Jul 11, 2012

What Happens When there are Fractures in the Foundations?

The Bible is the foundation upon which we build our faith. The Bible is our main authority to teach us about who God is and what his purpose for our world is.

The next layer of authority is the Book of Confessions. It is the Book of Confessions that helps us to understand how we are to read and understand the Bible.

The Book of Order stands alongside the Book of Confessions as our guide in how we are to live out our lives together as Christians and presbyterians.

This is how we have historically understood what it means to be presbyterian. The Book of Confessions (What we believe) and the Book of Order (How we live out our beliefs) are what made us presbyterians and not Baptists or Methodists, or Catholics, etc. 

This is our connectional nature. Our vows to uphold our constitution is what connects together.

But what happens when our vows to our constitution are no longer in place? What happens to our connectional nature?

What happens when a good percentage of the church views particular sections of our constitution as ungodly, unjust, wrong?

So unjust and wrong that what is being sought is not just a reversal and correction of the current constitution, but a overt rejection of the constitution by a public willful disobedience to that constitution?

What does that do to our connectional nature?

If it is not our common bond in what we believe and how we live out our beliefs, what else is there to hold us together in a connectional system?

These are the questions the PC(USA) must answer.

Folks calling on the changes of our constitution to fully recognize same gender marriages because it is a issue of justice are set in their views. 

Folks who see such change as an unacceptable compromise of the integrity of the scriptures are set in their views.

So as long as the language remains as is, those who advocate for same gender marriages will have to oppose and violate the constitution of the PC(USA) in order to maintain their theological conscience. 

In the same way, should the language change in the constitution, those who see that as an unacceptable change cannot help but perceive that change as a serious violation of their theological convictions.

So, where does that leave us?

What is the basis of our connectionism?

What is our understanding of our ecclesiology?

In my humble option, until the PC(USA) answers and deals with these questions, we will not find any helpful ways out of our currently divided and contentious times. 


Joe Duffus said...

Which is more important, in other words? Our connectional nature or "relief of conscience?"

My only quarrel with your thinking is that you seem to take it as a given that those who want to allow the blessing of same-sex marriage within the PCUSA... MUST do so now. Some of them, such as the incoming director of More Light Presbyterians, threaten to do just that, in open disregard of our current constitution. Essentially, they're using the tactics of Saul Alinsky against the church whose constitution and connectionalism they promised to uphold when they were ordained.

The core issue of whether we should make this change won't go away. Not unless the people on one side or the other go away.

But to those who advocate deliberately "flooding the judicial system" of the church in order to press for change, I ask, why do you even care what the Book of Order says? You're not willing to be governed by it anyway.

Kevin Davis said...

In the same way, should the language change in the constitution, those who see that as an unacceptable change will not be able to uphold the constitution of the PC(USA).

Well, if the language is changed to "two people" instead of "man and woman," then those who hold to traditional marriage would still uphold the constitution by only performing opposite sex marriages. In other words, the constitution would be widened to include those who hold to traditional marriage and those who want to perform homosexual marriages, such that neither group is forced to violate the Book of Order.

That, at least, is how a compromise position will be argued...and likely how it will eventually pass in the coming years. The question for evangelicals (myself included) will be whether the PCUSA will indeed allow conservatives to perform only traditional marriages and, also, allow sessions to only appoint pastors that affirm traditional marriage. If the PCUSA were to make GLBT affirmation a litmus test, then the evangelicals really would be forced out of the denomination. I don't see that happening...not yet...hopefully not ever.

James Kim said...

Joe, these are very good questions. For folks who see the marriage issue as a justice issue, the changes couldn't come quickly enough. Just as if the issue was slavery, we would do everything within our power to overturn slavery, for those who see same gender marriage as a justice issue, they will do whatever it takes to change or polity. These challenges aren't going away.

one of the main questions facing our church is the question of ecclesiology.

Thanks for your comments.

Let's continue to seek God's face as we learn how to live into or present emerging future.

James <><

James Kim said...

