Thursday, November 12, 2009


So San Francisco Presbytery has approved Lisa Larges for ordination and allowed her to declare a scruple.  This blog is about why scruples are a bad idea and why I don’t think the action that San Francisco Presbytery has taken will deal with the issue at hand.

It is no secret that I think scruples are a bad idea.  I think they are a 250 year old band aid put on a 35 year old wound.  The old band aid doesn’t promote healing and it is likely to cause infection.

Scruples were brought up by the PUP task force as the answer to the conflict over ordaining sexually active faithful homosexuals.  It was an attempt to promote harmony by saying some sessions and presbyteries will allow scruples on G-6.0106b and some will not.  Anyone who has followed the great homosexual ordination conflict in the PCUSA knew that there would be no harmony.  The rigid stances of those on both sides made that clear.  Frankly I think it would have created a bigger mess.  How would someone ordained with a scruple in one presbytery be allowed to serve, say, a More Light congregation in another presbytery that would not allow the scruple?  By a remedial case, what else?

The task force hoped that people could just sit down and talk and all get along as they had.  But they had three or four years in closed rooms to learn to get along.  The probability that others would form such groups voluntarily was and is fairly low.  (I actually participated in one for two years and discovered I really rather liked and shared most theological convictions with those who disagreed with me.  But no one changed their minds.)  Such coming together in the PCUSA had and has about as much possibility of happening as Rodney King’s plea to Los Angeles in mid riot that people all just get along. 

And yes, a sad part of the problem is that we have been arguing about this for so long that most of the time we don’t even listen to each other anymore.  We all have our programmed talking points and we say them no matter what the opponent says.   

But the arguments used by the task force caused me great concern.  I already didn’t like the idea in general but when two members of the task force, Barbara Wheeler and Mike Loudon argued that the GAPJC should have allowed Walter Kenyon a scruple about ordaining women back in 1975 I became more than a little concerned.  I think ordaining women is an essential and am willing to back that up with theological argument.  And no I don’t think presbyteries and sessions that currently don’t ordain women by stealth should just be given the ability to do so by an Authoritative Interpretation.  I don’t think allowing Kenyon a scruple in 1975 would have caused less conflict.  It would have caused more.

It seems that the GAPJC agreed with me as is evidenced by the Bush v Pittsburgh Presbytery decision.

I don’t think scruples are an adequate answer to the question of ordaining sexually active faithful homosexuals.  If you believe homosexual feelings and marriages are gifts from God then having to declare a scruple about it is shameful.  The right thing to do is work hard to remove G-6.0106b.  If you believe homosexual feelings and marriages are not gifts from God then you are going to vote against such scruples and (yes) bring remedial cases.  Which is about to happen again.

So now we are going to do the judicial dance again.  I think that was foreordained.  If Lisa Larges was allowed a scruple then others in the presbytery were going to file a remedial case.  We all knew that was going to happen. (I’m not sure what would have happened if San Francisco Presbytery had not allowed the scruple.  Maybe someone would have filed a remedial case!)  Calling people names in either direction as is happening doesn’t help the situation.  Frankly given the level of conflict I don’t think it hurts the situation either.  It just is.

I think the GAPJC is going to make a narrow decision in this case as it did last week in both the San Francisco and Twin Cities cases.  Here are some possible narrow decisions:

  1. The GAPJC could declare that Lisa Larges is not allowed to declare a scruple but does not have to do so and may be ordained because she does not currently have a partner, which was in effect the decision in the Twin Cities case.
  2. The GAPJC could declare that Lisa Larges is not allowed to declare a scruple on a required prohibition in the Book of Order and therefore cannot be ordained overruling the AI made at the GA in 2008.  Which of course allows GA 2010 to come up with another AI and we can go through it all again.
  3. The GAPJC could declare that Lisa Larges has not actually declared a scruple and therefore can be ordained.  I know this sounds a bit far fetched but who among us thought that the GAPJC would say that doing a wedding for two people of the same sex and saying it was a wedding was not actually doing a wedding and because it was not a wedding no offense had occurred?  That decision by the GAPJC still has my head spinning.  If you believe God blesses lifelong same sex couples then you probably also find that decision of the GAPJC shameful.
  4. There are probably other options that I can’t think of at the moment.
So here we are.  I suspect that GA 2010 will send an amendment to the presbyteries that either seeks to delete G-6.0106b or change it so that it doesn’t say what it says now.  Whether the presbyteries will approve the change is up in the air.  Personally I think they will turn such a change down again but I’ve been wrong before.  Of course even if the amendment passes that would not prevent presbyteries from refusing ordination to homosexuals with same sex partners.
And it just may be that such an amendment will be approved by the presbyteries before the GAPJC rules in what will again be Naegeli et al v San Francisco Presbytery.  Wouldn’t that be ironic?


