Shuck and Jive

Opinions expressed here are my own and do not represent the views of the congregation I joyfully serve. But my congregation loves me!

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 It has been replaced by a rainbow.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.


29 comments:

  1. All week long, I watched the 218th General Assembly. It astounded me how many times people stated that Jesus would do this or say that to bolster their arguments. What a load of baloney! None of us were around with Jesus in New Testament times. We have no earthly idea about what He would do or say with regard to our cultural dilemmas and ecclesiastical issues. We question the authenticity of the Gospels and the authority of the scriptures. We transfer our own cultural preferences and see our own societal prejudices in the texts that were written by the people who truly knew Him.

    We are a bunch of narcissistic hypocrites looking to justify our politically correct ways and cultural orientations. We cast aside our allegiance to Christ because we don’t want to submit to Him. We change what the Bible says because we want everybody to like us. And then we get up to the microphones and tell other people what Jesus would do as if He’s our best buddy, turning Him into a theological ventriloquist’s dummy by putting words into His mouth and thoughts into His head.

    Bovine manure! We are the biggest bunch of failed followers in the history of Christianity and we have so diluted the Gospel that we have deluded ourselves into shaping Jesus like play dough and making Him a bobblehead character to sit beside our PCs. Our modern Presbyterianism is a theological tacky, mood manufactured, and cheapened grace of a faith. Even the word faith is false when applied to us – we have spiritual trends, and that’s about all.

    Perhaps we still have time left. Perhaps we can return to what we once were. Perhaps the Church will go through a revival, instead of cultural capitulation and doctrinal denial. Philippians 2:9-11 can be the starting point.

    9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name,
    10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
    11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

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  2. Stushie,

    Two things, those who think that the GA has officially lead the denomination astray invoke the name of Jesus equally as much, perhaps more the name of Paul. So let's not be hypocritical here.

    Second, this statement makes no sense: "return to what we once were". At what point in time? Are you calling for a primitivist denomination? If so at what point in history and in what corner of the world? This sounds like an arbitrary claim based on the fiat and whims of those who are uncomfortable and nothing more. This already sounds like the emerging character of sectarianism since an "us v. them" mentality is becoming not only clear language, but is not receiving more or less administrative energy.

    Peace.

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  3. Very good analysis, John. The wicked witch is indeed dead. I had forgotten how really bad that AI was. The discussions in the presbyteries will be excruciating. I really got burned in the Indian Nations Presbytery during the last attempt to delete G-6.0106b. With the witch dead and the new AI, it will only confirm what already is.

    John McNeese

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  4. "Our modern Presbyterianism is a theological tacky, mood manufactured, and cheapened grace of a faith. Even the word faith is false when applied to us – we have spiritual trends, and that’s about all."

    Speak for yourself, bucko. I don't know who you're talking about, but they're not any Presbyterians I know (and I'd wager you're not actually talking about anyone you know either.)

    My faith is just fine, based on the authority of Scripture, the work of the Spirit, the love of Christ, and most especially the mighty Grace of God.

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  5. I understand the sentiment Alan. I have been accused of not reading my bible or caring much about theology and so forth several times already - of course after opening my big, sometimes pitbullish mouth ;-)

    The use of ad hominems, slippery slopes, and such is really disheartening. There is animosity, hurt, and anger being expressed here, but there is no room in what should be a decent and in order process for such accusatory tones. I would call every Presbyterian to look at the issue objectively and pastorally first before doing any other thing.

    And PLEASE talk to gay people who are struggling to stay afloat with God in the midst of intentional exclusion and also those who have struggled with same sex desire and decided not to pursue it. There's a LOT of hurt here that needs to be lanced like a big fat boil or the infection will damage not heal the church.

    Terms like "bovine manure" are just not helpful or constructive unless we want to engage in pissing matches for the next year - not the most Godly of actions for sure. But I can already smell the urine.

    I am tracking people's ruminations on the issue at my blog mainly so I have my own record of the language that is being used surrounding the issue. Quite a different set of tones thus far.

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  6. Chris--It sure was and is!

    Stushie--Bovine Manure? I think bullshit is the word your looking for. There is plenty to go around.

    John McNeese--She was one ugly, nasty witch.

    Alan--agreed. Also liked the rundown of the GA on your blog.

    Drew--Thanks for your blog posts and gathering of the presbyblogs

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  7. Do you give permission for others to use that marvelous litany? Pretty please?

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  8. Hey Iris!

    What a nice question. You sure can. If you do, and you think of it, let me know how you used it, and welcome!

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  9. Thanks! I sure will let you know and I'll certainly give proper credit.

    Oh, and it's my husband who is the tournament chess player in our family. I'm pretty hopeless in that area. I included it on my book list so that people would think I was smart! :)

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  10. Stushie cries foul because the GA took away his "right" to deny others theirs. Waaa waaa. He's far from alone, sadly.

