Help for moving ahead
Food for reflection and discernment
to a more welcoming church
for the latest news and views on Amendment 08-B
|Three more presbyteries make the shift to support
an inclusive church [2-17-09]
In meetings today, three presbyteries switched from
their opposition to ordination of lgbt Presbyterians (in 2001-02) to
supporting it by approving Amendment 08-B.
|Maumee Valley (Northwestern Ohio and
Southeastern Michigan) voted 65 to 58.|
|Great Rivers (Western Illinois) voted 85 to
|Scioto Valley (Central Ohio) voted by 115 to
The only presbytery we’re aware of that voted today against the
amendment is Glacier, which rejected it by 28 against, to 7 for.
For the latest voting, check Bruce Hahne’s very
helpful blog, at
|Latest presbytery voting on Amendment 08-B
One more shift to Yes on more inclusive ordination
The Presbytery of Charlotte, meeting on Saturday,
February 14th, at Johnson C. Smith University, became the sixth to
switch from 'no' in 2001-2 to 'yes' this time. The vote was 133 to
The Presbytery of Miami Valley (in the area of
Dayton, Ohio), continued their consistent support for change,
beginning by rejecting a motion to “take no action,” and then
approving Amendment 08-B by 72 to 48.
Other presbyteries continued their rejection of
change, but all by narrower margins than in 2001-02. These included
Mid-South (Memphis), Inland Northwest (Eastern Washington, Northern
Idaho), and the Pines (Northern Louisiana, Southern Arkansas). The
Presbytery of the Pines, we note, rejected 08-B by a vote of 34 to
36 – pretty close!
So the count of presbytery votes so far stands at
20 for Amendment B, and 37 against. There’s still lots of work to be
For the latest voting, check Bruce Hahne’s very
helpful blog, at
|More presbyteries vote on Amendment 08-B
of Southeastern Illinois voted today, by 68-56-3, to approve
Amendment 08-B. That was a shift for them, from opposing ordination
to supporting it.
And the Presbytery of Pueblo (southeastern
Colorado) voted ‘no’ but by a margin of 27 votes, as compared to a
difference of 54 votes in 2001-2. So the current count of voting as
far as we know, is 18 ‘yes,’ 32 ‘no,’ with 5 presbyteries so far
switching from opposition to support compared to 2001-2.
One of those ‘no’ votes was the result of a tie,
in the Presbytery of Cincinnati, which counts as a "no" vote.
This reminds us of the importance of talking with people about the
issue, and helping be sure they get to the meeting where they can
Bruce Hahne, recent National MLP Board Member and
Elder, First Presbyterian Church, Palo Alto, CA, is keeping a tally
of the voting, analyzing trends, and more.
Click here for his data >>
Thanks to Tricia Dykers Koenig of
and Michael Adee of More Light
Scroll down for
more on Amendment 08-B >>
|Another presbytery shifts to support 08-B
Cimarron Presbytery approves Ordination Amendment
Today, February 10, at First Presbyterian Church,
Alma, Oklahoma, Cimarron Presbytery affirmed the 218th General
Assembly's Ordination Amendment 08-B by a vote of 19 Yes, 16 No.
In 2001 Cimarron Presbytery rejected the
ordination amendment by a vote of 16 Yes to 20 No.
Within less than 2 weeks, this is the fourth
presbytery to "flip" from opposition in 2001 to approval in 2009,
with Western North Carolina as the first presbytery to flip.
Thanks to Michael Adee of
More Light Presbyterians
Scroll down for more on Amendment
|More presbyteries vote for 08-B
of East Tennessee became the third to change its vote from 'no' in
2001-2 to 'yes' this year, when they voted on Saturday, Feb. 6, to
approve Amendment 08-B by 81 to 66, with 2 abstentions. They thus
joined in supporting a proposal to make the Presbyterian Church more
welcoming, more inclusive, more just, especially in relation to its
lgbt members who believe they are called to ordained office.
More from John Shuck’s blog >>
Also on Saturday, the Presbytery of the Redwoods
(California) and the Presbytery of Winnebago (Wisconsin), which have
supported inclusive ordination in the past, did so by stronger
majorities than ever.
The total of presbyteries voting so far stands at
15 “yes” votes for the amendment, and 27 “no.” And as a number of
observers have noted, even in presbyteries that continue to reject
the amendment, the margin is narrowing between the “no” votes and
those favoring the change.
More details are
provided by More Light Presbyterians >>
Bruce Hahne has
a spreadsheet listing all the votes so far, comparing them with
voting on a similar action in 2001-02.
On Amendment 08-B
A pastor calls for change
As Palisades Presbytery met on January 27 and
debated the proposal to amend G-6.0106b in the Book of order to
remove the effort to ban ordination of lgbt Presbyterians, one of
those speaking for the amendment was the Rev. Richard Hong, pastor
of First Presbyterian Church, Englewood, New Jersey, and co-chair of
the Committee on Preparation for Ministry of Palisades Presbytery –
and a former treasurer of the Witherspoon Society.
