Saturday, November 7, 2009

GAPJC Decisions

I suspect there are some people, including friends of mine who will not like what I have to say here. I’m not going to apologize. This is strictly a Book of Order response to the Lisa Larges and Paul Capetz decisions.

Lisa Larges first. There is no requirement in the Book of Order that candidates for ordination promise to obey all the required parts of the Book of order or that they will take the ordination oath before they get ordained. A presbytery makes its own decisions about who will and who will not be a candidate. San Francisco Presbytery decided to receive Lisa Larges as a candidate. San Francisco Presbytery has not decided to remove her from the role candidates. There was a case in West Jersey Presbytery in which a man either refused to promise that he would not enter a sexual relationship with another man or refused to give up his sexual relationship with his partner. I forget which it was. In any case the GAPJC said that since he was not being ordained the presbytery could not be forced to remove him from the role of candidates.

Further the appropriate time to question candidates to determine their fitness for ordained ministry is during an ordination trial, not when declaring the candidate ready to seek and receive a call. I believe Lisa Larges was not even in the room either before or during the debate as to her readiness to receive a call. If Lisa Larges receives a call (which I understand she has), then it is proper to question her as to her fitness for office.

We Presbyterians do things decently and in order.

The central question is did the GAPJC overturn the Bush vs. Pittsburgh Presbytery decision. It is my understanding that it did not and in fact the GAPJC quoted the Bush decision in the answer. If the Bush decision stands then one would think that the GAPJC, if asked, would not approve the ordination of Lisa Larges. We will only be able to answer the question if and/or when the GAPJC rules on her call.

As to Paul Capetz. As I understand it - and this is not a quote from the GAPJC but rather my observation - he was allowed to again assume the role of a Minister of Word and sacrament for two reasons. First Dr. Capetz does not currently have a sexual partner. Thus he is not in violation of G-6.0106b. Second and, I think more important was his response to a question about whether he would abide by G-6.0106b in the future. His answer was the he would not make a promise to remain celibate. G-6.0106b does not require a MWS to remain celibate. The second sentence requires that a candidate for ordination or installation either be faithful in marriage or chaste in singleness. I know there have been debates about the meaning of the word chaste in this particular sentence but from what I have read Dr. Capetz did not promise to nor was he asked if he would be faithful in marriage to a woman or chaste in singleness. His statement was not about chastity bur rather about celibacy.

The GAPJC spoke to his response. It said that if Dr. Capetz took on a sexual partner who was male (or a female partner with whom he was not married) then a disciplinary case could be filed against him. Thus the GAPJC did not overturn past decisions about obedience to G-6.0106b but rather said that the section did not apply because, as I understand it he did not refuse to obey it. I freely admit I may not have understood all the nuances of the situation.

There is, I think, a question of the continuing validity of the Kenyon and the Suwannee Presbytery (that was the name of the presbytery about which the decision was made; I don’t remember the names of the people involved.) cases. Kenyon said he was unable, because of his conscience to ordain women. The case in Suwanee Presbytery was different and even more curious. A man who was a Baptist sought to join the presbytery but would not say that he believed women should be ordained or that baptizing babies was acceptable. Curiously, despite what he thought, he was willing to ordain women and baptize babies. The GAPJC held that since he was willing to ordain women and baptize babies what he believed didn’t matter. How one can think women shouldn’t be ordained and that babies shouldn’t be baptized and yet ordain women and baptize babies is beyond me but it takes all people to make a world.

In other words the questions at hand is this: when Lisa Larges has her ordination trial (which I believe is going to happen this week) San Francisco Presbytery may vote to accept her scruple about G-6.01106b and then the case will go up the ladder again to the GAPJC and we will see then whether the GAPJC believes the Authoritative Interpretation of 2008 about scruples is legal or not. In the Bush vs. Pittsburgh Presbytery it was clear that theAI recommended to the 2006 GA by the Peace, Unity and Purity Task Force (which was approved by the GA) was not accepted as law by the GAPJC.

I could comment about the curious system that allows both the GA and the GAPJC to make Authoritative Interpretations of the Book of Order but that is another post entirely.

So according to the GAPJC nothing has changed. It even quoted the Bush decision. But if Lisa Larges is approved for ordination by San Francisco Presbytery and there is no rush to ordination as has happened in the past in California then San Francisco Presbytery will most probably again have a remedial case brought against it and the GAPJC will hear a similar case about her once again.

One last note: neither case was actually directly involved Lisa Larges or Paul Capetz. In both situations remedial cases were brought against the presbyteries. So while the cases certainly affected them in neither situation were charges brought against them. Thus is the Presbyterian justice system, such as it is.

We will have to wait and see.

Of course the 2010 GA may bring another amendment to the constitution that would either change or G-6.0106b and a majority of the presbyteries may approve the amendment. Then this whole blog would become superfluous.


Alan said...

Careful, Bob. Keep making reasonable arguments that appear too pro-gay and your buddies will give you the same treatment they've been giving Mark Achtemeier and Jack Rogers.

Unknown said...

That's why I said what I said at the beginning about offending friends. I was trying to be objective. Evidently from your point of view I succeeded.

Alan said...

Well, just warning you. If you've seen your buddies' recent responses to Mark Achtemeiers talk at the CovNet gathering, you see what I'm talking about.

Your fundamentalist ... er, sorry "evangelical" friends have boiled the entire gospel down to one fundamental, and it isn't the virgin birth, it isn't the inerrancy of Scripture, it isn't the bodily resurrection. It's "Thou shalt never ever change your mind about the gays being icky."

Quite a group of friends, eh?

Unknown said...


As Mark's speech is not the subject of this blog I won't comment on it here. :)

Alan said...

That wasn't my point, Bob. But nice attempt at a dodge.

Don't want to offend your friends too much, eh? lol

Ron Owens said...


As a fellow evangelical I appreciate the careful way you unpacked the two cases. Even though I'm not a complete stranger to the judicial process, my attempt to read the two decisions and orders left me uncertain about what was done. And the fact that our More Light friends seem to have gotten the word out first together with their spin, has not helped with how this story is being passed along among evangelicals. Thank you for your clarity.

Aric Clark said...

I think your reading is accurate. It sounds exactly like the kind of narrow parsing our GAPJC specializes in.

Pastor Bob said...

And now is the proper time to bring a remedial case against San Francisco Presbytery. Lisa Larges has specifically stated a scruple against G-6.0106b. The core question is not about the AI following the PUP report. Bush v Pittsburgh Presbytery dealt with that. Rather the question at hand is the AI passed by the 2008 GA which no one has brought before the GAPJC.

Isn't it curious that the GA can pass an AI and the GAPJC can overrule it? It used to be that after the GAPJC made a decision the following GA had to approve the decision. I think, (this is a guess not an assertion) that the change was make at least for the old Northern church after reunion in 1983. Any historians of the Book of Order out there?

Pastor Bob said...

I do know that it was in 1983 that we stopped calling sessions, presbyteries, etc. judicatories and courts of the church and changed to "governing bodies." The proposed Form of Government changes to "councils."

But no matter what you call it you can't seem to make presbytery or session meetings shorter.