Monday, July 09, 2007

1) Local Option is Still Local Option

This is the first part of a 5-part essay on why I will not be (and you should not be either) joining the Evangelical Presbyterian Church any time soon.


1) Local Option is Still Local Option

One of the main issues driving congregations to seek dismissal from the PC(U.S.A.) is that they conclude that the PUP Report will move the denial of GLBT ordination (and other controversial issues which may or may not crop up) from a mandatory church-wide ordinance to a rule that can be "scrupled" at the presbytery level. Allowing presumably for Presbyteries to have "local option" on GLBT ordination. I have included an example of the critique of Recommendation #5 and a defense of Recommendation #5. (These links are not necessarily the only critiques/defenses but to give one who does not understand the arguments a basic primer.)

The main fear, that I feel is justified, is that Presbyteries that favor GLBT ordination will have candidates for ministry effectively "scruple" G-6.0106b and therefore not have them subject to the code of conduct that the Church as a whole has voted to be required of those seeking ordination and those who are currently ordained. Effectively Recommendation #5 enables the personal conduct of Pastors and other ordained persons to be at the discretion of the ordaining body, which is the Presbytery in the case of Ministers of the Word and sacrament. While this was true before the PUP Report, according to then and current Church law, what this particular ruling means is that an individual now has the power to deny any national ordinance over and against anything that they find "binds their conscience", thereby giving the individual power over the collective wisdom of the Book of Order when it comes to ordination. This power goes against the basic premise of the Presbyterian form of government that seeks unity in Doctrine and matters of discipline. I believe we fail to be a connectional body at all if we make things as pivotal as ministerial ordination a local option or a "non-essential".

What does this all have to do with the PC(USA) and the EPC? Simply the EPC's Book of Order claims that Women's ordination is to be a "non-essential" belief and thus is left up to individual Presbyteries as to whether or not to ordain women, effectively making women's ordination a "local option". The major problem I see is that
the churches that are seeking dismissal nearly always cite the aforementioned encroaching "local option" as being one of their main reasons for asking to be excused from their current denominational allegiance. So the question begs to be asked, "If you hold ministerial ordination to be an essential that requires church-wide subscription while in the PC(USA) why do you seek dismissal to a denomination that sees ordination to be a non-essential?"


See here for the EPC's official statement on Women's Ordination.



15 comments:

David Fischler said...

It is true that there is a kind of local option on women's ordination in the EPC. And I would not recommend the EPC to anyone who is adamantly opposed to women ministers or ruling elders such that they couldn't work with them (the PCA, ARP, or OPC would be a better alternative in that case). However, there is a difference between our form of local option and the PCUSA's that I don't think your post takes into account.

In the EPC, local option is employed to deal with the fact that some think women's ordination is biblically supported and those who don't. Those who don't do not contend that it is a sinful practice, nor do they contend that there is only one conclusion that one can come to in reading Scripture. They recognize that there is an alternative case than can be made from the Bible, and so consider it to not be a fellowship-breaking matter.

In the PCUSA, however, the local option involves the denomination putting a stamp of approval on sinful behavior. Those who oppose GLBT ordination ask, "if you're going to ordain those who are engaged in this form of behavior that Scripture clearly condemns, how can you deny ordination to anyone engaged in any other kind of sinful behavior?" In the process, disciplinary standards for ministers essentially collapse. The response from the pro-ordination side is generally one of two: either that the behavior isn't sinful because Scripture doesn't address life-long monogamous gay relationships, or that it isn't sinful because Scripture is outdated in its view of sexuality. In either case, what you have is a rejection of biblical standards of behavior, whether outright (in the latter argument) or implicitly in the first (because it is essentially saying that historical knowledge--even speculation--can invalidate biblical teaching).

So, while it's true that in both denominations you have a kind of local option, one is between two views that can both claim biblical support, and one where one option is based not on Scripture but a following of the Zeitgeist. I don't think you can simply ignore the substantive distinctions between the two.

Drew said...

Plenty of people in the EPC believe that it is sinful for a woman to lead a congregation, or teach.

The "local option" in the PCUSA in no ways involves a "stamp of approval" being put on any behavior, sinful or otherwise. It invited presbyteries to consider people as whole beings, sexuality included, and to prayerfully consider the ways in which a candidate falls short of the standard. Since our standard is Christ, we all fall short. Sinful behavior is still taken seriously, and the standards are not changed under the PUP report's reccomendations.

Benjamin P. Glaser said...

I just want it to be clear that I in no way approve of GLBT ordination. The main polemic here is against the concept of Local Option especially when it comes to something as concrete and essential as Ordination.

David Fischler said...

Plenty of people in the EPC believe that it is sinful for a woman to lead a congregation, or teach.

