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PCUSA Theological Task Force Report Clears Committee Intact

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    Theological Task Force report clears committee intact Minority report promised on authoritative interpretation PCUSA News Service by Jerry L. Van Marter
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 19, 2006
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      Theological Task Force report clears committee intact
      Minority report promised on authoritative interpretation
      PCUSA News Service
      by Jerry L. Van Marter

      BIRMINGHAM, June 18 * The report of the Theological Task
      Force on Peace, Unity and Purity of the Church (TTF) cleared
      one major hurdle Sunday when the Assembly Committee on
      Ecclesiology voted 41-22 to send it to the floor of the
      217th General Assembly virtually intact.

      Only one amendment was made to the report, and it was
      blessed by the TTF as helpful. Four of the TTF's seven
      recommendations * calling the church to stay together, to
      engage in processes of "intensive discernment" around
      divisive issues, to study the theological reflection
      portion of the report and to "explore the use of alternative
      forms of discernment and decision-making as a complement
      to parliamentary procedure" * were approved unanimously.

      The most controversial of the TTF's recommendations * a
      proposed "authoritative interpretation" of G-6.0108 of the
      Constitution that would maintain all of the denomination's
      current ordination standards but give ordaining bodies
      greater leeway in determining if any individual candidate's
      conscientious objection to any constitutional provision is
      disqualifying * generated prolonged, heated debate.

      When a motion to strike it from the report lost 40-22, talk
      of a minority report openly surfaced in the committee,
      guaranteeing that debate on the measure will spill over
      onto the plenary floor when the committee reports Tuesday

      At a press conference after the vote, committee moderator
      Blair Monie of Grace Presbytery and vice-moderator
      Catherine "Kate" Kotfila said they were not sure what the
      minority report would contain. Monie said, "Every committee
      has the right to a minority report." Kotfila said, "I don't
      believe they'll be coming with a sense of rancor."

      A last-ditch effort to refer the authoritative
      interpretation to the presbyteries for their "consideration
      and response" * and a recommendation that the General
      Assembly approve no further amendments or authoritative
      interpretations "changing denominational policy on any of
      the major issues in the task force report" * was defeated

      The motion to refer was supported by a number of overture
      advocates, most of whom had earlier argued for either the
      deletion of the authoritative interpretation (Sacramento,
      San Diego, Santa Barbara, Tropical Florida), an amendment
      of G-6.0108 on which the authoritative interpretation is
      based (Mississippi, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh), an
      alternative authoritative interpretation (Stockton,
      Riverside, Palo Duro) or the referral of the authoritative
      interpretation for more work (Charlotte, Plains and Peaks).

      Though some argued that giving greater discretion to
      presbyteries and congregations on ordination decisions will
      lead to a "balkanization" of the PC(USA), several supporters
      echoed former General Assembly Moderator Marj Carpenter,
      who told the committee during Friday's open hearing, "I've
      always thought [non-celibate gay ordination] was a biblical
      issue, and I oppose gay ordination."

      "We've fought this battle in the ditches for 30 years and
      the ditch just keeps getting deeper and deeper, and now it's
      affecting mission and evangelism. I don't know if [the
      authoritative interpretation] is right or not, but I'm
      willing to compromise if it will get us back to being the
      church * we can't just go on and on like this * but stay
      inside the Constitution."

      The Rev. Richard Brondyke of Boston Presbytery, in his
      hearing statement, said the authoritative interpretation
      would merely "shift the [ordination standards] controversy
      to the local level." With interpretation and application
      of ordination standards made locally, he said, "There will
      be no consistency, and the church's balkanization would be

      Task force members argued otherwise, noting that ordaining
      bodies' responsibility for ordination decisions dates to
      the Adopting Act of 1729, with its balance between doctrinal
      standards for church officers (at that time the Westminster
      confession and catechism) and the right of ministers to
      declare "a scruple" against any Westminster standard with
      which they disagreed. The presbytery would then determine
      whether the scrupled article was an essential tenet.

      "This balance we've spoken about has to do with putting
      responsibilities in the right place," TTF member and Dubuque
      Seminary professor Mark Achtemeier told the committee. "We
      say the whole church defines standards, but when it comes
      to the individual person before you, the people best
      qualified are the ones who know that person best."

      "So the whole church establishes the teaching while the
      ordaining body decides if the individual is a right fit."

      TTF members also rejected the assertion that the
      authoritative interpretation constitutes what is
      euphemistically called "local option" * that ordaining
      bodies are free to establish their own ordination standards.

      Ken Thomas of New Harmony Presbytery told the committee
      during the hearings, "I don't see any way to read [the
      authoritative interpretation] without reading local option."
      Calling the proposal "congregational polity," Thomas said,
      "I've heard some say this week they will jettison virtually
      all standards. I don't want to abandon my brothers to local
      needs and options."

      TTF member and Auburn Theological Seminary president Barbara
      Wheeler responded, "Local option allows local bodies to
      establish their own standards. This [authoritative
      interpretation] maintains national standards and requires
      local bodies to explain and justify their decisions in
      applying them. There can be no blanket deletions or

      "If the ordaining body sets the standards, that's local
      option," Achtemeier added. "This is not local option."

      The committee reinforced that understanding by amending the
      authoritative interpretation to add that ordaining bodies
      have responsibility to determine, "Whether the examination
      complies with the constitution of the PC(USA)." The
      amendment passed unanimously, with TTF member William Stacy
      Johnson of Princeton Theological Seminary musing, "Gee, we
      wish we'd thought of that."

      The committee also added a comment to its endorsement of
      the TTF report, stating that, "The success of this proposal
      is dependent upon all governing bodies taking all standards
      of the church seriously and applying them rigorously in
      the examination process. All governing bodies are encouraged
      to develop resources to ensure that this happens."

      At the press conference, Monie said, "We went into this
      wanting an open, fair process. We felt we'd be successful
      if everyone [on the committee] was heard and if they heard
      everyone they wanted to hear."

      Monie refused to speculate on predictions in some quarters
      that Assembly approval of the TTF report will produce
      schism, saying, "If the committee is a microcosm of the
      church, I didn't hear anyone wanting to walk out."

      To learn more, visit http://www.pcusa.org/pcnews/
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