Tuesday, January 11, 2011


Thank you for following through each of these posts and for engaging in discussion, even when it became frustrating to do so on both sides.  We will continue to have this conversation, but we will also be moving toward new issues and topics.  The issue of LGBTQ ordination has taken up a tremendous amount of our time and energy in the last couple of months, but it is far from what we see to be the greatest challenge facing the Church today.  LGBTQ ordination is merely an instance where we felt we could make many very powerful arguments in favor of inclusion, and could further refute many poor arguments put forward against equality for LGBTQ persons.

There are not even selfish reasons to retain G-6.0106b and continue to unjustly exclude LGBTQ persons from ordination. That single clause will not prevent frustrated congregations from leaving the denomination, nor will it convince parishioners frustrated with decades of conflict over this issue to remain. It will not maintain even a veneer of peace, unity and purity in the church. G-6.0106b does not put our current debates over ordination to rest. What it means is that barely more than half of the denomination is able to force its interpretation of ordination on every individual Presbytery, congregation, and member of the Presbyterian Church (USA).

Getting rid of G-6.0106b will not force a single Presbytery or congregation to ordain or accept a single candidate they do not vote to accept. What it will do is enable thousands of congregations and dozens of Presbyteries who have been a slight minority in the denomination right now to consider, just consider, LGBTQ persons for ordination where they might be called to serve.

In a situation where believers disagree in good faith according to their conscience, where 30 years or argument has not made any progress in producing consensus, it seems most reasonable, most just, and best to allow freedom of conscience. Nothing is preserved when 51% of the denomination maintains a specific litmus-test and forces 49% to apply it. There is no other clause like G-6.0106b which is aimed at a specific issue in the same way in all of the Book of Order. G-6.0106b is an aberration in our polity, and we are better off in every conceivable way without it. It is not justified ethically, rationally, politically nor theologically. It is time for us to vote in favor of inclusion.


Kattie W. Coon said...

Thanks for giving us this series, and thanks for putting up with me and my arguments.

I've never thought it to be a good idea to have the BOO amended by a simple majority. It's too easy for a minority (of commissioners) view to prevail. That's not to say that this happened in this case, but it could happen, and might happen this time with 10-A. The commissioner vote (I'm not talking about the GA Commissioners' vote) to place G-6.106b in the BOO in the first place was by only 50.1% even though the Presbytery vote was higher. In each of the successive votes to remove G-6.106b, the commissioner vote percentages were higher for removal than the Presbytery percentages were.

I would rather see a process that looks more like the process we use with the BOC. The New Wineskins group suggested a similar approach in their proposed Constitution for the PCUSA, so even right wingers and Renewalists see wisdom in that.

This is clearly a matter of conscience over what I consider to be a non-essential issue. Our consciences should not be bound.

Alan said...

I'm not sure the problem is how we amend the BoO. I think the problem is that we decided to turn a constitution into a rule book.

The US constitution, for example, contains no laws or regulations. Re-read it if you don't believe me. It is instead the basis on which all other laws are made.

Our BoO however, has become bloated with rules, laws, foundational ideas, and bylaws. Unfortunately, every time the BFTSs want to grasp for more power, they change the BoO because they either don't understand or don't trust traditional Presbyterian polity.

Kattie W. Coon said...

Yes, but I think it became bloated with rules, etc because we made it too easy to become that way. Given the opportunity, we'll hunt with our pack and try to subdue our prey.

Doug Hagler said...

'What a looooong strange trip it's been...'

I'm proud of this whole document - more so now that it has been put out there, parts of it have been thoroughly challenged, and I believe it has held up very well. It isn't perfect, and never will be, and plenty of people will read it and vigorously disagree. They will, however, now have a significantly harder time giving good reasons for their disagreement.

If what we've argued is true, or at least mostly true, then the truth will out, as it were. Time will hopefully tell.

Regardless, I am proud of this little document, and I am relieved that we can turn from this project to other things.

Thank you to those who have disagreed, because some of you have truly helped to make this document, and our arguments in general, better. I've learned a lot, actually, that I didn't expect to learn, so thank you for that too.

Craig said...

Until now I've not commented on this series. But now that you are done, I have a question.

In Acts Gamaliel makes the following point to the Sanhedrin.

"38 Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. 39 But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.”

It is apparent that you all sincerely believe that God is leading you to work toward this goal. It is also apparent that eventually your side will achieve your goal.

My questions are these. How will you define success or failure 5-10 years down the road. What results/success do you foresee that will point toward this being a work of God.

Aric Clark said...


Those are worthwhile questions. From the outset let me say that "success" for Jesus was an unjust political death, and abandonment - but then God vindicated him in resurrection. So I would say that it is hard to judge whether we have been faithful by the immediate results. If we've been right God will vindicate us, but it doesn't preclude disaster in the interim.

Taking a different theological angle, the Church is the inbreaking of the kingdom, so our faithfulness can be judged by how well we image that. Does the church look more or less like the kingdom now? That would be the question I would ask. If people are finding forgiveness and healing, if people who were previously left on the street are coming in for the banquet, if the self-righteous have been humbled, and the humble have been exalted... then we're doing well.

