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Saturday, June 28, 2008

No Further Force or Effect!

The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) finished its business today. Boy did it do some business. It made important statements on peacemaking and social justice and I will make some posts regarding those issues.

But the big news first...


...the Assembly issued a new authoritative interpretation of the Book of Order declaring that interpretive statements related to sexual standards for ordination that predate the adoption of G-6.0106b in 1996 “have no further force or effect.”

I love the sound of that. "No further force or effect." Say it with me, "No further force or effect."

For 30 years the PC(U.S.A.) has been covered by a cloud of injustice and prejudice against sexual and gender minorities in the church. That cloud is gone. It has been replaced by a rainbow. This action
does NOT need approval by the presbyteries. It is in effect NOW.

Those harmful, anti-biblical, anti-love, anti-justice, anti-Jesus statements are history. They are gone with the wind. The wicked witch is dead. She has melted away and along with her go 30 years of official homophobic policy.

Two years ago, I encouraged the commissioners of the 2006 General Assembly to do what this one did. In an essay entitled, Not Justice, Not Progress: Just the Same Second-Class Status, I created a litany made up of statements from the (
now NON-Authoritative) Authoritative Interpretation.

I am thrilled to create a new litany today:


The Presbyterian Church used to say...

“…that homosexuality is not God’s wish for humanity. This we affirm, despite the fact that some of its forms may be deeply rooted in an individual’s personality structure.”

But now by the power of the Holy Spirit we say: That untruth has no further force or effect.



The Presbyterian Church used to say...


“In many cases homosexuality is more a sign of the brokenness of God’s world than of willful rebellion. In other cases homosexual behavior is freely chosen or learned in environments where normal development is thwarted.”

But now by the power of the Holy Spirit we say: That untruth has no further force or effect.




The Presbyterian Church used to say...

“Even where the homosexual orientation has not been consciously sought or chosen, it is neither a gift from God nor a state nor a condition like race; it is a result of our living in a fallen world.”

But now by the power of the Holy Spirit we say: That untruth has no further force or effect.




The Presbyterian Church used to say...


“As we examine the whole framework of teaching bearing upon our sexuality from Genesis onward, we find that homosexuality is a contradiction of God’s wise and beautiful pattern for human sexual relationships revealed in Scripture and affirmed in God’s ongoing will for our life in the Spirit of Christ.”

But now by the power of the Holy Spirit we say: That untruth has no further force or effect.




The Presbyterian Church used to say...


“Homosexual persons who will strive toward God’s revealed will in this area of their lives, and make use of all the resources of grace, can receive God’s power to transform their desires or arrest their active expression.”

But now by the power of the Holy Spirit we say: That untruth has no further force or effect.




The Presbyterian Church used to say...


“…the New Testament declares that all homosexual practice is incompatible with Christian faith and life.”

But now by the power of the Holy Spirit we say: That untruth has no further force or effect.




The Presbyterian Church used to say...


“On the basis of our understanding that the practice of homosexuality is sin, we are concerned that homosexual believers and the observing world should not be left in doubt about the church’s mind on this issue during any further period of study.”


But now by the power of the Holy Spirit we say: That untruth has no further force or effect.
Amen and Amen!

This has not yet sunk in for most folks. After living with 30 years of oppression, we may wonder what to do now. We might stand there in shock: "Really? The witch is dead? Now what?"

Now we need to live into this new reality. We need to own this new gift of freedom. Candidates for ordained office of elder, deacon, or minister need to
expect that they will be ordained, NOW, not wonder if they might be someday.

You may ask, "What about G-6.0106b?"

The General Assembly also sent an amendment to the 173 presbyteries to replace the text. The current text says:


“Those who are called to office in the church are to lead a life in obedience to Scripture and in conformity to the historic confessional standards of the church. Among these standards is the requirement to live either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman (W-4.9001), or chastity in singleness. Persons refusing to repent of any self-acknowledged practice which the confessions call sin shall not be ordained and/or installed as deacons, elders or ministers of the Word and Sacrament.”