Could you provide specific examples, please? And I don't just mean of congregations that don't have female ruling elders, or presbyteries that don't have female teaching elders. You say that there are people in EPC who think it is "sinful." That's what you need to demonstrate--and if there are, those folks need to explain how they can be part of a denomination that permits such sinful behavior, as well as how they can work with women in presbytery and General Assembly settings.

The "local option" in the PCUSA in no ways involves a "stamp of approval" being put on any behavior, sinful or otherwise.

So are you saying that it is still contrary to the Book of Order for presbyteries to ordain sexually active gays?

Sinful behavior is still taken seriously, and the standards are not changed under the PUP report's reccomendations.

Hmm. Then can you please sort out for me this apparent contradiction in the report that seems to lay open the way for presbyteries, by determining that certain standards of behavior are "non-essential," can give gays a pass:

Essential practices are those that are required for a person’s life to fall within the bounds of Reformed understandings of Christian discipleship. (Lines 1254-6)

Some ordaining/installing bodies have maintained that the Constitution gives them the right to overlook or dispense with certain churchwide standards. Others have considered adopting their own version or distillation of essential standards, to be applied to all officers-elect. (Lines 1259-62)

Ordaining and installing bodies may exercise judgment in the application of standards of both belief and practice that are deemed by those bodies to be non-essential. (Lines 1322-24)

On the one hand, PUP seems to be saying that, no, ordaining bodies can't ignore constitutional standards on "essential practices." Then it goes and says that those same ordaining bodies have to determine what those essential standards are. Once they've determined that, say, the standards on sexual behavior do not rise to the level of "essential," they may then proceed to "exercise their judgment" and ordain sexually active gays. What am I ( and who know how many others within PCUSA) missing here?

Drew said...

Could you provide specific examples, please? And I don't just mean of congregations that don't have female ruling elders, or presbyteries that don't have female teaching elders. You say that there are people in EPC who think it is "sinful." That's what you need to demonstrate--and if there are, those folks need to explain how they can be part of a denomination that permits such sinful behavior, as well as how they can work with women in presbytery and General Assembly settings.

I can only name one, the one to which I once belonged. I don't really want to name names online, but I can tell you in an email if you really want to know. They didn't have to put up with too many women in leadership when I was there, because at that time only one congregation had female elders and none had female pastors.

I think they put up with it because the denomination wasn't all that connectional. My presbytery extended from Virginia through New England and only met once a year.


So are you saying that it is still contrary to the Book of Order for presbyteries to ordain sexually active gays?


Yes. That clause has not been changed.

The PUP doesn't give gays or any other group a "pass." It says that every officer must be considered individually, according to the standards of the BOO. If (when) a person departs from that standard, it is the job of the presbytery to determine if they depart in a way that is essential.

Yes, gays could, in theory, be ordained in the PCUSA, but they haven't been. They also could, in theory, be ordained in the EPC. Granted, it's a lot more likely in the PCUSA, but not because of a difference in polity.

regressivepresby said...

Uh Drew, folks who are self-affirming practicing homosexuals have most certainly been ordained as officers in the PCUSA. We have several in our presbytery, one who is quite open. If you have a More Light congregation in your presbytery, well, lets just say it is possible, and perhaps even probable, that where there is smoke, there is fire.

David's clarifying dilineation between local option over things within the category 'biblical' and those between categories 'biblical' and 'anti-biblical' was most helpful. Thank you David.

grace & peace,
dm

Drew said...

Regressive: Have you brought charges? Because the way I read the book of order, you may.

And no, this is not a "where there is smoke, there is fire." Being pro-woman's rights doesn't make me a woman anymore than being pro-life makes you unborn. It is quite possible to be a more light presbyterian and not have ordained any gays.

Yes, I am aware of gay elders and deacons. We also have divorced and materialistic and gluttonous and everything else deacons and elders. I don't think we should have, but the standard for these officers was dropped long ago. (And I don't think its much better in the EPC).

Presbyman said...

Backwoods, thanks for visiting my blog (Spoiled Dinner Party) and commenting.

I think the difference in local option is that for the EPC, the Biblical evidence neither mandates nor prohibits women's ordination. Their motto is "in non-essentials, charity." So I think their practice is perfectly defensible.

Now, if they had a denomination-wide standard that was being ignored in some of their congregations or Presbyteries, that would be a different matter ... that is what is happening with us.

Lord bless you at Pittsburgh Seminary, btw ... and best wishes with the ordination process. It can be a struggle but if God is calling you, it WILL happen.

Cameron Mott said...

I don't think the concept of "scrupling" is understood by us, or maybe me. A scruple does not and never has excused anyone from abiding by the BOC and BOO; if one scruples during candidacy or office, you are agreeing to abide by the very standard and essential you are scrupling and if you can't do that because of conscience you withdraw your candidacy or membership. You agree to have your conscience captive and bound by the Constitution as a candidate or officer.

will spotts said...