Kevin, I think one of the areas that will need to be tested is what happens to pastors and sessions when they serve a church that is not of the same mind over this issue, and they are in states that allow for same gender marriages?

What happens if a pastor were to refuse a same gender marriage where both the civil and the church constitution allows for such marriages? I think such pastors and sessions would be leaving themselves wide open to discrimination charges, and I would think there would be lawsuits claiming discrimination.

James <><

Joe Duffus said...

Hi James! Thanks for reading my comment. Your comparison to slavery is apt in that if the church progressives really do see this issue as rising to that level, their resort to "ecclesiastical disobedience" might seem appropriate.

However, I believe it's worth noting that the Christians who broke the law regarding slavery -- mailing abolitionist literature into the South, participating in the Underground Railroad, etc. -- were breaking civil laws, not religious ones. This matters to me.

The reason Tara McCabe's election was objectionable to many was because she had willfully done exactly this, while at the same time standing for an office whose occupants are supposed to respect and uphold these very standards.

Clearly, I don't support Presbyterian ministers performing same-sex marriages in any state. But even if I were in sympathy with the sentiment of the cause, I would feel frustrated by those whose witness for it is tainted by their own unwillingness to be governed by the standards as they currently are. Granted it may be a small, vocal minority of commissioners that have threatened to do this, while the others defer quietly to the Book of Order. Even so, those who will respect the church's Book of Order have a responsibility to the church, and to their like-minded, hot-headed brethren, to call them out for it.

James Kim said...

Joe, as I understand it, those who are desiring acceptance and blessing of same gendered marriages view this cause as a justice issue. It does not matter whether the laws or civil or religious. Those who advocate for the church's change in the view of homosexuality see this just like the justice issues of women and slavery. They will do whatever it takes to change the standards because in and of themselves they are viewed as ungodly, unjust, and unfair.

As an evangelical, I don't agree with where our liberal friends are on this issue, but I get their urgency and frustration with where we are as a denomination.

It is this frustration and a sense of holy responsibility that the liberals are operating from.

They view our current Book of Order and Book of Confessions being out of order with God's plan and purpose for our church.

That's why there's been more calls for open disobedience and disregard.

Anonymous said...

One point that should be noted is that there are two parts to to constitution: Confessions and Order. Those advocating change of marriage (as ordination before)have not set out to address Biblical issues by seeking to change the several confessions that declare the Bible's teaching on sexual matters. My opinion is that they have declined to do so because they doubt that they can overcome the procedural hurdles, having first to make a careful case based on Scripture and then to convince an extraordinary majority of presbyteries and General Assemblies.

Joe Duffus said...


First, a compliment... you're a LOT more patient than I am! :-)

I agree with you completely that the progressives likely do feel that way. Beyond the theology disagreement, I think they're wrong on their elevation of it to a "justice issue" such that it warrants open defiance of the Book of Order. But they do.

As a simple pew-dweller, I find most of what drives the denomination's agenda a poor ordering of our priorities and needs. With churches closing, leaving and discouraged, one would think more time would be spent on strengthening the ones we still have. To be callous about it, no marketing consultant would advise us to reinvigorate and grow by focusing on divisive social issues and foreign politics.

The divestment debate is a classic example. Whatever your opinion on Israeli settlements and the plight of the Palestinians, our church's piddling investments in three companies that happen to do business there don't warrant the kind of attention that was paid to it in Pittsburgh. To be blunt, nobody cares. We don't wield any power and haven't for many years.

Thanks for your blog and your insights.

James Kim said...

Joe, I agree with you that no one cares what the GA thinks. That includes most of the PC(USA) folks. When's the last time you made your buying decisions based on what the PC(USA) is divesting from? Do most people even know who are on that list besides Caterpillar, HP, and Motorola?

The reality is that PC(USA) makes less than one percent of the population of the US.

No one, not Americans and certainly not the global village cares what the PC(USA) is doing.

If we want to make an impact in the world, we've got to get focused on making a difference in our communities with the good news of Jesus Christ.

Thanks Joe for your thoughts.

James <><