Alan said...

I actually don't mind the notion of scruples, given the current polity situation.

In civil disobedience, the point is often to obey the absolute letter of the law and to force the oppressor to obey his/her own rules in order to show how it is unjust they are.

Seems like a perfect set up for just that sort of protest.

So, so-called conservatives make lame arguments from tradition in order to get Amendment B into the book of order, then we go back even farther and make an argument about the tradition of scruples.

People bring cases against folks like Lisa, and they're forced to obey every jot and tittle of the Book of Order in bringing their case, and the decisions rendered are narrow judgements about the arcana of the Book of Order.

So-called conservatives make arguments that gay marriage is an oxymoron, that it cannot exist, that it is not blessed. Then they're forced to eat those words while abiding by them when they try to file charges against someone for performing something they themselves have argued does not exist.

Perfect. Personally, until B is deleted, which I hope will be soon, I'm perfectly content to watch so-called conservatives tie themselves up in polity knots. They're so good at it, and so willing to run headfirst into that brick wall, not once, but over and over and over, leaving a giant Daffy Duck sized impression in the wall each time.

It's hours of entertainment to watch.

Pastor Bob said...

And I'm a by the book kind of guy even about things I don't like. I think the method of achieving change is as important as the change itself.

BTW being a by the book guy meant that I was very surprised when Jane Spahr was denied a call to Downtown Presbyterian Church. I thought she would be covered under the 1978 Definitive Guidance that said those ordained before 1974 would not be affected by it. In fact I had said that she should be allowed to take the call in a question/answer session at a church.

And there is one important thing about civil disobedience. Paying the price as in going to jail for disobeying an unjust law shows the absurdity of the law itself and moves those who hadn't noticed (or were carefully ignoring) the injustice to take sides. I suspect that the movement to legitimize homosexual marriage in the PCUSA would be farther along the road if Jane Spahr has been been found guilty.

Alan said...

"I suspect that the movement to legitimize homosexual marriage in the PCUSA would be farther along the road if Jane Spahr has been been found guilty."

I'm not so sure. I think the decision was pretty brilliant, given the circumstances.

Pastor Bob said...

OK, when you look at it from that perspective it is even a bit humorous.

Janie does a wedding, says it is a wedding but the GAPJC says it couldn't have been a wedding so Janie didn't do anything wrong. There is a certain Catch-22 about the whole thing.

I would think you would be hoping for the day when the Directory for Worship says that marriage is between two people, not between a man and a woman. Were I you "It wasn't a wedding so nothing actually happened" just wouldn't be enough for me.

Alan said...

It isn't enough for me.

But I don't think there's a way to make gay marriage (full blown, real gay marriage, not some sort of lame half-measure) completely allowed in the PCUSA without a change to the BoO, which the GAPJC doesn't have the power to accomplish.

So in the meantime, I'm fine with watching them tick off the radical right by interpreting the BoO exactly word for word literally using precisely the arguments that the radical right uses themselves.

It was hilarious to see the far right bloggers tie themselves up in knots ranting about the GAPJCs decision while at the same time agreeing that gay marriage doesn't exist. Remember, the GAPJC was simply agreeing with the far right that gay marriage is an oxymoron, that it doesn't exist, that it can't exist because marriage (they say) is only between any man and any woman. Then, based on that principle they rendered a decision, which strangely enough made it possible for ministers to continue to officiate at gay weddings.

I'm not sure if they came upon this solution by accident and didn't understand the truly clever and subversive thing they were doing, or if it was all by design. Either way, if it ticks off the far right, it can't be all bad.

The only thing that would have been more hilarious is if they would have found that (based on the radical right's argument that gay people don't exist because sexual orientation is a choice) that gay marriage can't exist because gay people don't exist. The benefits of that decision would have been that gay ordination can't exist because gay people don't exist, thus opening the way for ordination of LGBT people across the denomination. :)

Exposing the stupidity and hypocrisy of the far right is fun, even if it is a little too easy sometimes.

Pastor Bob said...

Does this make me part of the radical right? ;)

Alan said...

You said it, I didn't.

Pastor Bob said...

Interesting. So if I think I'm radical right that means you must be radical left. Strange, I always thought I thought you were a moderate.

Alan said...


If straight guys like Achtemeier and Rogers are apostates and heretics just for thinking about changing their minds on one issue, I think it's unlikely that someone who is actually gay could ever be considered "moderate."

Just ask your friends, they'll set you straight. heh. Anyone who agrees with them on every detail of every issue is "evangelical", "conservative", "orthodox", "traditional", etc. Anyone who disagrees regardless of the extent of the disagreement or the precise nature of it is a heretic, not "moderate."

Pastor Bob said...

Well I guess that makes me weird then.