Tuesday, January 25, 2011


If you are looking to take part in the ongoing debate about homosexuality in the PCUSA you can skip this blog.  I'm not going to talk about it.  Instead I'm going to consider what 10-A actually says and how this might affect ordination trials.
Amendment 10-A uses one of my favorite words in the Form of Government three times: the word shall.  There are a lot of "mays", "should" and "is appropriates" in the Book of Order, all of which can be ignored by a governing body.  Even should means strongly recommended.  When I go to my favorite restaurant the waiter may strongly recommend a special.  I don't have to order it.
"Shall" however is a strong word.  You have to do it.  It is mandatory.  Shall not means you can't do it under any circumstances.  So when Amendment 10-A says "shall" three different times you know the writers of the amendment and the General Assembly that passed the amendment meant business.  No wishy washy may.  You have to do this stuff.
What does a governing body have to do?  Well here is the amendment:
Shall G-6.0106b be amended by striking the current text and inserting new text in its place as follows: [Text to be deleted is shown with a strike-through; text to be added is shown as italic.] 

“b. Those who are called to office in the church are to lead a life in obedience to Scripture and in conformity to the historic confessional standards of the church. Among these standards is the requirement to live either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman (W-4.9001), or chastity in singleness. Persons refusing to repent of any self-acknowledged practice which the confessions call sin shall not be ordained and/or installed as deacons, elders, or ministers of the Word and Sacrament. Standards for ordained service reflect the church’s desire to submit joyfully to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in all aspects of life (G-1.0000). The governing body responsible for ordination and/or installation (G.14.0240; G-14.0450) shall examine each candidate’s calling, gifts, preparation, and suitability for the responsibilities of office. The examination shall include, but not be limited to, a determination of the candidate’s ability and commitment to fulfill all requirements as expressed in the constitutional questions for ordination and installation (W-4.4003).  Governing bodies shall be guided by Scripture and the confessions in applying standards to individual candidates.
Let's not worry about what would be deleted.  What is a governing body required to do?  This blog will consider the responsibilities of a Session.  I will deal with presbyteries in my next blog.  The Form of Government already requires a Session to provide education (preparation) for newly elected officers.  The amendment then says that the Session shall examine the candidate's calling, gifts and suitability for the responsibilities of office?  What exactly will this look like at a Session meeting?  Calling for Presbyterians is a two sided thing.  The candidate for office must have a sense of calling but must also be called by God.  In the Presbyterian Church God calls people to serve as officers through the voice of the congregation.  Thus the Session can only consider the individual's sense of call.  This would be a radical improvement over the method used in too many Presbyterian Churches.  Too often the Nominating Committee talks about and then asks people they believe will say yes.  Usually these people are those who have already served as elders and deacons before.  And when the Nominating Committee brings up a new name too often the conversation is still about whether the person will say yes or not. 
Further Nominating Committees too often think that the office of Deacon is one step on the way to being an elder.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  A person could be a fantastic elder and fail miserably as a deacon and vice versa.  Each office requires that the person called have particular gifts in order to serve God effectively in the office. 
Thus if Nominating Committees and Sessions take this first shall seriously their work will become magnified and serve God better.  Education will have to include conversation about the meaning of the word call and about the gifts needed to serve in the particular office.  Of course all who serve on a Session or a Board of Deacons should not have the exact same gifts.  Sessions and Boards of Deacons need people with differing gifts so that the work of God can be done well.  While all deacons must have the gift of compassion some of them will need the gift of keeping track of how much money is left to help the poor.  Sessions will need people who have the gifts of teaching, leading worship, knowing how to talk with a contractor, and yes, that special person who knows when it is time to stop talking about something and vote.
Suitability for the responsibilities of office is a (possibly intentionally) vague term.  Each Session will have to determine what this will mean.  One of my hopes is that Sessions will consider whether a particular candidate can keep his/her mouth shut about confidential issues discussed at a meeting.  A gossip, in my opinion, is never suitable for any office. 
Having said all of this please note that the sentence says "the governing body responsible for ordination and/or installation shall examine each candidate . . ." I have a question: does the word candidate include those already ordained to the office to which they have been elected?  I hope not.  Candidate can be a slippery word if we take our meaning from the secular world.  A candidate for office in an election can be someone who has never held the office before or someone who currently holds the office.  I suspect there are going to be a lot of angry elders and deacons out there if they have to be examined again each time they are elected for office.  Maybe I am asking a foolish question here.  I do know I really don't want to tell ordained elders that they have to go through the whole examination process again.    
