Sacramento Presbytery took an unprecedented step toward reclaiming the Protestant faith in the actions taken this past Saturday. At a called Presbytery meeting five hours of very difficult dicussion was held on four very difficult and important provisions. All of them passed. They were:
- To promote the peace, unity, and purity of our presbytery, we resolve that the Sacramento Presbytery holds that all candidates for ordination, installation, and/or membership in this Presbytery shall comply with all standards for ordination set forth in the Constitution of the (PCUSA) (G-1.0500), or shall be ineligible for ordination, installation, and/or membership.
- To promote the peace, unity, and purity of our presbytery, we resolve that the Sacramento Presbytery shall not receive into membership, nor recognize as a member, anyone who has been ordained or installed under a scruple (that is taking exception to any of the ordination standards as set forth in the Constitution of the (PCUSA) (G-1.0500)).
- To promote the peace, unity, and purity of our presbytery, we resolve that the Sacramento Presbytery shall honor the protest of every congregation that chooses to exercise its right to withhold its per capita, therefore, only designated congregational per capita funds shall be used to fulfill presbytery per capita obligations, and presbytery per capita assessments shall not be increased to compensate for such protests.
- To promote the peace, unity, and purity of our presbytery, we resolve that the Sacramento Presbytery shall take no action to enforce any general trust interest claimed against any property, real or personal, held by an individual congregation within the Sacramento Presbytery.
Of concern to me is that we who support actions such as Sacramento Presbytery need to do a better job explaining just why we believe what we believe. If you check out the comments that follow the article in The Sacramento Bee you'll see what I mean. As I type this there are 16 comments which break down as seven in favor; eight against and one purely personal toward another poster. Actually a total of four of those falls into the somewhat personal category. In those who don't get it are used the words, bigoted, prejudiced and even KKK. They make statements like, "they spent a half-billion dollars trying to keep GLBT people out of their churches." Without any realization that it isn't their church; your church or my church. It's Christ's church and His standards are to be our standards.
We need to let the world understand several things about the ongoing battle within our denomination, and I use the word battle on purpose.
- Sexuality is one issue. It is not the major one. It isn't the only one.
- The place of leadership for homosexual persons is the issue. It has never been an issue of membership. Since 1975 when the General Assembly first addressed this issue that's been the case any homosexual person was welcome into membership on the same basis as any other sinner, confession of Christ as Lord and Savior.
- The goal of the church is not to be a barometer for the world. A barometer does little more than move up and down with the pressure that is around it. It can tell a storm is coming but not whether that storm will kill you. The church stands firm on the Love of Christ.
- We who believe that active homosexuals should not be in leadership within Christ's church are the majority. Around our world the Church, that is those who are followers of Christ from Asia, to Latin America, to Africa, and elsewhere (except in the enlightened West) know that this is God's will and desire.
- God's love is not a blindly accepting love but a love that challenges and transforms the lives of everyone who is willing to be touched by the hands of Christ. That's why liars become truth-tellers; drug addicts become clean and sober; gays become straight and the adulterer to become faithful. Most won't accept this simply because they do not wish to have their pet sins taken away from them or become accountable for their actions
Christian teacher, writer and songsmith John Fischer in Beggar which is on his Dark Horse album sings:
I know where the food is
And it isn't very far away
Doesn't cost much but an empty soul
And the pride that stands in the way
I'm not one who's got it all in place
Telling you what you should do
No I'm just one old hungry beggar
Showing you where I found food
Office of the General Assembly
September 8, 2006
To Presbytery Stated Clerks
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
I hope all of you are doing well as we begin a new program year in the life of the church. I continue to be grateful for your good leadership in the presbyteries of our church and count it a great blessing to be your friend and colleague in this ministry.
This is a challenging time to be stated clerks. I know that in certain parts of our church there are deep disagreements and anxieties over actions of the 217th General Assembly, ordination standards, the trust clause, and the future of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). So, while it is a challenging time, I believe it is also a time in which our calling to strengthen the ecclesial life of the church and to encourage faithfulness to our Constitution is more crucial than ever.
As our governing bodies deal with these difficult issues, I would remind you of the wise advice given by this year’s General Assembly with near unanimity. The assembly called on all governing bodies, as we face difficult issues, to be engaged in “processes of intensive discernment through worship, community building, study, and collaborative work.” The assembly also encouraged us prior to decision making to engage in the spiritual disciplines of prayer, discernment of the will of God, and seeking to hear God’s voice through the voices of those in our community.