The Presbytery voted 35 to 20 in favor of 08-B.
We think his brief statement may be helpful to
others. Here it is:
I am on the Bills and Overtures
Committee representing the Committee on Preparation for Ministry,
and it is from that perspective that I comment on 08-B. On CPM, our
job is to discern whom God has called. For pastors, elders, and
deacons, the question to the congregation at our installations asks
that they affirm that the person being elected was “chosen by God
through the voice of this congregation.”
“Chosen by God” – that is why I oppose the sort of
categorical limitations that were so unwisely added to G-6.0106 a
decade ago. Every time we categorically exclude persons from office:
persons of color, women – we’re wrong. God has and will continue to
surprise us by the people God chooses.
The proposed new language for this section of the
Book of Order is far superior because it puts the emphasis where it
should be: on the call of God and the desire of those who are called
to undertake their office with sincere fidelity to the standards as
they are understood by the ordaining body.
That is not to say that there are no limitations
appropriately placed on the behavior of persons in office. But in
the case of gay/lesbian people, is celibacy a reasonable
requirement? The question of whether celibacy could ever be a
reasonable standard for officers is not a new question; in fact, it
is a 400-year old question: one that Calvin answered “no.” Calvin
said that while celibacy was a spiritual gift given to some, it
could not reasonably be demanded of all who were called to ministry.
To Calvin, the demand was unjust.
The new language does not mean that anything goes.
It simply means that a categorical pre-emptive exclusion will be
replaced by individual discernment and evaluation by the governing
body to whom the person is accountable.
Some of you are concerned about the effect this
may have on the church. The defenders of the status quo have always
tried to scare us into believing that integration would be the end
of the church, that expanding our confessional standards beyond
Westminster would be the end of the church, or that the ordination
of women would be the end of the church. Yet those things happened
and the church lives on. But the church suffers when we choose the
status quo and fail to act on the side of justice.
My favorite quote of Desmond Tutu’s is “If you are
neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the
oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and
you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your
This presbytery has a long history of voting to
lift its feet off of those who are being stepped on by the world or
by the church. Tonight we have an opportunity to do so again, and I
pray that we will.
Do you have comments on this
Can you share other helpful statements on this issue?
send us a note!
On Amendment 08-B, another presbytery shifts to support inclusion
Today Lake Huron Presbytery voted
43 to 32 in favor of Amendment 08-B, which would restore the PC(USA)
to a more biblically based view of ordination, no longer barring
those who by reason of their sexual orientation have been deemed
unfit to serve in ordained office. Lake Huron Presbytery originally
opposed “Amendment B,” which became G-6.0106b in the Book of Order,
but since then has voted twice to reject amendments that would have
moved to less restrictive requirements for ordination.
so far 22 presbyteries have voted against 08-B, while 12 have voted
to approve it. That's a shift of two presbyteries so far to
approve the amendment.
|Voting on Amendment 08-B as seen by The Layman
“Opponents of ordination standards get key win; more likely to
John Shuck offers
this look at the view from the Right:
It’s on his blog, but here it is in full:
Western North Carolina's approval of the new B (so sweet), the
LayMAN is worried the tide may be turning. Check this:
Overall, the tally on
the proposed revision of G-6.0106b now stands at 11 presbyteries
voting to change it and 22 voting to keep it on the books as it is
now. But the margins of support for the ordination requirement have
trailed off in this referendum. If it continues that way among
presbyteries that had close votes in 2001, the requirement could be
In 2001-02, 50
presbyteries that opposed repealing G-6.0106b had margins as close
as Western North Carolina’s this year. That includes 12 with margins
of 10 or fewer votes and 15 with margins of 11-30 votes. If all 50
voted to changing G-6.0106b, the opponents of the
“fidelity/chastity” requirement would win by a vote of 96-77.
Cool! If Western
North Carolina (home of the LayMAN's former Pontiff, Parker
Williamson) can vote for inclusion, so can the rest of the PC(USA)!
The LayMAN spoke this
truth as well:
And even if the proponents of ordaining gays,
lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people come up short this year,
they will declare that “close” is sufficient grounds to ask the
General Assembly to approve another referendum.
Right again, O LayMAN.
Justice never sleeps. We will keep knocking on that door. Little by
little, one heart and mind at a time, the church will finally get
for the Layman’s report >>
|Presbytery of Cayuga-Syracuse approves Ordination
31, the Presbytery of Cayuga-Syracuse voted in favor of Amendment
08-B by a vote of 33 in favor and 12 against, according to
information from Kathleen Waters, Stated Clerk.
And Western North Carolina
is the first presbytery to shift from opposing
inclusive ordination to support 08-B.
