217th Assembly of Presbyterians

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

A Season of Discernment

The report of the Taskforce on Peace, Unity, and Purity and Purity of the Church passed yesterday afternoon with a vote of 298 for and 221 against. I and a rag-tag band of like-minded Presbyterians have been working for this since we arrived last Wednesday. Our meetings in the committee stretched until about 10:30 p.m. on Sunday before it was placed in the docket for yesterday's plenary.

Much of the debate at the Committee on Ecclesiology focused on trying to debunk misinformation from the conservatives that it could lead to the banning of women being ordained and that it would lead to the ordination of more gays and lesbians into the church.

Let us be clear about what the taskforce report is. It is a Taskforce on How We Govern Ourselves, it is not a taskforce on sexuality. It does not change the Book of Orders or other parts of the constitution of the denomination; rather it affirms a practice dating back to 1729 which vests ordination decisions on local congregations. There are national standards, but these are locally applied.

Most of the focus has been on Recommendation 5, which issues an authoritative interpretation of the constitution regarding ordination standards (i.e. reaffirms the tradition). But all the other recommendations were received nearly unanimously (i.e. we stay as one denomination and should not split over our differences). They essentially say that we cannot continue to fight and try and resolve our differences by butting our heads. Alternative means such as discernment should be used in the decision-making process.

In the end, it was not the well-reasoned arguments and parliamentary moves that were used by both sides that convinced Presbyterians in the middle. One pastor puts it well: "We are sick and tired of fighting conflicts the way we have been doing it in the last 30 years. We should set it aside and do God's business."

The conservatives mounted a spirited, well-organized campaign led by a minister who spent 20 years lobbying the government. In contrast, our group was organized on the spot. He and I have gotten to know each other pretty well -- and actually like each other despite our differences. I hope to know him and his colleagues better as we enter into a season of discernment to resolve our differences.


  • Thanks for your posts. Even though it may not be the case, the interesting thing is that the national media has picked up on the whole PUP report as a means whereby churches are now able to elect gay ministers to serve congregations. Those are close to the exact words that were used in our local paper (Cedar Rapdis, IA Gazette) this morning.

    By Anonymous jim, at 10:09 AM  

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