    I just went to see Tom Waits in concert last night, and he sang one of my favorite songs with this phrase: "come down from the cross; we could use the wood."

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  11. Isn't it funny how Stushie's complaint could, in its entirety and without addition or subtraction of a single word, apply to the fight over the ordination of women fifty years ago?

    Take a moment. Read it in context of the same conservatives making the same arguments (and quoting Paul with equal ferocity).

    The church reformed is once again being reformed, after the Word of God. Thanks be to God!

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  12. Flycandler,

    I have made that obvious argument before. With the role of people of color as well. Folks like stushie are absolutely convinced that homosexuality is a choice or that all homosexuals can be reformed. You cannot ask a woman not to be a woman (apparently he has never heard of trans-gendered but that's another issue right ;-)?) and you cannot ask a person of color not to be (forget about Michael Jackson and Vanilla Ice).

    I have gone toe-to-toe a few times and all I have received is ad hominem attack from angry people who think "we" are the apostate. The sickening thing is that they are justifying this inappropriate and irrational candor with Jesus' eschatological language, the demeanor of the prophets, and Paul's language in the first letter to the Corinthians without recognizing his change of tune in the second letter.

    All I can say to these jaded and miserable people is oy vey.

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  13. For a good time, you should check out Jim Berkley's whining about all of this over on his blog, and at this article over at the IRD web site, where Berkley says, "Presbyterian Action will not stand silent amid these decisions that are blatantly contrary to the Bible and to biblical morality." Blah blah blah.

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  14. Yeah - we knew at this end that IRD would be foaming at the collective mouth.

    Sing it with me, now: "People get ready, there's a propaganda train a-comin'"

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  15. Drew, what really struck me was that in his comment here, Stushie finally drops the pretense of "gender is God's decision, gayness is the 'Mo's decision" and just cuts and pastes the Exact Same Argument from days of yore. As I've mentioned before, the church I grew up in split in the mid-80s when a woman associate was installed. Half the church left and formed a PCA church, using the same, tired "We are a bunch of narcissistic hypocrites looking to justify our politically correct ways and cultural orientations. We cast aside our allegiance to Christ because we don’t want to submit to Him. We change what the Bible says because we want everybody to like us" speech.

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  16. "The sickening thing is that they are justifying this inappropriate and irrational candor with Jesus' eschatological language, the demeanor of the prophets, and Paul's language in the first letter to the Corinthians without recognizing his change of tune in the second letter."

    Yeah, I love it when people start the ad hominem attacks, name calling, insults, and snark fests and then attempt to defend their behavior with some lame attempt at, "Well, Jesus wasn't particularly nice sometimes either."

    My response is always the same, "I know Jesus. Jesus is a friend of mine. You're no Jesus."

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  17. Stushie,

    The imitation of Christ is a Christian practice that goes back at least as far as the gospel of John.

    Christian ethics have always had their roots in Christ's teachings, for as long as there have been Christian ethics.

    Obviously, to imitate Christ we have to first figure out who Christ is, what he did, and how we can best imitate him now. For this we need to read the Bible and do our best to get an "idea about what He would do or say with regard to our cultural dilemmas and ecclesiastical issues." Otherwise we're just left to flounder in secular strategies, politicking, threats of schism etc.

    I certainly hope that every commissioner carefully considered what Jesus would do, in deciding what they would say, and how they would vote.

    (And I think it's perfectly normal that everyone could do that, and not all vote the same way.)

    Heather

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  18. Heather:

    Your last point is the key. I honestly think that there are a lot of people out there who don't see how that could be possible. If we disagree, it must be because the other person is wrong, Satanic, heretical, immoral, etc. It can't possibly be because we're all limited, fallible beings...

    Then the follow-up argument come, that Scripture is infallible - but of course, for anyone who is honest about hermeneutics, that is a meaningless statement on its face. "Infallible" Scripture + human beings reading Scripture = fallibility.

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  19. I just discovered that this blog entry was quoted in The Christian Post.

    I find it kind of weird when news outlets take quotes from blogs, without linking to them or even providing the URL, rather than contacting individuals before quoting them.

    Does that seem weird to you? I am not talking about bloggers, but news outlets.

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  20. You state that the argument for ordaining women is the same as the argument for ordaining gays.

    While there is biblical evidence of women being leaders in Israel and the early church there is no evidence for any gay leaders.

    On what Scripture do you base your argument in favor of ordination of LGBTs?

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  21. Mark,

    I don't want to speak for John but here's a quick answer from me. :)

    The approach of looking for gay or lesbian ministers in Scripture, in order to prove it's allowed today, seems fruitless to me for two reasons.