They voted by
144-108-1 in favor of amending
|The Rev. John Harris, a member of the
Witherspoon board, adds this note on his blog,
Western North Carolina Presbytery
is the presbytery in which Parker T. Williamson,
editor emeritus of The Layman, resides and
is a member. My hunch is that he would have
been present for this historic vote.
Can anyone else hear the shackles of years of
injustice been loosened?
Resources for discernment and debate on 08-B:
More Light Presbyterians has gathered a strong collection of
resources for those wanting to support Amendment 08-B.
Click here for their Answering God’s Call to Serve! Resource
The Covenant Network
also provides a
brief list of resources.
organizations committed to inclusive ordination, Presbyterian
Welcome and That All May Freely Serve have launched
“a grassroots effort to get the church talking,” by encouraging
church members to have a conversation about ordination and Amendment
08-B with another church member or a member of their Presbytery whom
they do not know well, or whose theological views may be different
than their own.
|More on Amendment 08-B
New Castle Presbytery approves Ordination
On January 24, New Castle Presbytery, which
includes Delaware and the Eastern Shore of Maryland, voted to affirm
Ordination Amendment 08-B by a vote of 82 YES, 48 NO.
Area Presbyterians vote Yes on gay clergy
That All May Freely Serve (TAMFS) offers a brief,
helpful analysis of the current state of voting on Amendment 08-B.
The Presbyterian Church (USA) is six steps
closer to making a dramatic change after over 30 years of
debating gay and lesbian ordination. Over the last week, six
Presbyteries voted yes on a constitutional amendment that allows
gay and lesbian people to be ordained whether or not they are in
a partnered relationship.
On January 17, Des Moines, Northern Kansas,
and Newton (NJ) voted yes and on January 24, Baltimore, Albany
and New Castle (DE), voted yes.
Coming up! On January 27, five more
presbyteries will vote: Utica (NY), Carlisle (PA), Palisades
(NJ), Donegal (PA), and San Fernando (CA) and, on January 31,
four more will cast their ballots: Southern Kansas, Western
North Carolina, Huntingdon (PA), and Cayuga-Syracuse (NY).
Reflecting on allies
The Rev. Ray Bagnuolo, an out gay man now serving
as an ordained Presbyterian minister, has shared a note of
appreciation for “allies” in the struggle of lgbt Presbyterian for a
full place in the PC(USA).
His full blog/note >>
Albany presbytery votes for Amendment 08-B
In stated meeting today (January 24) the Presbytery of Albany voted
in favor of Amendment 08-B by a tally of 78 yes, 25 no, 2
A previous [motion] to postpone indefinitely
(i.e., “No Action”) was defeated by a tally of 27 yes, 76 no. Most
of the debate centered on the No Action option, and after that was
decided the meeting moved very quickly to vote on the Amendment
The debate during the afternoon was preceded by a
75 minute session in the morning devoted to statements by panelists
representing different positions, small group discussion, and
Question/Answer. Interestingly, the two panelists representing the
positions “for” and “against” started from the same Scripture
passage: Matthew 22:34-40 (“Which is the greatest commandment?”).
The historical occasion of President Obama’s inauguration last
Tuesday was much in the air, and cited by both liberals and
conservatives. God is working God’s purpose out!
Communications “Hub” for Presbyterian Rainbow
(LGBT advocacy group in Albany Presbytery)
And now this:
North Kansas Presbytery also votes YES on Amendment 08-B
Just in from More Light Presbyterians
Today the Presbytery of
North Kansas voted YES on the 218th General Assembly's
Ordination Amendment 08-B. The vote was 71 to 23.
Special thanks to Kent Winters-Hazelton and
others in the Presbytery of North Kansas who believe in and work
for a Church for All God's Children.
For educational resources and information to
use in your local church or presbytery about Amendment 08-B
including MLP's new Resource Packet, go to
On January 13, the
Presbytery of Newton (in New Jersey)
voted YES on the 218th General Assembly's Ordination Amendment
08-B. The vote was 63-16.
|How the discernment
process worked in Newton Presbytery
The Rev. Mitch
Trigger, who is Witherspoon’s Secretary/Communicator and
co-pastor with his wife, Sue, of First Presbyterian
Church of Rockaway, New Jersey, provides this account of
the process by which Newton Presbytery came to its
action on Jan. 13.
On Tuesday, January 13, 2009, the Presbytery of Newton
was scheduled to vote on Amendment 08-B, the latest
amendment sent to the presbyteries dealing with
G-6.0106b of the Book of Order, known more commonly as
the “fidelity and chastity” provision. Before voting
though, minister and elder commissioners were asked to
take part in a discernment process (borrowed from
The process was simple. We
participated in a “centering” prayer and then quietly
read both the current language in G-6.0106a-b and the
proposed changes to “b.” We were then asked to: “Ponder
these three questions, and then using mutual invitation
invite one another to reflect on these questions. Allow
time for everyone to speak. After everyone has been
invited to share (or decided to pass), then share
further open conversation around these questions:
What is your initial response to 1) the current wording
and 2) the proposed wording?