Craig said...


It seems as though your answer gives you a lot of wiggle room. Any chance of being more specific?

Given that one thing that one of my churches is struggling with is defining failure, I'd especially be interested in how you would do that.

Aric Clark said...

@ Craig,

Saying I leave "wiggle room" implies this is some kind of litmus test, which I'm not interested in participating in. Perhaps you can explain what you are looking for and why?

Craig said...


This is not a test at all. I have heard the arguments, and believe that eventually your position will prevail within the PCUSA. Why I ask is that I am interested what you guys, who are obviously passionate about this, see for the future. Your previous answer seems to allow you to claim success, no matter what actually happens. (Note: I'm not suggesting that it is intentional, just that it isn't very specific). Maybe you don't know exactly. Maybe, you haven't thought that far ahead. I don't know, I'm just curious.

Again, I'd be interested in how you would define both success and failure. No evil intent, no malice, no trap, no litmus test, just curiosity.

Doug Hagler said...

For me, success is for the mainline churches, slowly lurching toward equality, to finish that journey, and to reconcile as much as possible amongst themselves. Success is then for the church to take the lead in society, rather than being dragged grudgingly behind, in the struggle on behalf of all people denied rights and equality in our society - homeless people, people with severe mental illness, minorities (still), women (still), LGBTQ folks, and so on.

For me, success is a Church that follows Jesus out into the world, touching the untouchable, eating with the unclean, blessing enemies, and risking our own lives long before we would ever find it conscionable to risk someone else's life, much less take it. We abandon the social and ecclesiastical establishment entirely, and throw our lot in with the Kingdom of God.

The LGBTQ issue is just a tiny corner of this overall hope, which goes back as far as the church, and farther, and is my *only* hope for the church - that itlead the way ushering in the kingdom of God. It's just that, when we started, I thought that we could both thoroughly disassemble anti-inclusion arguments, and build strong pro-inclusion ones.

Alan said...

My definition of success would be that the church more clearly models the teachings of Christ than it does today.

Given that it's Craig asking, what he probably wants or expects to hear is something akin to success defined as forcing sessions and presbyteries to ordain LGBT people as MoWS, to kick out any who do not agree, and to implement every article of the "gay agenda" forthwith. This is the end result expected (or at least claimed) by many of those against equality. This is, as they themselves claim, the only possible outcome because it is the only outcome *they've* pursued for years: meddling in other people's lives when they've got no business doing so.

I would see such moves as the exact opposite of success. If we have to become like our opponents in order to succeed in bringing more justice and love to the Church then we've failed miserably. The last thing the PCUSA needs is a liberal version of the Lay Committee. One Lay Committee is already too many.

Craig said...


Thanks for the response, I look forward to hearing more from Aric as well. For all of the effort put into this it seems as though no one is talking about what comes next. I appreciate your thoughtful answer. I'd still be interested in how you'd define failure, if you'd give it some thought.

Doug Hagler said...

Failure is, to some degree, what we have right now. I have a catch-phrase that I use among friends when exasperated: "You fail at Christianity." I think that we fail at Christianity in a number of ways - again, failing to be Christ-like toward LGBTQ folks is just a tiny corner.

The big failure would be this: we continue to do all the things our document pointed out were wrong, theologically and ethically and rationally, and at the same time continue to tear ourselves apart, without an end in sight, and without a whole lot of hope for real reconciliation in the near future.

A partially less dramatic failure would be to move toward more just ordination standards, and yet continue to tear ourselves apart, continue to fail to reconcile, etc. To do the right thing, and to devour ourselves anyway on a large scale.

Aric Clark said...

There's no centralized unit to measure success or failure by. There will be a lot of successes and failures around the church in the years to come.

Successes will look like this: Presbyteries that have productive conversations and manage to reconcile people of different theological views. Places where freedom of conscience is exhibited not merely as license to do what you want, or where people ignore each other, but where people can disagree and hold each other to account, but not expect their opinions to be enforced on others. Where LGBTQ individuals were previously unable to find acceptance they come of out the closet and receive a welcome. Individual churches and sessions openly debating their theological views again without coersiveness. Formerly bigoted individuals and groups repenting after encounters with faithful lgbtq persons in ministry. These would all be examples of success.

Failures will look like this - presbyteries where conflicts are managed with coersion, where a small majority binds the freedom of the other side's conscience forming roadblocks in every vote. Anywhere that our polity, our disciplinary system, or scripture is used as a weapon. Churches which bury their heads in the sand and refuse to openly discuss theological differences in their midst or hand down authoritarian lists of dogmas do be subscribed to. Places where LGBTQ persons come out and are not treated with grace, or alternatively excitedly lifted up as a token minority and subjected to no scrutiny or not held accountable in the way we expect all ordained persons to be held accountable.

Craig said...

Doug and Aric,

Thanks, I appreciate your thoughts. I look forward to seeing what happens.

Craig said...

See, that wasn't so bad. Was it?


John Shuck said...

Thanks Friars for this document. You may be surprised where it has ended up. I have copied and used it as a hand out when I speak to college classes about LGBT issues even though they have nothing to do with the PCUSA, but they do have a lot of interest in the Bible.