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.


Viola Larson said...

Hi Bob,
You are making some good points, but I know better than to use your argument. The reason is that to me it is important to question the candidates and my Presbytery knows I feel that way: )

It use to be that when Roseville Presbyterian church was a part of our Presbytery each pastor would ask a different set of questions. One on the word of God, one on the sacrements, etc. I think that is how it should be done.

Robert said...

I agree that presbyteries should conduct thorough examinations. The question is what is thorough. Should a session or a presbytery question every candidate about every ordination question? And to what length should they go?

Even more, and I have not said this yet, in effect this amendment makes the ordination questions the essential tenets. Are they sufficient? Are they all essential? That is the debate I hope we will have.

Alan said...

Well, we could always put a multiple choice exam in the BoO and require candidates take (and pass) the exam. Is that really the level of micromanagement that you think would be useful?

I agree that Sessions should conduct thorough examinations, but that some (many?) didn't prior to G.60106b and haven't done so since it was passed isn't an argument against 10-A.

And asking how a Session should determine X, Y, and Z is an interesting question. Do Sessions not have any ability to discern these things for themselves without a top-down, minutely detailed list? Do you play no role as a teaching elder in leading you Session in these matters? Frankly, your concerns don't speak very highly of your interactions with whatever Session's you've worked with in the past, it would seem.

If people feel a Session did not do its job, there is a process for that, and a Presbytery PNC can determine whether or not they did their job. But then, if you don't trust Sessions, there's no reason to trust PNCs either. I guess there's no reason to trust anyone at all.

So maybe a multiple choice exam is the answer after all. People are like widgets and we should treat them as such?

Robert said...

@Alan I think you said it better and quicker than I did. Amendment 10-A IS micromanagement.

Frankly the debate I would like to have is about the proposal Ed Koster has made. At least it frames the debate in terms that demand we deal with the real issue.

"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. A person who has stood before the church with a partner of the same sex and pledged exclusivity, permanence, and the dedication of the union to the
worship and service of God satisfies this provision. 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."

Alan said...

And that's not micromanaging? That's worse!

Why, of all the standards in the BoO are gay people the folks singled out in your proposed wording? I suppose that's a rhetorical question. I know why, but I'd love to hear someone actually come out and admit the obvious bigotry inherent in that wording.

The best solution would be to get rid of B altogether (after all, the church did just fine without it for a couple centuries.) So much for "tradition" from the right, eh? :)

But the BFTSs who *want* to micromanage everyone's lives do not trust anyone to do the jobs they were ordained for. So, unfortunately, they will not allow the church to just delete B. But if we can't delete it, 10-A is significantly better than the other options that have been offered, including that one.

Pastor Bob said...

@Alan Ed Koster wrote the amendment seeking equality between heterosexuals and homosexuals in the area of marriage. I suggest you read his whole argument here:


Alan said...

I've read it. And I know Ed and respect his views, though we disagree completely about this particular issue. He, I believe, has good reasons for his views, they're well-reasoned and well-intentioned. They're also wrong.

This wording singles out gay people. Period. There is no "equality" here. I can see how a straight white guy who is already ordained might see "equality" here, but please describe for us the time prior to your ordination when you were called before Presbytery and grilled publicly about the details of your sex life.

You didn't. So while you might kid yourself into thinking there's equality here, I'm not buying it.

No straight person is being asked to stand before Session or Presbytery and explain their sex lives. Is that because they're perfect? Obviously not. Then why? Because most straight white males would never agree to that. Enjoy your privilege, Bob. But please don't spit on us and call it rain.

And yes, this is about sex, because the wording intentionally ignores marriage. Seriously? That's you're definition of "equality"? That time you were called before Presbytery and interrogated about your sex life, were you also forced to cover, distract, and lie about the fact that you're married? Still think this is "equal"? Is it equal that according to this wording a straight couple can be married by a drunk Las Vegas Elvis, but gay people have to be "unionized" in a church?

And why, (once again why must I even ask this question?!?), why for crying out loud is this the only behavior about which we feel the need to water-board people who just want to answer the call to serve? Sorry, another rhetorical question. I already know the answer.

Yes, I agree that this wording is at least much less disingenuous than the current wording (which doesn't actually mention banning the gays, because no one had the guts to put that in at the time.) But just being clearer about discrimination is not better.

But since it isn't being voted on, it hardly matters. It's fine to kibitz from the sidelines. It's a national pass-time these days. If you want to do the hard work to get something passed that you think is better, no one is stopping you. In the unlikely event that 10-A does not pass, feel free to propose this one next time.

Pastor Bob said...

@Alan Notice I didn't say that Ed's proposal includes equality. Under the present circumstances in America there is no equality. As I understand Ed's intention it is to deal with the fact that marriage is not available to gays and lesbians in most states. On top of that most states won't recognize a marriage between gays and lesbians that has occurred in other states. If all states allowed gays and lesbians to get married then the present form of G-6.0106b, minus the stuff about men and women would be fine. Then a gay or lesbian couple could get married by a drunk Elvis in Vegas. It isn't. And maybe Ed's suggestion would be better if it required heterosexuals who seek office to have their marriages solemnized at a service in a church. Equal requirements. Under the present circumstances maybe the best choice would be to delete G-6.0106b.