Where and how do you see God in each? - (Or to ask
this question in another way) – How do you see
faithfulness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ expressed in
What frightens you if the proposed language fails – and
if the proposed language passes?
We found this to be a very
non-confrontational way of discussing our various
viewpoints on what we read. Perhaps the best thing was
that we were able to honor each other’s thoughts and
interpretations, even if they were the opposite of one
another. Many commissioners returned to their
congregations with praise for the process and
appreciation for how it allowed us to discuss the
Maybe one of the most surprising
aspects of the discernment process was the degree of
safety felt by those in conversation. A number of
commissioners shared the fact that they had a gay or
lesbian family member, some people acknowledging these
family members for the first time in public. It moved
our discussion from an abstract talk about polity to a
very personal discussion of how this portion of the Book
of Order affects people in our families and our
congregations. In the end, our vote was 63-16 in favor
of the proposed change to the Book of Order.
There was no cheering or booing, no
feeling of “us” or “them.” We respected that this was a
difficult subject for many of us to deal with, knowing
that there would be both congregations and individuals
who would have been hurt no matter which way the vote
went. We may have “differed” on our understandings, but
we weren’t different
from each other. The process had reminded us that all of
us are trying, however imperfectly, to be true to our
calling as Jesus’ disciples and that this kind of
dialogue is needed on many of the issues that face us
Christians and Presbyterians.
|The Presbytery of Des Moines voted earlier today
to approve Amendment 08-B
In so doing,
the presbytery rejected the recommendation of their Bills and
Overtures committee for "No action."
The vote was 52 for the amendment, 37 against, and 4
abstentions. The recommendation for "No action" was defeated by a
vote of 53 against, and 40 in favor.
|With more details on the process
by which the presbytery acted, the Rev. Bill LeMosy, of
Des Moines, reports:
arguments were standard fare on the amendment itself.
What did in the “No Action” was the reality that it
would have been a “No” vote in disguise. I’m thinking
the vote on “No Action” was [as close as it was] because
of fatigue with three decades of debate and out of a
sense that a shift in perspective will take a least a
couple more decades – kind of a Barbara Wheeler
Our process included sitting at round
tables, six per table, for the meeting itself and for
small group discussion of what the “No Action” vote
would mean. After that discussion format, we went back
into plenary, had the usual three-minute speeches for
alternating positions, voted down the “No Action” by
written ballot, debated, and voted with another paper
ballot. During discussion of the amendment itself we
heard from a lesbian church member, a perhaps important
and helpful three-minute presentation, had an applause
outbreak that the moderator discouraged after the fact,
then voted. Before each vote the moderator had us spend
a minute of so in silent prayer.
This amendment, if approved by a majority of the
presbyteries, would revise G-6.0106b so it is not merely a ban on
ordination of lgbt persons, but rather affirms that judgments about
ordained service are to be based on the whole range of the
ordination vows, not singling out the clause dealing with sexuality.
For background and more discussion, scroll down
Thanks to Bill LeMosy and
More Light Presbyterians
NOTE: Des Moines is the second
presbytery, along with Monmouth, to approve amendment 08-B, while
some 13 presbyteries have so far voted against it. Most of
those have voted against every effort to move toward a more just and
inclusive policy on ordination. Clearly the voting in the
other presbyteries will be very important, and we will bring you
more information and resource material as soon as we can.
For the latest listing of
presbytery votes, you might check on
If you have other results to
report, or comments on the issue itself,
send us a note, to be shared here.
We promised to provide the
contents of the Summer 2008 issue of Network News in html format,
regular PDF version which is already posted here.
Scroll down just a bit for a list of all the
And if you have comments or
suggestions for more material that we might provide here, please send a note!
|No to "No action"
been calls recently for presbyteries to take "No action" on the
proposed amendment of G-6.0106b.
We've gathered some of those proposals for delay,
and a number of responses to them.
The contents of this
issue, as listed (with page numbers) for
the print version
[Updated on 10-9-08 with added articles posted]
Jesus was a community organizer
-- Co-Moderator Trina Zelle introduces this special issue of
Network News. [page 4 in print version]
on a complicated issue, by Gene TeSelle [ 5 ]
The main documents, and
advisory opinion from Office of the General Assembly
[ 7 ]
Why LGBT Equality Leads to a More
Missional Church, by Dr. Jack Rogers, former Moderator
[ 8 ]
How to help
presbyteries to discern the best steps to take, by Tricia Dykers
Koenig, Covenant Network [ 9 ]
poem about being right, by Bobbie McGarey [ 11
Record Straight ... and Stewardship of the Spirit’s Gift, by
Mchael Adee, More Light Presbyterians
[ 12 ]
thousand conversations across the church, by Lisa Larges, That
All May Freely Serve [ 13 ]
Biblicism: Protestantism’s distinctive form of idolatry, by Paul
E. Capetz [ 14 ]
What does the Bible tell us?, by Tricia Dykers Koenig
[ 16 ]
Guidelines for Presbyterians during times of disagreement,
adopted by 204th General Assembly
[ 18 ]
forward on the Heidelberg Catechism, by John Harris
[ 17 ]
Also in this issue of Network News:
Farewell reflections from outgoing co-moderator Trina Zelle
[ 3 ]
Thoughts About the Review of the Presbyterian Washington Office,
by Gene TeSelle
[ 20 ]
Witherspoon News: We welcome new officers, say thanks to two
[ 23 ]
of the Witherspoon Society [ 24 ]
Jose? We can recommend a great place to stay.
