not. Curious, isn't it?"

Not at all. Throughout history the oppressors have played the victim to drum up support and money. It works because those in power see even the slightest shift of their power as a defeat. If anyone actually thinks that several millennia of ruling by straight, white men in the western world constitutes "oppression" they must quite simply be brain dead. Curious? Nah, more like stupid, ignorant and foolish.

Anyway, as for your argument, you can call it precedent if you'd like. I still think it is a slippery slope argument to deny LGBT ordination when what you're really concerned about is being forced to ordain an LGBT person. Connecting the two is a slippery slope, regardless of what word you want to use.

Again, freedom of conscience for thee but not for me.

BTW, if "conservatives" hadn't put B in the BoO 10 years ago (hardly a conservative act to change our constitution, is it?) this would not be an essential of the FoG. Now whatever we change B to will still be codified in the BoO. Consider that they could have gone along with local option, none of this rancor would have existed, and people would be much less likely to want to force anyone to do anything. So ultimately, they screwed themselves. I find it hard to work up any sympathy for them.

But if, as you argue, this isn't a slippery slope argument and is instead a "precedent" then precedent is the way that traditional, orthodox presbyterian polity works. Surely your "evangelical" friends can't argue against that, can they? Oh, right, of course they can and they do at almost every turn because they are neither "traditional" nor "orthodox" and most are Presbyterian in name only.

But take heart! If I were to acknowledge your slippery slope argument was an appropriate one (I don't), and if I were to agree that the ordination of women is a correct analogy (evangelicals don't), then by analogy, it'll be 40 years between getting rid of B and requiring ordination of LGBT people.

By that time most of the vast majority of people who have a problem with LGBT ordination will be passed on, ceased to be, bereft of life, pushing up the daisies, gone to meet their maker, kicked the bucket, shuffled off their mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin' choir invisible.

Problem solved.

Aric Clark said...


The only reason we ever ordain anyone with a clear conscience is because we have insufficiently analyzed our consciences. There is absolutely no one - NO ONE - who is not actively and unrepentantly sinning right now. We just pick and choose which sins matter and we do so strangely... for example you mention adultery. Why? Its unquestionably wrong, but nowhere near rising to the level of evil as killing. From Jesus who commanded us to love our enemies (which cannot under any circumstances mean killing them) we ought to regard violence as the antithesis of the Christian life. In the early church to even be baptized you had to forgo service in the military and repent of any former service given. I have numerous elders in my congregation and ministers I know in this denomination who are military veterans who have not only never repented of their service, but are in fact proud of it. Are their ordinations invalid? Should I, out of obedience to my conscience, refuse to ordain anyone connected to the military?

I say no. Ordination is not the destination we arrive at after having repented of all our sins. It's just part of the journey, and one which may in fact open us to better opportunities for repentance. Maybe by ordaining an elder and helping them enter into a deeper life of faith I might even assist someone to have a change of heart about their violent past.

Anyone who claims to be fully repentant needs to repent of their lying habit.

Unknown said...


This is an ex parrot!

Seriously, what we need to do at this point is watch what the GAPJC does with two cases coming before them this week. In the past, that is after 2006 and the GA authoritative interpretation that allowed scruples the GAPJC in Bush vs the Presbyter of Pittsburgh said scruples aren't allowed. A new AI came out of the 2008 GA. Now we get to see if the new AI is worded in such a manner as to cause the GAPJC to allow scruple.

If I am correct I suspect that Kenyon will be used as a precedent to say one cannot scruple a required part of the Book of Order.

Of course if I'm wrong there won't be any reason to have our biennial fights about it, will we?

Alan said...

"If I am correct I suspect that Kenyon will be used as a precedent to say one cannot scruple a required part of the Book of Order."

And again, who put B in there in the first place? And who, right now, wants B to be a required part of the BoO? That would be the so-called evangelicals in the denomination.

They reap what they've sown. Boo hoo.

Aric Clark said...

Did life get busy, Bob? Do you have an answer to my question about military service and ordination?

If the problem you see is people having to violate their own conscience in ordaining someone who has unrepentantly engaged in activity you regard as sinful.. then have you thoroughly and deeply searched your own conscience? Is it completely clear? You've never ordained someone who was an alcoholic, or a gossip, or a killer? No one you've ever ordained had greed in their heart which they regarded as normal or even virtuous in our consumer-capitalist society? None of your elders or deacons were emotionally or verbally abusive to friends or family? None were self-righteous or holier than thou?

