|Looking ahead to presbytery discussion
of Amendment O
by Gene TeSelle
For an attorney's analysis of Amendment O, click
During the Covenant Network conference in Pittsburgh,
time was made for registrants to break up by synod or even presbytery to
think ahead to the discussion and debate over Amendment O,
"00-O," popularly known as "Uh-O." While it was
impossible to summarize all the ideas, a number of them were circulating
later over dinner.
The most crucial thing is to hold at least one
dialogue meeting, officially sponsored by the presbytery if possible,
before the formal debate on the floor of presbytery. In far-flung
presbyteries, as many as four of five dialogue sessions may be
scheduled. There are many things to talk about, outside the framework of
One of the most helpful suggestions was to ask
participants simply to reflect on the consequences: What would happen if
O passes? What would happen if O does not pass?
Hopefully a discussion of this question would defuse
much of the alarm over the Permanent Judicial Commission's judgment last
spring that holy unions are indeed permitted by the Directory for
Worship. (This was not new, of course. In 1991 the General Assembly said
much the same thing. And in 1995 the presbyteries defeated an amendment
very much like O.) As part of its ruling, the PJC said that these are
not to be called marriage services and are not even to look like them.
In other words, those who fear chaos if Amendment O does not pass may be
reassured that the floodgates will not be opened to all sorts of
irresponsible actions. We already have guidelines for these services; if
further guidelines are needed we can be sure that they will be developed
as a result of pastoral experience.
In 1993 the General Assembly rejected overtures to
prohibit the blessing of same-sex unions, and the Advisory Committee on
the Constitution pointed out that "it is highly irregular and
extraordinary for the Book of Order to forbid a minister of the Word and
Sacrament from certain activities."
This is the chief issue in the eyes of many ministers
-- and many session members. They see Amendment O as an invasion of the
responsibilities of ministers and sessions to carry out pastoral care,
something so fine-tuned, so dependent upon awareness of individual
situations, that it cannot be micro-managed by the church as a whole.
Amendment O would in fact take on the role of bishop,
something that Presbyterians have consistently rejected in recent years.
The difference is that this would be a much more rigid "paper
bishop," allowing no exceptions, no dispensations, no nuances.
Amendment O has been called the "limits on
prayer" amendment, the "confine the conscience"
amendment, the "quench the Spirit" amendment. It is an amazing
drawing of lines, the building of a fence against the breath of the
Spirit, the creation of a zone of darkness, a Sheol from which
compassion and prayer are to be excluded by the church. But of course
Psalm 139 tells us that God can be present in Sheol, too; there are
already ministers who are saying they will not be able to follow the
church if it creates this zone of exclusion.
Why this spirit of drawing lines? It is clearly the
result of fear and uncertainty. It grows because of a readiness to
scapegoat identifiable groups in the hope of gaining some kind of peace,
some kind of security. And this appeal to fears and anxieties, this
seizing upon "wedge issues" and scapegoating of certain
groups, is orchestrated by well-funded forces in the church who rip
prooftexts from their context and steal passages from the confessions to
produce a sound-bite theology which ignores the many issues raised, and
not always answered in so simplistic a way, in Scripture and the
confessions and the Book of Order.
The Directory for Worship, in encouraging services of
worship on the occasion of life's transitions, leaves the way open, as
the PJC has pointed out, for prayer on behalf of couples making a mutual
commitment to each other. Anxieties about same-sex relationships --
especially when they can be depicted as part of a "homosexual
agenda" which is blamed for the ills of society -- have clearly led
to a sense of alarm over what the Directory for Worship permits, and
then to a desire to slam the door without considering the consequences.
It would be one more example of that old pattern of trying to prevent
one problem and creating worse problems as a result.
We already have guidelines; we already have provisions
for pastoral responsibility and discretion. The Reformed tradition has
been to nurture that sense of responsibility, to offer support and
guidance and, yes, correction where it is necessary, but without the
presumption that all situations can be settled in advance. Subjecting
such pastoral matters to legalistic strictures is clearly unnecessary,
and a sad step away from our own tradition.
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
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Voices of Sophia blog
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John Harris’ Summit to
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