[ 11 ]
|On discerning the way forward through Amendment 08-B
10 resources for
discernment, from MLP
Toby Rogers, the newly appointed Associate
Director of More Light Presbyterians, is providing all of us with
another very helpful resource as our presbyteries begin to consider
the proposed amendment of our Book of Order, number 08-B, which
would replace the text of G-6.0106b (which has divided our church
for years) with language that more accurately reflects our
Presbyterian polity and traditions.
He offers a list of resources, suggestions for
action, and a series of frequently asked questions. (And answers
to the questions, which is nice!)
Click here >>
Jesus was a community organizer
Co-Moderator Trina Zelle introduces this special issue of Network
Put-downs of community organizers to the contrary, a major factor
in the success of presidential candidate Barack Obama has been his
use of community organizing principles, the fundamental one being
that it’s all about turnout. Without popular support, the best plan
will languish, the most qualified candidate will be defeated, the
most beloved organization will die.
When it comes to the future of the very good legislative work
done at the San Jose General Assembly, this same principle is in
play. We know that the majority of Presbyterians are tired of the
scorched earth machinations of the hard right. Year after year,
General Assembly commissioners vote for common ground candidates.
This past assembly took it a step further with votes to move toward
restoring the Heidelberg Catechism to a more accurate translation,
to remove the infamous 1978 and 1979 statements of "definitive
guidance," and to propose amending the exclusionary "Amendment B"
(G-6.0106b in our Book of Order).
Now it’s up to us – the rank and file of the denomination – to
make sure that the decisions made in good faith by a majority of
representatives are implemented rather than subverted as they have
been in the past. This can only be done if two thirds of the
presbyteries affirm the San Jose decisions. This can only happen if
there is sufficient turnout at those same meetings. And this will
only take place if those of us who care the most make the effort to
reach out to the members in the middle who are looking for a reason
to vote for justice.
This means that we should be gathering and streamlining our
thoughts about upcoming votes, and then taking time to share those
thoughts with others. If it’s important enough to us, we’ll find
time to do it. After the votes are all in, we might even find
ourselves using this new skill in other arenas – like church growth
and membership engagement. There, too, it’s all about turnout.
The GA has
opened doors ...
Let’s help the PC(USA) move through them to a new
future for the Presbyterian Church!
by Gene TeSelle, Witherspoon Issues Analyst
[posted here 10-3-08]
The actions of the 2008 General Assembly suggest
that the tide has turned in the Presbyterian Church. It elected a
progressive and forward-looking Moderator, and a Stated Clerk who
represents a continuation of the approach taken by Clifton
Kirkpatrick. It approved a number of measures that move the church
toward greater justice in dealing with candidates for ordination
(more on this in a moment). And in spite of persistent opposition
from the Institute on Religion and Democracy, it affirmed a strong
social witness by large majorities. These included an important new
"Social Creed for the 21st Century" and strong policy statements on
energy policy and global warming, homelessness and affordable
housing, public education, and voting rights and electoral reform,
single-payer universal health care system, and voting rights and
Some Background on a Complicated Issue
For decades, a major issue at the General
Assembly has been the ordination of gay and lesbian church members
as deacons, elders, or ministers. In 1978 (1979 in the Southern
church) a "definitive guidance" was issued, giving a negative answer
but calling itself guidance, not law; but then it was treated as
law. In 1993 the General Assembly issued an "authoritative
interpretation" (AI) to make it definite. And in 1996-97 the Book of
Order was amended to prohibit ordination of persons in same-sex
relationships (this is "Amendment B," or G-6.0106b in the Book of
A Theological Task Force met from 2001 to 2006.
It represented people from across the entire spectrum of opinions,
and it became a model of mutuality and consensus-building. It did
not deal directly with same-sex relationships. Instead it focused on
another paragraph in the same chapter of the Book of Order
(G-6.0108). This follows an old Presbyterian tradition that allows
persons being ordained to state their "scruples" or "departures"
from the confessions and Form of Government, as long as these do not
affect "essentials." The ordaining body (the session or the
presbytery) is responsible for making that judgment. The 2006
General Assembly approved this recommendation, issuing an
"authoritative interpretation" (AI).