You might say - "not to my knowledge" - but did you look into it very closely? How confident were you at the time of their ordination that they were truly repentant of everything the confessions and scripture call sin? I sincerely doubt any of us are very good at a genuine examination of conscience for each individual the church calls to ordained service.

Again, I contend, that a full and thorough search of our conscience would reveal that there is not one person fit for ordained office because we all have sins we have been unable to repent of. A clear conscience is a sure sign of an unexamined one.

Unknown said...

Yes Aric, busy.

I have been known to say that I would rather have a self affirming, practicing homosexual on the session than a gossip. And I mean it. There is stuff discussed at session that just can't be talked about outside of the meeting.

Second level of answer: when one is a serial sinner, even if one wishes to change, there are some things that I think should prevent someone from being on session. Gossiping is one of them. So are adultery, spousal or child abuse and murder (although how one would be on session when in jail is an interesting question).

There have been occasions when I strongly encouraged a nominating committee not to nominate someone. Once was when the individual in question was living with someone and wasn't married. There are other times when I've just said that I don't think that this is a good time for that person to be on session because I have privileged information. The nominating committee can of course trust me or not. I've done this in the case of divorce, adultery and also, apart from sin, when the individual has severe medical problems and would not be able to carry out their duties or needs to focus on their illness and not duties of session (some people being willing to push themselves too hard and make their illness worse).

As to the question you raised: I think the real issue is acknowledging one is sinning. The continuing question in the PCUSA about homosexuality is not, in my opinion, about whether people sometimes sin by having sex with someon of their gender. I know people who have and repent of their sin. The question at hand is, and I think this is the real question in the PCUSA: is sex between two people of the same gender sin or not - leaving aside all the questions about love, commitment, long term faithful relationship or, as is now possible in some state, marriage. The issue at hand is, if the person sins, refuses to admit their behavior is sin and continues to do so they should not, in my opinion, serve in ordained offices.

And now Alan is going to get all upset at me.

A less controversial example, and I do not mean to compare this to sexual behavior between two people of the same gender but rather bring up an example that is an issue in the congregation I serve. Over the past 3 years we have had a lot of African Americans and African Immigrants join the congregation. I have some members - well loved and have been members of the congregation for more than 50 years - who have said publicly "Why couldn't they (Africans and African Americans) gone to another church?" If their names came up at nominating committee I would have to say that I don't think it is a good time for them to go on session. Which of course would get me in a great deal of trouble since they are long term and beloved members.

I raise the issue because it is the main issue in my congregation and because some folks don't see their racist attitudes and behavior as sinful. Indeed they don't even believe that they are acting in racist ways. But the African Americans sure know!

I have maintained over the years that the questions asked at ordination are really big questions and we should be afraid and humbe as we answer them. I much prefer the examined life although I am convinced that self examination will always lead to self condemnation and repentance. I don't think anyone on a session has a clear conscience. I much prefer to have elders who have troubled consciences than than those who think their consciences are clear.

I am also concerned that American Christians today, as far as I can see, do not, for the most part, live examined lives. Would that we were living in the days of the Puritans (about this particular issue) who prayed every morning that God would grant them the strength to avoid sin and at the end of the day wrote in their journals the things that they had done that were sin and then repented. But we don't live in that world

Church life is messy, isn't it?

Aric Clark said...

No Problem. I understand busy.

Good for you for trying to live consistent with your beliefs.

This does bring me back to my example of military service, though. Being in the military is something generally regarded as honorable in our culture so it is highly unlikely that most people would feel the need to repent of the killing they committed, aided, or abetted in service to Mars and the idol of the nation. It is a serial sin, not an isolated occasion. It often occurs over the course of an entire career, and continues to be supported and advocated for others even after an individual has retired. Children often go into it following after their parents as well.

Now I'm well aware that many Christians are not committed to gospel nonviolence. Lets assume a Just War stance then. So... name me the wars in the latter 20th century which the US has engaged in which meet even a bare minimum of Just War criteria?

My purpose here is not to derail the discussion onto something else, but only to indicate that I think there is almost no legitimate way a Christian could have served in the US military in the past 60 years and not been sinning. Yet our churches are full of elders, deacons and even ministers who have had military careers without even a hint of remorse - rather they are proud!