I realize that 10-A is more likely to pass than what Ed proposes or deleting G-6.0106b. And some ways it's a good amendment. I just don't like the part about the ordination questions. That, I think, is what I said in my article. I was trying to examine the amendment as it is without reference to sex because the amendment doesn't say anything about sex. Maybe we can't do that in the PCUSA today. If so I find that very sad. It was my plan to speak to the amendment itself during the debate at presbytery and not talk about sex or sexuality.

In any case, congrats for getting out of the snow! That is unless you are moving to the Sierras. Do you have a teaching job and if so where?i

Alan said...

"As I understand Ed's intention it is to deal with the fact that marriage is not available to gays and lesbians in most states."

I see that, but I wonder... Is it really so much to ask to take the candidates word for their union, even if it isn't legally recognized? Perhaps it is. Alas, love of the law almost always trumps the law of love, and the Pauline notion of Christian liberty has been banished from the PCUSA.

Good luck talking about the amendment without mentioning sex. That's all this is about. That's all this has ever been about.

I get that you'd like to discuss the new amendment on its merits alone. But I think it's difficult to do so in a vacuum. Fact is, this is indeed much more specific than the previous wording. If people don't *want* to do the hard work of actually discerning the call of those they would ordain, I'm not sure that's a reason to get rid of the requirement that they do so.

(And after you rightly complain that too many people get nominated and ordained simply because it's their turn, is it reasonable then to criticize this amendment because it might ask sessions to reexamine candidates once in a while? Do we really *not* want to hold ordained officers accountable after they've been ordained?)

In other words, it seems that your nitpicking here is because this amendment actually says something and is quite specific about what it says, as opposed to the previous language never defines what it means by standards and the one standard it does mention, it completely beats around the bush as to the purpose (ie. ban the gays.)

"Under the present circumstances maybe the best choice would be to delete G-6.0106b."

I completely agree. Unfortunately I don't think that's the choice that will pass because BFTSs have put forth the blatantly fallacious argument that many people seem to buy, which is that G-6.0106b is the one and only ordination standard mentioned anywhere in the BoO, BoC, or Scripture and deleting it means we'll have no standards at all. The truth, it seems isn't as sexy and doesn't market as well as falsehood and fear.

Pastor Bob said...

Again my "nitpicking" is yes in part an observation that the standards of the amendment if passed will be roundly ignored. The present standards for ordination are also roundly ignored. I would love to see a survey that asks how many sessions require education of new officers and how many actually do examinations. I think we agree that better education for elders and deacons as well as better examinations are desperately needed.

My primary concern is with the requirement that examinations focus on the ordination questions. I do education about the ordination questions for new elders. It is my conviction that such examinations will take more time than governing bodies are willing to put into an examination. There may be a way to do it that takes less than 1/2 hour per candidate. I don't think that has to be in the Book of Order. I also don't know what that would look like or how it could be done. Maybe some help from presbytery or GA is necessary for most sessions to conduct such examinations expeditiously. But I do not believe such examinations can be done in a time period that would be acceptable to either sessions or presbyteries. I am willing to be convinced that I am wrong.

I suspect you are correct that most presbyteries, including my own, are going to spend most of the debate about 10-A on sexuality. While it does replace a section of the Form of Government that talks about sex I find that terribly sad. OK, an amendment should be discussed both on what it says and what it replaces. But what it says should be the main focus. I suspect that will not happen.

Alan said...

"But I do not believe such examinations can be done in a time period that would be acceptable to either sessions or presbyteries."

No doubt. Yet people would certainly spend double that amount of time talking about the budget, or selling this plot of land or buying that one, etc., rather than discussing how we equip our leaders. Sad but true.

I wonder how many Presbyteries even bother to hold worship during their meetings?

Pastor Bob said...

Well we worship. Actually as a way to find some peace in a contentious presbytery we started having the Lord's Supper at every meeting. Can't speak for other presbyteries. Well, I can say in each of the presbyteries I've served we had worship at every meeting.

Curious, as I was thinking about my next blog about 10-A at a presbytery I was thinking about starting by asking why we have presbyteries and whether we should spend all the time on the things you mentioned and other stuff. Seems to me worship, candidates for ordination, CPM and COM work should be primary if not the sole work of presbytery.

Again, I don't think that's going to happen.

Alan said...

"I was thinking about starting by asking why we have presbyteries and whether we should spend all the time on the things you mentioned and other stuff."

I wonder how those huge presbyteries that only meet a few times of the year manage their business. And if they can do that, why can't those that meet monthly spend a couple meetings a year on that sort of business and the rest of the time on something more useful?

Seems to me an executive committee could manage the checkbook.