At the 2008 GA, four further actions were taken.
1. In the spirit of this new AI, many
presbyteries developed guidelines for the examination of candidates,
hoping to facilitate the process and avoid confusion. Several of
these presbyteries sent overtures to the 2008 General Assembly,
asking that it direct the Office of the Stated Clerk to gather these
"best practices" and make them available to all governing bodies.
The GA responded positively to this proposal.
2. In the meantime a complication arose. Early in
2008 the Permanent Judicial Commission (PJC) ruled that Amendment B
was still binding and could not be "scrupled." This was too much for
many people, including members of the Theological Task Force, who
felt that the PJC’s decision was unwise, based, perhaps, on
misplaced legalism. The 2008 GA has now taken corrective action and
adopted another AI, declaring that the provision about "scruples" or
"departures" applies equally to all ordination standards, whether
they involve doctrine, polity, or practice. Future judicial
decisions must be made on this basis.
3. The recent Assembly also approved an overture
to replace the language of G-6.0106b with new language, declaring
that judgments about ordained service are to be based on the whole
range of the ordination vows, not singling out the clause dealing
with sexuality, which has caused so much dissension in the church
and so much damage to persons. As an amendment to the Book of Order,
this now goes to the presbyteries; it will take effect only after a
majority of presbyteries votes to approve it.
4. The Assembly also adopted a new AI declaring
that the past AIs prohibiting ordained service by homosexual church
members (starting with the "definitive guidance" of 1978/79 and
including the AI of 1993) have "no further force or effect."
In sending the amendment to the presbyteries the
Assembly added a "comment." Since some presbyteries might be tempted
to vote hastily and prematurely, the Assembly urged them to discuss
it in ways that will foster understanding and discernment.
The Assembly’s actions have caused consternation
among conservative organizations. Presbyterians for Renewal drew up
an explicit list, promising to work to
• defeat the proposed amendment in the
• bring a new AI regarding homosexual
practice to the next GA;
• pursue a revision of the property
provisions, to allow congregations to depart with their
• encourage congregations to contribute to
ministries "beyond the current forms of the PCUSA" and pursue
missional partnerships "within and beyond the PCUSA"; and
• reshape the denomination in hopes that a
formal split will not be necessary, by instituting
non-geographic presbyteries and synods based on "affinity" –
agreements about both doctrine and mission. (This approach has
been encouraged by the so-called New Wineskins movement.)
Some congregations have already broken away, and
the Evangelical Presbyterian Church has set up a "transitional"
non-geographical presbytery for these congregations. Most of these
congregations are trying to take their property with them, despite
the "trust" provision in our constitution (G-8.0201). Thirty-three
of the 39 current lawsuits in secular courts have been initiated not
by presbyteries seeking to retain property but by departing
churches, usually without any discussion with their presbyteries.
The 2008 GA set up a voluntary $2 million fund
"for the purpose of sharing the costs of legal fees defending our
Constitution against the New Wineskins non-geographic presbytery of
the Evangelical Presbyterian Church." As many as forty presbyteries
face lawsuits of this sort.
Agitation by conservative organizations is
nothing new. We are familiar with the various attempts to impose new
restrictions at all levels, whether in the congregation or the
presbytery or the General Assembly, and, in order to achieve these
goals, the use of power plays, ranging from withholding of per
capita payments to threats to withdraw from the church.
This year the tactics have become even more
threatening. Those who want to leave the church are filing lawsuits
in secular courts, while those who are prepared to stay, at least
for the time being, seem to be doing what they can to destroy the
church in order to save it.
The 2008 Assembly was not willing to be
intimidated. Its actions indicate that it has lost patience with
these tactics and is ready to move in new and more constructive
Our church has experienced a number of divisions
in the past. These led eventually to reunions in which each group
acknowledged the legitimacy of the other. Now we are threatened with
division once again.
There is "a more excellent way" (cf. I Cor.
12:31). The Theological Task Force modeled it in their
deliberations, and they recommended it to the GA and the church at
The AI adopted in 2006 and reaffirmed in 2008
urges us to learn to live together and respect the diversity of
gifts given by the same Spirit (1 Cor. 12:4). We have every reason
to believe that this approach will be affirmed in the presbyteries
as they consider its more generous, inclusive, and open-minded way
of examining and ordaining deacons, elders, and ministers.
Now is the time for Witherspooners – and the many
others committed to justice and true peace in the church – to help
us all move forward together.
Here are some documents that you may find helpful.
The PC(USA) Department of
Constitutional Services has offered advisory opinions on the GA
[posted here 10-3-08]
The Department of Constitutional Services, part
of the Office of the General Assembly, has issued an Advisory
Opinion which states what actions of the 218th GA, dealing with Book
of Order provisions G-6.0106b and G-6.0108, are taking effect
immediately, and which ones, as constitutional amendments, must be
approved by a majority of the presbyteries before they might take
Briefly, the new Authoritative Interpretation of
G-6.0106b has gone into effect immediately following the Assembly.