Cameron is clearly right about what scrupling entails. Nonetheless, I think this concept was falsely appealed to in this case. I believe the intent was not to say that one could ordain someone who disagreed, but committed to abide by the standard as much as it was to create a loophole that people who wanted to nullify the requirements of the BOO and BOC could use.

Will it happen right away? No - at least not in a dramatic, public way. However, it has been initiated for the long term. Just like the Cov Network issue - some of these HAVE ordained persons who clearly refuse to abide by BOO requirements. Right now, many of these remain relatively silent - kind of a Presbyterian version of 'don't ask, don't tell." But the time will come in the not to distant future when the argument will be made that we are merely talking about recognizing the already existing realities.

In this sense the vocal conservatives in the PC(USA) are right. I have disagreed (and continue to do so) with their interpretation of the plain meaning of the text - but the effect and I imagine its purpose were not contained in the plain meaning. A Task Force member recently informed me that in dealing with official PC(USA) texts the context (or, more accurately - though this was not stated - the wishful thinking interpretation of the context) was more important than the plain meaning - even when it led to an understanding directly opposite to the plain meaning.

Bible Storytelling said...

Hi Backwoods, don't you think it would be more fair to say that the EPC considers the sex of the minister to be a non-essential not ordination as non-essential?

Best wishes.

Benjamin P. Glaser said...

While I can understand your reasoning Bible I wonder how someone's gender can be a "non-essential"? It is not like being a woman is sinful. However the case is made by more conservative denominations that it is sinful for a woman to lead a man in Worship. So to say that it may or may not be sinful for women to be ordained as Pastors based on their particular geographical location is at the least a little dishonest.

Cameron Mott said...

Benjamin,

You don't take it that Scripture in 1 Timothy denies women authority over men in the church because of sin?

Cameron Mott said...

Will,

To me one of the major problems is people operating from a presumption as if it were already a fact or crying before they are hurt and crying more than they are hurt...or something like that.

To me there seems to be a lot of confusion about what was actually voted in from the PUP recommendations and what was only the task force's report/rationale which was made obsolete by amendment/perfection of the proposed interpretation. I've seen several people quote, and have had quoted to me, the obsoleted rationale as if it was the authoritative interpretation.

Bayou Christian said...

I'm coming in very late to this conversation and the moment has likely passed but:

Comparing local option for GLBT's and for women is like comparing apples and potatoes - they aren't even in the same category. One is comparing sin and the other is comparing gender (not interested in debating whether God created GLBT's good that's beating a dead horse).

The issue of women's ordination - I wonder if anyone of you have recently studied the pertinent texts? Let me share a few - they should trouble your rest for a few days until you order your thoughts a bit.
1 Corinthians 14:34-35
34 The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says. 35 If they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in church.

- you will say that is a particular letter to a particular church - read it again all of it.

Read all of 1 Timothy 2and3 but particularly:

1 Timothy 2:11-15 11 A woman must quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. 12 But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet. 13 For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve. 14 And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression. 15 But women will be preserved through the bearing of children if they continue in faith and love and sanctity with self-restraint.

Of course then you ad in Deborah and sister Phoebe (Romans 16:1) the same greek word used to introduce Paul, James, Jude and other key leaders.

All of this lead to two key exegeitical challenges - The Bible prescribes against women in leadership but it describes women in leadership - a real riddle.

Therefore it is a non-essential. Don't knee jerk me - go read all the texts even more than I've pointed you to.

It should always take a lot of descriptive texts to overturn a prescriptive text.

Homosexuality has no such support. The condemnation is universal unless you accept modern literary criticism and the liberal school's demystification of the text.

You should not enter into support for women's ordination based upon a cultural worldview and that is exactly how the PCUSA has come to this point.

Now regarding bringing GLBT's up on charges. This has been done - nearly 30 times in the past 10 years. When presbytery PJC's uphold the charges Synod PJC's universaly overturn them. Not one of those 30 cases have been defrocked. So people have ceased to exercise their duty.

Lastly - Gay ordination is one of the symptoms of the problem - which is Biblical adherence. In a world view where one can claim to be for gay ordination, and for abortion, and for biblical reinterpretation, who can deny thta there is anything wrong in the PCUSA, who can deny that TPUP changes anything (if it didn't change anything why pass it?) one has to deeply search their heart about coexisting in this morass.

Local option with essential tenets is appropriate, local option without any essentials is license.

Last point. Although the term scrupple is thrown about there is no legal definition in the PCUSA and remember that huge chunks of chapter 14 were just deleted from the BoO. so for your evidence there is part 1 and 2 and for part three go read shuck and jive a blog by a MOW in good standing named John Shuck - there are many more just like him.