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.]
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.