    1. Gayness or lesbianness as we know it today didn't exist in the time the Bible was written; neither did heterosexuality as we know it today, nor the emphasis on monogamy, for that matter.

    2. We do not need such examples in Scripture in order to ordain divorced and remarried pastors. Divorce and remarriage is unequivocally identified as sin in Scripture, and there's nothing that says it's okay. But we, because of our culture, ordain divorced and remarried people all the time, without a peep of opposition. It's not fair to have one standard for one group and another standard for another group.

    That said, we do have some good reference points in Scripture for the idea that the heterosexual nuclear family is not the only way to do things. The romance of David and Jonathan is one. (1 Sam 19-2 Sam 1) Another is the variety of families chosen and biological in Acts and even Romans 16. We aren't given information on exactly how all those NT families are related (although the combinations make it impossible for all to be heterosexual couples)--what's important is that they serve God together.

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  22. Heather, among other things, you said:

    2. We do not need such examples in Scripture in order to ordain divorced and remarried pastors. Divorce and remarriage is unequivocally identified as sin in Scripture, and there's nothing that says it's okay. But we, because of our culture, ordain divorced and remarried people all the time, without a peep of opposition. It's not fair to have one standard for one group and another standard for another group.

    I agree with you that it's wrong to ordain divorced and remarried people "without a peep." I've made some "peeps" about it in my congregation, with some trepidation. But I think one of the biggest problems our church faces is that we have, in fact, given a pass to many heterosexual sins. There should be, and should have been, at least as much opposition to ordaining divorced and remarried persons who do not show evidence of spiritual growth and repentance, as there is to ordaining unrepentant homosexual persons. Maybe God is allowing gay ordination (if that does come to pass) because we have already turned our back on His plan for our lives.

    I am at least trying to stand firm against heterosexual sins in my premarital counseling policy. It does not undue the manifest failures of the church over the past several decades, but it's hopefully a start.

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  23. Thanks Presbyman, for joining the conversation. Congratulations on that new baby, by the way!

    I perform weddings for people who have been divorced. They serve in an ordained capacity as well.

    As I see the issue, it isn't about a category of people, divorced, say that are automatically dismissed from ordination.

    We look at each individual. This, to me, is the same for all people. We do not ordain (nor do we refuse to ordain) categories of people, but individuals.

    I don't think it is a matter of being soft on "sin" but big on grace.

    The issue before us is the categorical prohibition of people in same-gender relationships.

    A few decades ago the issue was the categorical prohibition of divorced people.

    I believe we went in the grace-filled direction by removing that categorical prohibition and began to look at individuals.

    I think the same will eventually occur with our current prohibition.

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  24. John,

    Well, we're obviously not going to come to agreement on this, but thank you for your gracious comment about our new baby and for visiting my blog to leave a comment.

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  25. I do want to add that it's not my policy to rule out remarrying or ordaining divorced people per se. Maybe I gave the wrong impression in my earlier comment. But what I would look for, as discussed in the Westminster Confession, is evidence of repentance and spiritual growth. Committing a sin per se should not be disqualifying because none of us would ever be ordained. IMO, it is important to avoid the twin pitfalls of legalism AND cheap grace.

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  26. Presbyman, Babies make me smile!

    I think Heather brings up an important point here.

    If remarriage after divorce is a sin and the person in this new marriage is living in a state of adultery, then ordaining him or her would be wrong.

    It would be consistent with our standards to have divorced people remain chaste in singleness in order to be ordained. The only true repentance would be to end the second marriage.

    It wouldn't matter how hard they beat themselves up for it or how gifted they are. They are living in sin, period. Therefore, they are un-ordainable, unless they truly repent and remain chaste in singleness.

    That would be consistent with our current policies regarding gays.

    Disclaimer: I don't believe divorce and remarriage is a sin and neither does the PC(USA). I am simply pointing out a clear inconsistency in the way we apply standards for ordination.

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  27. THANK YOU, John. I've even heard someone try to justify their own divorce and remarriage by citing the Matthew account of Jesus saying

    "But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the grounds of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery"

    by saying that the divorce was Kosher because he was cheating on his first wife, and that his second wife had never been divorced.

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  28. Thank you John, also.

    Yes, if we were really being consistent, we might even require remarried people to LEAVE their second marriage and live in chaste singleness instead. (Under the old G-6.0106b I'd have to get divorced, break up my daughter's home, and live in chaste singleness in order to be eligible for ordination.)

    But all that is far snarkier than the real point... being big on grace... and I would add, being big on commitment and service as well. Once we allow in same-sex relationships, we also allow in conversations about how same-sex couples can serve God more fully, where brokenness is in those relationships and needs to be healed, where we need to be more fully committed to Christ, where we're being lazy or insular as families, etc. So much better than the old teaching, which (for example) doesn't even make a moral distinction between fidelity and infidelity, for us.

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