The second shall presents in my opinion a particular conundrum.  There are 9 ordination questions; some of them very complicated questions (just consider the first question about the confessions!).   Let's assume that a Session does not have to re-examine those already ordained.  Tully Memorial Presbyterian Church recently examined and then ordained and installed two new elders.  How exactly would a Session go about examining a candidate on his/her interpretation of each question?  How will the Session determine if the candidate has the ability to fulfill all those requirements?  Is a Session allowed to only ask questions about acts and attitudes required by several questions or will the Session have to consider each candidate's ability to fulfill the first ordination question: "Do you trust in Jesus Christ your Savior, acknowledge him Lord of all and Head of the Church, and through him believe in one God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?"  This question is partially a theological question but also a behavior question.  Trust is a behavior.  How will a Session determine if a candidate has the "ability and commitment to fulfill this question?
If each candidate has to be examined on each question that is going to make for a long Session meeting, at least if the Session actually does an effective job.  It is my suspicion that if elders know ahead of time that the examination will include such requirements (and the requirements of the previous shall as well) they are likely to vote against this amendment.
The last shall is a requirement for the governing body conducting the examination.  All candidates can now breathe a great sigh of relief!  The two important words in this sentence are "standards" and "individual."  The word standard is used in the Form of Government to refer to the Confessions as subordinate to the Scripture.  It also says that the Confessions are nevertheless standards.
The Form of Government also uses the word standards in Chapter 6 in the description of the process for examining candidates for office.  The standards are the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church that is the Book of Confessions and the Book of Order.  Curiously the standards are never actually defined except in G-6.0106b, the very section this amendment would replace.  Thus there is currently one defined standard in the Form of Government and it concerns sexual behavior.
The other uses of the word in this section refer to the essentials of the Reformed faith.  This is also not defined.  Thus there would be no real change if the last sentence becomes part of the Form of Government.  Sessions now examine individuals according to the standards of the Reformed faith and determine if each individual meets those essential standards.  The essentials standards are never defined although it is clear that they refer in some way to the Constitution.
My main concern about this amendment as it applies to candidates for the offices of elder and deacon is that they will be roundly ignored.  I suspect that most Sessions will simply not carry out such rigorous examinations of candidates for ordination.  We American are very concerned with time and such an examination would take too much time at a Session meeting for most members of Session to say nothing of the candidates.
My other concern is that the amendment does not directly address the issues raised by the current G-6.0106b.  But that is the subject for another blog.
And since this is getting so long I will consider examination of candidates by presbyteries for the office of Minister of Word and Sacrament in my next blog.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011


I should have written this in 2009 but didn't.  Things come to mind when they will.  I did write it during November, 2010 and put it on my Facebook page where it was roundly ignored.  I suspect it went to that place where all good electrons go . . . except stuff on the web endures forever or at least until Jesus returns.  Anyway. . .
My whole life I have walked to the beat of a different bongo player.  I don't care who wins, loses or even is on Dancing with the Stars.  The current craze about vampires strikes me as silly, (where are the shows about zombies?).  In fact I watch very little TV.  I prefer being online, chatting with friends and family, having obscure dialogues about theology or reading.  I am, in short as my daughter regularly tells me, a dork.  I can curse you out in both ancient Hebrew and Greek but find that no one cares.
Thus it will not surprise anyone that I did not hear about Woodstock 1969 until it was all over.  If one of the slogans of our generation was tune in, turn on and drop out, I was rarely tuned in, didn't turn on until I was safely away at college and dropped out sometime around the time I was born.  I would have gone if I had known about it if my parents let me (which tells you volumes about me).  My big event that summer occurred during July on top of a mesa in New Mexico (yes I was still a Boy Scout the summer between my junior and senior years in high school).  On top of that mesa God told me I was going to be a pastor.  My classmates at our recent high school reunion were surprised.  That order from God put me into shock from July, 1969 through spring, 1973.
Looking back from the perspective of being 57 I see some good things that happened at Woodstock 1969.  500,000 people managed not to kill each other for 3 days despite the lack of water and food, amidst downpours of rain and seas of mud.  That has to be some kind of record.  (Philadelphia averages more than a murder a day every year.)  People shared food and water.  There were announcements from the stage about bad acid.  But let's face it those who planned it and those who went were not prepared for the experience.  They weren't all brave because they lived through it.  They failed the intelligence test for not having enough food, shelter or water.  And if you saw the films of the garbage left behind it is very clear that the environmental movement had not begun.
I, on the top of that Mesa sat in the rain in my poncho and waterproofed boots, had my tent pitched down below the mesa and my comrades and I had plenty of food for the next few days.  We also were intelligent enough to travel in a small group.  While we did not even think about the possibility we probably would have known if asked that there was not enough food or room on the trail for 500,000 people.  And while the music wasn't as good (the only music we had was our own singing which wasn't all that good) the view was amazing.  There is nothing quite like seeing a herd of deer at sunrise in the mist on a meadow at 10,000 feet above sea level. 