These calls challenge our organizations at all levels to be more than “governing bodies.” We are to seek to transform our lives together so that we are more like the body of Christ, where each part is deeply honored and respected and all seek not so much their own will but the will of Christ, who is the head of the body. Our Form of Government says it well in G-4.0300d, “Presbyterians are not simply to reflect the will of the people, but rather to seek together to find and represent the will of Christ.”
It is this vision that is at the heart of our Constitution. It is why, in part, it is so important for us to remind Presbyterians that faithfulness to the Constitution is critical as we deal with difficult issues in our life together.
I am particularly concerned about proposals that I hear are coming to some of our presbyteries that are not in accord with our Constitution and its authoritative interpretations (which also have the binding authority of the Constitution itself). I hope, in your role as stated clerks, you will join me in reminding Presbyterians that while dissent and advocacy for change are deeply engrained Presbyterian values, no presbytery by any vote margin has the authority to take actions that are not in accord with the Constitution, or to set aside its provisions.
Among the proposals that are of particular concern to me:
- Actions by a presbytery that in essence set aside the assembly’s authoritative interpretation of G-6.0108 and require subscription to all or specific constitutional standards. Examinations are to be conducted based on constitutional standards established by the whole church, but ordination and installation decisions are to be made by ordaining bodies based on whether “the candidate has departed from essentials of Reformed faith and polity” (G-6.0108b). Authoritative interpretations can be changed by new interpretations from the General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission or the assembly itself, and presbyteries may send in overtures seeking such change, but presbyteries cannot set aside, on their own, standards clearly specified in an already adopted authoritative interpretation.
- Efforts to set “super standards” on the one hand, or to declare that certain standards will not be in force on the other, in the examination of candidates. In our polity, sessions and presbyteries make ordination and installation decisions, and the General Assembly and presbyteries together set the basic standards through the constitutional process. General Assemblies do not make ordaining decisions, and presbyteries cannot add to or take away from standards upon which examinations are based (except by overturing the assembly for constitutional change).
- Establishing answers that are required of candidates for installation and ordination, or determining in advance answers that will be unacceptable. Ordaining bodies may determine questions they wish to ask of candidates, but their answers are to be judged on a case-by-case basis, based on the standards set by the Constitution.
- Proposals to grant congregations – based on a super majority vote or other criteria – to leave the denomination with their property in the event of schism. The General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission case, Strong and Bagby v. Synod of the Mid-South, makes it very clear that presbyteries are the body of original decision-making in all matters related to dismissing, dissolving, or transferring congregations and cannot delegate that authority to a session or congregation. This is to be done on a case-by-case basis, based on the criteria in G-8 and especially the standard that any such action should be for the benefit of the mission of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
- Actions to restrict presbyteries from fulfilling their G-9.0404d responsibilities to transmit their per capita assessments to synods and General Assembly. The authoritative interpretation by the 211th General Assembly (1999) of G-9.0404d made it clear that the payment of per capita to higher governing bodies is a presbytery responsibility “as long as it has funds available,” and cannot be contravened because certain sessions wish to have funds withheld. Presbyteries do not have the authority to change those provisions without seeking an amendment or new interpretation of the Constitution.
- Mandates that presbyteries seek to place on sessions for procedures or content for the examination of candidates to be elders or deacons beyond those specified in the Constitution or its authoritative interpretations. One ordaining body does not have the authority to impose on another ordaining body particular requirements greater than those in the Constitution. The most recent authoritative interpretation of G-6.0108 by the 217th General Assembly recognizes the historic duty of each governing body to examine its own members and apply the constitutional standards in that process.
The Office of the General Assembly has worked to provide you with additional assistance related to the concerns raised in this letter, including recent advisory opinions (#18 on Discernment in Examining Bodies and #19 on the Trust Clause) and a constitutional musing (#11 on Examining Officers). They are available online at www.pcusa.org/constitutionalservices. I hope you find them to be helpful resources.
Yes these are difficult days for many of you. But it is in times like this that we most need to seek the spirit and mind of Christ and to be faithful to our Constitution, as we seek to build up the church in faithfulness to its Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
May God’s richest blessings be with you, your presbyteries, and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
Grace and peace,
Stated Clerk of the General Assembly
cc. Synod Stated Clerks
Presbytery and Synod Executives