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Our reports about the 219th General Assembly, July 2010

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Looking ahead to presbytery discussion of Amendment O

by Gene TeSelle

For an attorney's analysis of Amendment O, click here.

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 parliamentary procedure.

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.



GA actions 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 of Order.

We're providing resources to help inform the reflection and debate, along with updates on the voting.

Our three areas of primary interest are:

bullet Amendment 10-A, which would remove the current ban on lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender persons being considered as possible candidates for ordination as elder or ministers.

bullet Amendment 10-2, which would add the Belhar Confession to our Book of Confessions.

bullet Amendment 10-1, which would adopt the new Form of Government that was approved by the Assembly.

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Some blogs worth visiting

PVJ's Facebook page

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 thoughtful community.


John Harris’ Summit to Shore blogspot

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 lightening up.


Got more blogs to recommend?

Please send a note, and we'll see what we can do!


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