That means that earlier AIs, beginning with 1978 and 1979, which
state that "[f]or the church to ordain a self-affirming, practicing
homosexual person to ministry would be to act in contradiction to
its charter and calling in Scripture," are no longer in effect.
However, the "fidelity and chastity" requirement
set forth in G-6.0106b does remain in effect, until it is removed
from the Book of Order by the approval of a majority of the
presbyteries. That action must be taken within one year from the
conclusion of the 218th General Assembly.
The Authoritative Interpretation of G-6.0108 also
takes effect immediately. This allows a candidate for ordination to
declare a departure (or "scruple") from a standard of either belief
or practice on grounds of conscience. It is still a matter for the
examining body to "give prayerful and careful consideration, on an
individual, case-by-case basis," to any such departure – but the
recent GAPJC decision in the case of Bush v. Presbytery of
Pittsburgh, which rejected any departure in matters of behavior, is
Click here for the full statement from the Department of
New Authoritative Interpretation of G-6.0108 "to
ensure proper application of ordination standards."
05-12 On Adopting an Authoritative Interpretation of
G-6.0108 to Ensure Proper Application of Ordination Standards.
This was approved by the Assembly by a vote of
375 in the affirmative, 325 negative, and 4 abstentions.
The crucial action reads:
That the 218th General Assembly (2008) to approve
the following authoritative interpretation of G-6.0108 of the
Book of Order:
[Text to be inserted is shown with an underline
and with brackets.]
"[The 218th General Assembly (2008) affirms
the authoritative interpretation of G-6.0108 approved by the 217th
General Assembly (2006). Further, the 218th General Assembly (2008),
pursuant to G-13.0112, interprets] the requirements of G-6.0108
[to] apply equally to all ordination standards of the
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Section G-6.0108 requires examining
bodies to give prayerful and careful consideration, on an
individual, case-by-case basis, to any departure from an ordination
standard in matters of belief or practice that a candidate may
declare during examination. However, the examining body is not
required to accept a departure from standards, and cannot excuse a
candidate’s inability to perform the constitutional functions unique
to his or her office (such as administration of the sacraments)."
Replacement of G-6.0106b with a new statement of standards for
ordination, and removal of two AIs which effectively outlawed
ordination for LGBT persons
05-09 On Deleting G-6.0106b and Substituting a New Paragraph
in Its Place; on Amending G-14.0240 and G-14.0450; and on Providing
a New Authoritative Interpretation.
The Assembly approved this action by a vote of
380 for, 325 against, and 3 abstentions. The action was approved
with this comment added: "Presbyteries are strongly encouraged to
consider this overture using a process of listening and
The proposed new statement of G-6.0106b reads:
Those who are called to ordained service in
the church, by their assent to the constitutional questions for
ordination and installation (W-4.4003), pledge themselves to
live lives obedient to Jesus Christ the Head of the Church,
striving to follow where he leads through the witness of the
Scriptures, and to understand the Scriptures through the
instruction of the Confessions. In so doing, they declare their
fidelity to the standards of the Church. Each governing body
charged with examination for ordination and/or installation
(G-14.0240 and G-14.0450) establishes the candidate’s sincere
efforts to adhere to these standards.
The action also proposes amendments to sections of G-14, dealing
with preparation and examination for ordained office, and "final
assessment of readiness to begin ordained ministry."
Further, it enacts a new Authoritative
Interpretation, nullifying AIs set forth in 1978 and 1979, which
essentially barred the possibility of ordination for gay and lesbian
Why LGBT Equality Leads
to a More Missional Church
by the Rev. Dr. Jack
Rogers, Moderator of the 213th General Assembly
[posted here 10-3-08]
Rev. Dr. Jack Rogers
General Assembly in San Jose did a remarkable and wonderful thing.
The commissioners discerned a way for theological conservatives and
theological progressives to co-exist. Moreover, they found a way for
all of us to move forward together in mission as one church. Now you
probably didn’t hear that in the news reports from the Assembly
which focused on who won and who lost and what’s next. However, I
think we will look back on this assembly as the start of a new era
in the denomination.
The two big themes to come out of the Assembly
were the emphasis on creating a missional church and the passage of
several overtures to grant equal rights to our church members who
are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT).
Those who see themselves as theological
conservatives want us to be a "missional church." Indeed it is clear
from the Assembly that this goal is widely shared across the
denomination. But what exactly does it mean to be a missional
church? Well for one thing it means to be evangelical – to share the
gospel of Jesus with others. "Missional" also means that the church
should be woven into the very fabric of the community.