The proposed new text says:

“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.”

This amendment must be passed by a majority of the presbyteries. There is work to do that begins now. But, it is important to know that because of the removal of the old Authoritative Interpretation, G-6.0106b has lost its oppressive foundation.

Not only that, but the General Assembly offered us another gift. It provided a reinterpretation of G-6.0108 which allows for scrupling and does not allow G-6.0106b to be a "super-standard."

G-6.0106b is like a mean, ugly junkyard dog that has suddenly lost its teeth and claws. All it can do now is slobber on you. But it will be used to scare people and to provide misinformation. So it needs to go.

However, we don't need to wait for it to go. LGBT candidates are ordainable
NOW. Own it. Live into it.

The word "homosexual" appears once in the
Book of Confessions, Part 1 of our constitution. It doesn't mean much, but it is used as a weapon. The General Assembly authorized a committee to change this faulty language and restore the confession. Because it is a confessional document, it will require two general assemblies and 2/3 of the presbyteries. Practically, it is of no account. It is kind of like a bad blue law. It needs to go.

However, we don't need to wait for it to go. LGBT candidates are ordainable
NOW. Own it. Live into it.

In other news regarding justice for LGBTQ folks, the General Assembly for the first time addressed an overture to change the definition of marriage from one man and one woman to two people. This did not pass.

However, it did approve advocating for civil rights for same-gender couples. This is the text that was approved:

That the 218th General Assembly (2008) to do the following:

1. Renew and strengthen the long-standing Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) commitment to equal protection under the law for lesbian and gay persons and the 216th General Assembly (2004)’s affirmation of the right of same-gender persons to civil union and, thereby, to all the benefits, privileges, and responsibilities of civil union.

a. Recognize that married couples enjoy more than 1,000 protections, benefits, and responsibilities that are denied to committed couples in same-gender partnerships and their children.

b. Recognize that equality under the law does not discriminate against some committed couples but sees that same-gender partners also have access to all protections, benefits, and responsibilities of civil union.

c. Request the Stated Clerk, the General Assembly Council, and other representatives of the PC(USA) to urge state legislatures and the federal government to apply the principle of equal protection to same-gender couples and their children.

2. Direct the Moderator of the General Assembly to appoint a special committee, representing the broad diversity [and theological balance] of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), to study the following, and report to the 219th General Assembly (2010), including any policy recommendations growing out of the study:

a. The history of the laws governing marriage and civil union, including current policy debates.

b. How the theology and practice of marriage have developed in the Reformed and broader Christian tradition.

c. The relationship between civil union and Christian marriage.

d. The effects of current laws on same-gender partners and their children.

e. The place of covenanted same-gender partnerships in the Christian community.

3. Support congregations, sessions, and ministers of Word and Sacrament who are seeking to extend pastoral care as well as outreach and evangelism to same-gender couples and their nontraditional families who are more and more our neighbors on our streets and our fellow members in our pews.

[4. This overture seeks to renew and strengthen the commitment of the PCUSA to equal protection under the law, encourage steps to reinforce this commitment and to affirm the importance of pastoral care and outreach to non-traditional families, including those same-gender commitment partners. This overtures advocates for equal rights and does not seek to redefine the nature of Christian marriage.]


This action will move us forward. We have work to do. The first work is to embrace what has been done and to own it. In addition:

  1. Be vigilant and work so that the witch never resurrects. No more hurtful and wrong statements about God's children.
  2. Work within your presbytery to pass the General Assembly recommendation regarding G-6.0106b
  3. While your thinking about it, join and/or make a contribution to More Light Presbyterians, The Covenant Network of Presbyterians, That All May Freely Serve, and the Witherspoon Society as an offering of thanks. These organizations worked hard and deserve our support.
Thanks to the commissioners of the 218th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). You didn't give in to the voices of fear and panic. You lived in to the scriptural verse that was the guideline for this assembly:


Thank you.


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