If Woodstock 1969 was an experience of bad planning and peace Woodstock 1999 was an experience of the entrepreneurial talent run amok and violence.  I might not have heard about Woodstock 1999 except for the fact that it occurred 16 miles from my front yard.  There was plenty of parking, plenty of food and water and most brought their tents.  There was a lack of shade which was a real problem but who thought it wouldn't rain?
My 15 year old daughter wanted to go.  Her argument was "what could happen to me among 250,000 people?"  I thought that failed the experience with humanity test and didn't let her go.  My decision was wiser than I knew.  Girls were raped at Woodstock 1999 in front of people who watched and didn't do anything.  While walking around topless or naked is not an invitation to rape it also is not intelligent.  Yet girls got naked in front of hundreds of people at Woodstock 1969 and no one got raped.
There was plenty of food and water available in 1999 – for a price.  Water cost $4.00 a bottle and the cost of food was sky high.  People didn't share and no one gave out food or water for free.  So on the last day of the concert there was a riot, encouraged by the performers on stage.  ATM machines were broken open and robbed.  Portapotties were tipped and burned.  To be fair this was one area of poor planning at both Woodstocks.  Neither had enough places available when one had to answer the call of nature.  But no one burned them in 1969.  I haven't even heard that anyone tipped one in 1969!
The peaceful, free spirit of the Woodstock Generation disappeared sometime between 1972 and 1980.  Hippies turned into bankers, Wall Street giants and lawyers.  A few stayed true to the cause.  Curiously you can find a bunch of hippies in Woodstock, NY!  But we lost our ideals.  We stopped giving money to the bums on the streets sometime before 1980.  Tragically many of those on the streets didn't have our advantages.  We went to college and they went to Vietnam.  We bragged about our generation, sneered at our parents and dreamed about how we would make things different.  Remember the songs?
Hope I die before I get old. . .
Why don't you all just f-fade away.
And don't try to dig what we all s-say." 
(The Who, "My Generation.")

"We want the world and we want it now!"
(The Doors "We Want the World and We Want It Now!")
And that perennial favorite that wasn't in any song that I know of "Don't trust anyone over thirty."   Somehow it pales a bit when I look back from my late 50's.
I'm not sure what to say about all of this.  We clearly didn't learn to skip stupid wars.  George W. Bush is a member of our generation and he launched a pretty stupid war in Iraq.  You can argue about the necessity (I personally don't think it fits the Just War standards) but he didn't listen to the Powell doctrine or learn anything from Vietnam.  We can also argue about Afghanistan but any student of history knows that fighting a war in Afghanistan is doomed to failure.  Even the Macedonians and the Mongols failed to hold it more than one generation.   The British lost there and the Soviet Union fell apart partially because of their failed war in Afghanistan.  So what are we doing there?  I suspect that Osama bin Laden left town around the time we arrived and is somewhere in Pakistan or Yemen.  If our intention is to catch him we are probably in the wrong place.
Curiously there were some things we should have learned from those over 30 in 1969.  Save your money.  What a great idea!  Don't buy too much stuff on your credit cards or get a home equity loan on your overpriced house.  Stuff like that can cause a fairly significant recession.  Have dinner together.  Turn off the radio in the car and talk or sing stupid songs together.  To be fair to our generation there just weren't all that many stations you could get on an AM radio when you got into the mountains of PA or NY.  And yes, learning to diagram sentences and learning the parts of speech was good for us. 
There are also some things we should have learned from childhood.  The best toys are the ones that require imagination.  A sheet and a table make a much better fort than one made out of plastic, looks like a real fort and has to be put together by an adult.  Pick up baseball games are a lot more fun than having adults run the game and yell from the sidelines at the coaches.  A ride on bicycles for an afternoon with friends is a whole lot more fun (gasp, choke) than watching TV or playing video games.  And big cardboard boxes can often be more fun than the things that come in them.
But we did invent or continue some good things.  Women's liberation, the Environmental movement, Gay liberation and the continuation of the civil rights movement were good ideas.  My wife is sudden death on failing to recycle anything.  We may not always go about them in the right way but they were still good ideas. 
So maybe we of the Woodstock Generation during our final years could remember and put into practice the good things that our parents taught us and the good ideas from the late 60's and the early 70's.  It's worth a try.
And if anyone tries to get all those groups together that sang and played at Woodstock 1969 (the ones who are still alive) would someone please tell me ahead of time?