Now which is closer to the heart of the gospel - the way we should treat our enemies, or sexual identity? Which is more powerfully and directly connected to Christ's suffering on the cross?

Unknown said...

Frankly I switch back and forth from pacifism to just war. On my pacifism days I think that killing the image of God is always wrong. On my just war days I think that sometimes the sin of fighting a war is less sinful (from a human point of view) than allowing enemies to overrun the innocent.

Having said that I would suggest that there were 2 and maybe 3 wars since 1930 that fit into the just war category: WW2, the Korean War and the 1st Gulf War. Now, to be clear that doesn't mean that everything the US did in those wars were just. Bombing cities filled with civilians and no munitions factories is wrong. Killing enemies that probably would surrender if allowed to do so is wrong. So I think we might agree that there have been just wars in which some of the actions were not just.

Having said that I also remember the reaction of some to the soldiers returning from Vietnam. Sometimes people called them baby killers and spat on them. I don't think Vietnam was a just war but feel for the soldiers who fought in it. Most of them weren't volunteers and tended to be from lower classes. Remember student deferments? You didn't get one if you weren't going to college, did you? So here we have people who are confronted with a choice: refuse to serve and spend 5 years in jail, leave family and friends and go to Canada, volunteer for the navy and hope you don't end up on one of those swift boats on the Mekong or get drafted and be sent where the war machine chose. Your choices stunk.

Now with an all volunteer army we like to think that those who choose to go into the military make their own choices. But the reality is that soldiers still tend to be from the lower classes because the military is their only route out of poverty.

So the people that concern me are the ones who walk around proud of what they did. My Dad is a veteran of WW2. He rarely talks about the war and during the few times he does he always cries. He doesn't want to get together with other veterans and march around. He wants to forget but he can't.

All of which is to say I'll take the ones who repent. I'll also take those who had no choice or who saw that there was a dirty job to be done and they did it. Those who are proud of the killing they did or parade around I think need to learn to repent. Oh, and I guess I should say that it is my experience the ones who brag the most were never on the front lines.

Aric, you keep asking very complicated questions! But then I guess it's a complicated problem, isn't it?

Alan said...

"And now Alan is going to get all upset at me."

Meh. I have not now, nor have I ever gotten upset at anything someone writes on a blog.

You have your opinion and you've given your reasons, and you believe that your freedom of conscience is more important than mine. What's to get upset about? Heck, I'm not even surprised that a straight guy thinks his rights trump mine. Dog bites man, film at 11.

You see, I don't actually care what you think because you and I will never meet, I'm already ordained, and it has and will have nothing to do with you. Ever. I know how to mind my own business, so getting upset about a total stranger's views? Meh. In addition, as an elder, when I next serve on our nominating committee, I will nominate anyone whom I believe has the gifts to do a good job. I won't be asking your permission any more than you've ever asked mine. Unfortunately we periodically take votes on these issues, and your position, that your freedom of conscience trumps everyone else, is a problem. So we'll keep voting on this until you lose and then we'll move on.

Now we all know that it is impossible to repent of every sin we've ever committed, because we know that it is impossible to even know every sin we've ever committed. So the whole argument about repentance from sin in order to be ordained is silly. I don't even know you, but I can say with certainty that you haven't repented from every sin you've ever committed, before or after your ordination, yet I don't see you giving up your ordination.

If you actually believed the things you're saying, you would give up your ordination.

But of course you don't, so you won't. You know it, I know it. Oh well.

You think ordination is something you perform, as if your laying on of hands is some sort of mark of Apostolic succession. It isn't. You think being ordained makes a person set apart from everyone else. It doesn't. Because if you really believed the things you're saying, you'd have the same position on church membership as you do on ordination. So you've got the same ideas about these issues as our Catholic friends. I think they're wrong too, but it's nothing to be upset about.

Viola Larson said...

You are not alone. If you go to Bob Davis' last posting on the 218 GA at Presbybob and read he lays it out rather well. Go to http://www.presbyblog.com/archives/218ga/070508.html
You will need to Scroll down.

Viola Larson said...

There should be an l on the end of that link.

Alan said...

From a practical standpoint, we all know that last point is not true.

And I think it's strange that, even if it were true, that you're only having issues with it now when it comes to gay people.

I think that says a great deal right there.