The most recent General Assembly made several
important moves towards becoming a more missional church. The
Assembly took steps towards adopting a new Form of Government with
the goal of becoming more missional at every level of the
denomination. The national leadership in Louisville has embraced a
missional approach through hiring several leading evangelicals who
are dedicated to creating a missional church. Indeed, the General
Assembly Council has renamed itself the General Assembly Mission
Council and has committed to working with congregationally-based
local leadership to find new ways to work together in missions.
Creating a more missional church is exactly what we should be doing.
It reflects our deepest values and brings us together in a common
focus. I believe it will be invigorating for the denomination and
life-giving for our communities and the world.
Yet, what was extraordinary about this assembly
is that collectively the majority of commissioners seemed to
recognize, on some level, that in order to create a missional church
we have to grant equal rights to our members who are lesbian, gay,
bisexual, or transgender. The two issues are interconnected. Think
about it – if the goal is for the church to be woven into the very
fabric of society – we can’t have preconceived notions about our
neighbors. We have to go out with open hearts to preach and practice
the message that we are to love God and love our neighbor as
ourselves. Affirming the equality of all God’s people is a
prerequisite for reaching out in Christian service to all God’s
people. So the GA approved overtures to grant equal rights to people
who are LGBT and also approved steps to create a more missional
church. In so doing, I believe the Assembly found a new way forward.
Now this conversation moves to the Presbyteries
to either affirm or reject the practical compromise crafted by the
Assembly. If a majority of Presbyteries vote yes to approve the
revised language of G-6.0106b, I believe we will finally be able to
move forward together again as one family in mission. I would
encourage everyone in the denomination to read the text of the
Boston overture (item number [05-09] from the Church Orders and
Ministry Committee) which was approved by the Assembly. Consistent
with the Reformed tradition, the revised text affirms the essentials
of our faith:
"Those who are called to ordained service in the
church, by their assent to the Constitutional questions for
ordination and installation (W-4.4003), pledge themselves to live
lives obedient to Jesus Christ the Head of the Church, striving to
follow where he leads through the witness of the Scriptures, and to
understand the Scriptures through the instruction of the
I believe this revised text regarding ordination
puts the focus exactly where it should be – on Jesus, the
Scriptures, and the Confessions – the essential values at the center
of our theological tradition.
Look, I understand that there are going to be
some who are resistant to change. That will be true of any change.
But after 30 years of discussion, study, and prayer, I believe this
GA has come up with a workable compromise that incorporates the best
of the conservative and progressive approaches to theology. I think
it offers the best hope in a generation for this church to finally
move forward together in mission. I sincerely hope that a majority
of Presbyteries will vote yes and embrace the opportunity to move
forward together once again.
The Rev. Dr. Jack Rogers, who served as Moderator of the 213th
General Assembly, is Professor of Theology Emeritus at San Francisco
Theological Seminary. His most recent book is Jesus, the Bible,
and Homosexuality: Explode the Myths, Heal the Church, published
in 2006 by Westminster John Knox Press.
ratified (or not) by the presbyteries
A number of the most important actions of the 219th
General Assembly are now being sent to the presbyteries for their
action, to confirm or reject them as amendments to the PC(USA) Book
We're providing resources to help inform the
reflection and debate, along with updates on the voting.
Our three areas of primary interest are:
which would remove the current ban on
lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender persons being considered as
possible candidates for ordination as elder or ministers.|
which would add the Belhar Confession to our Book of
10-1, which would adopt the new Form of Government
that was approved by the Assembly. |
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Some blogs worth visiting
Mitch Trigger, PVJ's
Secretary/Communicator, has created a Facebook page where
Witherspoon members and others can gather to exchange news and
views. Mitch and a few others have posted bits of news, both
personal and organizational. But there’s room for more!
You can post your own news and views,
or initiate a conversation about a topic of interest to you.
Voices of Sophia blog
Heather Reichgott, who has created
this new blog for Voices of Sophia, introduces it:
After fifteen years of scholarship
and activism, Voices of Sophia presents a blog. Here, we present the
voices of feminist theologians of all stripes: scholars, clergy,
students, exiles, missionaries, workers, thinkers, artists, lovers
and devotees, from many parts of the world, all children of the God
in whose image women are made. .... This blog seeks to glorify God
through prayer, work, art, and intellectual reflection. Through
articles and ensuing discussion we hope to become an active and
John Harris’ Summit to
Theological and philosophical
reflections on everything between summit to shore, including
kayaking, climbing, religion, spirituality, philosophy, theology,
politics, culture, travel, The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), New
York City and the Queens neighborhood of Ridgewood by a progressive
New York City Presbyterian Pastor. John is a former member of the
Witherspoon board, and is designated pastor of North Presbyterian
Church in Flushing, NY.
John Shuck’s Shuck and Jive
A Presbyterian minister, currently
serving as pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Elizabethton,
Tenn., blogs about spirituality, culture, religion (both organized
and disorganized), life, evolution, literature, Jesus, and
Got more blogs to recommend?
send a note, and we'll see what we can do!