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Help for moving ahead

Food for reflection and discernment
on moving to a more welcoming church

Click here 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.

bulletMaumee Valley (Northwestern Ohio and Southeastern Michigan) voted 65 to 58.
bulletGreat Rivers (Western Illinois) voted 85 to 74.
bulletScioto Valley (Central Ohio) voted by 115 to 88.

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 124.

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 done!

For the latest voting, check Bruce Hahne’s very helpful blog, at

More presbyteries vote on Amendment 08-B

The Presbytery 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 vote.

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 Covenant Network,
and Michael Adee of More Light Presbyterians.

Scroll down for more on Amendment 08-B >>

Another presbytery shifts to support 08-B

Cimarron Presbytery approves Ordination Amendment 08-B.    [2-10-09]

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 08-B.

More presbyteries vote for 08-B

The Presbytery 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 prepared 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 neutrality.”

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 statement?
Can you share other helpful statements on this issue?
Please send us a note!

On Amendment 08-B, another presbytery shifts to support inclusion      [2-3-09]

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.

According to PresbyWeb, 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 follow.”

John Shuck offers this look at the view from the Right:

It’s on his blog, but here it is in full

Lamenting over 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 defeated.

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 it.

Click here for the Layman’s report >>

Presbytery of Cayuga-Syracuse approves Ordination Amendment 08-B.

Today, January 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 G-6.0106b.

The Rev. John Harris, a member of the Witherspoon board, adds this note on his blog, SummitToShore:

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 list.

The Covenant Network also provides a brief list of resources.

Two other 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 Amendment 08-B

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.

It begins:

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).  

More >>


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 abstentions.

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 itself.

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!

Terry Diggory
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

And this:

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.      [1-17-08]

How the discernment process worked in Newton Presbytery   [1-22-09]

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 Mid-Kentucky Presbytery).

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:

1. What is your initial response to 1) the current wording and 2) the proposed wording?

2. 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 each?

3. 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 amendment.

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:

The 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 approach.

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 this page.

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 Presbyweb >>

If you have other results to report, or comments on the issue itself, please 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, along with the regular PDF version which is already posted here.

Scroll down just a bit for a list of all the articles.

And if you have comments or suggestions for more material that we might provide here, please send a note!

No to "No action"

There have 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.  More >>

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]

Some background 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 ]

A little poem about being right, by Bobbie McGarey    [ 11 ]

Setting the Record Straight ... and Stewardship of the Spirit’s Gift, by Mchael Adee,   More Light Presbyterians     [ 12 ]

A 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 ]

Assembly moves 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 outgoing ones     [ 23 ]

Officers of the Witherspoon Society   [ 24 ] 

Visiting San 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 News.

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 electoral reform.

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 Order).

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 presbyteries;

• 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 property;

• 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 directions.

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 large.

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 actions
[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 effect.

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 invalidated.

Click here for the full statement from the Department of Constitutional Services.


New Authoritative Interpretation of G-6.0108 "to ensure proper application of ordination standards."

Action 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

Action 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 discernment."

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 Presbyterians.

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

The 218th 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 Confessions…"

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 author:

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.



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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