Friday, May 7, 2010

How a news agency, PNS, can affect voting in the General Assembly

Just today, May 7, 2010, less than two months before the General Assembly, the Presbyterian News Service offered a report by reporter Sue Boardman. The report is “Staying at the Table: Atlanta Presbyterians ponder Civil Unions/Christian Marriage report. The title would be okay but the report is one sided so the title is wrong.

It is really about one person’s view of marriage, civil unions and the majority report of the Committee to Study issues of Civil Union and Christian Marriage. This is shaping opinion and outcome by a news media report.

The person the reporter focused on is Rev. Margaret Aymer, assistant professor of New Testament at ITC's Johnson C. Smith seminary, who is a member of the committee and advocates for the ordination of gays and lesbians as well as same gender marriage. Aymer led a conversation on marriage and civil unions at Atlanta’s Interdenominational Theological Center. The reporter, Boardman, wrote that it was a small gathering of “pastors, elders and students." (Italics mine)

So here are some questions for the reporter and the Presbyterian News Service, “Why was this a news worthy report?” Why if it was a news worthy report didn’t the reporter find a way to ask questions of people on both sides of the issues? Since the PNS has published this report will they now interview one of the writers of the minority report?

The minority report did come up in the conversation. Boardman writes:

“Responding to questions about the minority report coming from three members of the committee, Aymer admitted, "I haven't read it. Realizing that, despite all our efforts at covenant community, there was going to be a minority report was extremely painful but still, we all stayed at the table."

'The minority report,' Aymer added, "may consist only of things which were considered and voted down by the committee."

So here are some of the things that were voted down by many in the committee, it is of course from the Minority Report.

“Our starting place

Included in the mandate of this special committee was a directive that the PC (USA)constitutional definition of Christian marriage not be changed. In our confessions, marriage is
consistently defined as a lifelong covenant between God, a man and a woman, and the community of faith.

The PC(USA) Book of Order states: “Marriage is a gift God has given to all humankind for the well-being of the entire human family. Marriage is a civil contract between a woman and a man. For Christians, marriage is a covenant through which a man and a woman are called to live out together before God their lives of discipleship. In a service of Christian marriage, a lifelong commitment is made by a woman and a man to each other, publicly witnessed and acknowledged by the community of faith” (W-4.9001).

Regarding marriage, the PC(USA) Constitution consistently declares that:

Marriage “was instituted by the Lord God himself” (The Book of Confessions, 5.246; also 6.131, 6.133, 7.130, 9.47, and Book of Order, W-4.9001);
 Marriage is a “spiritual and physical union [of] one man and one woman” (The Book of Confessions, 6.131; also 5.246, 6.133);
 Marriage is “designed of God to last as long as they both [husband and wife] shall live” (The Book of Confessions, 6.133; also 6.131, 6.137, 9.47 and Book of Order, W 4.9001);
 “Marriage is a gift God has given to all humankind for the well-being of the entire human family” (Book of Order, W-4.9001; also The Book of Confessions, 6.131);
 Marriage serves purposes including "the mutual help of husband and wife; the safeguarding, undergirding, and development of their moral and spiritual character; the propagation of children and the rearing of them in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (The Book of Confessions, 6.134; also 6.131);
 “Marriage is a civil contract between a woman and a man” (Book of Order, W- 4.9001);
 “For Christians marriage is a covenant through which a man and a woman are called to live out together before God their lives of discipleship” (Book of Order, W- 4.9001);
 Christian marriages are to be “publicly witnessed and acknowledged by the community of faith” (Book of Order, W-4.9001);
 Christians are called to “continence” in single life or “complete love and concord” in marriage (The Book of Confessions, 5.245-246; also 4.108, 7.248-249).

Authoritative interpretations of the Constitution have established that:

 “Officers of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) who are authorized to perform marriages shall not state, imply, or represent that a same sex ceremony is a marriage because under W-4.9001 a same sex ceremony is not and cannot be a marriage” (Spahr case, 2008).

 Sessions “should not allow the use of the church facilities for a same sex union ceremony that the session determines to be the same as a marriage ceremony” (1991 General Assembly).”

Boardman writes that Aymer stated:

"It was eye-opening for many members to realize that people disagreed for biblical and theological reasons. We are called by our denomination to read the Bible, taking seriously the issues of language and structure of scripture, and the context of the texts. It was a little strange for me, being from the PC(USA)’s smallest and least remembered seminary, to be the only biblical scholar in the room!"(Italics Mine)

What was it Jesus said, “I praise You, Father, Lord of Heaven and Earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to babes. (Matt 11:25)”

And there is the great theologian Karl Barth, who never once felt a fellow Christian was beneath the dignity of the name theologian or biblical scholar if they were serious and knew the subject and the word.

Barth wrote the introduction to a book, Cross and Swastika by a fellow Swiss, Dr. Arthur Frey, who was neither a theologian nor a biblical scholar.[1] Barth stated:

“One thing I do know, however, and that is that at the first encounter I realized I had become acquainted with a man who obviously had read and reflected to an astonishing extent on theological and ecclesiastical matters and who in this field had won the right to independent judgment—a man with whom I could converse on a basis on which it is possible to converse with not many theologians."

Another way that connects Barth’s thoughts about lay theologians and bible scholars to the Majority’s Report, in which they give no opinion, is his praise for the author of the book because Frey, when no one else in Switzerland had a decisive view about the church in Germany, was able to make a decision, to say a definite No to German Church ideology and theology.

The intellectuals among the Swiss, as Barth put it, “has to be as much as possible the cleverer, and therefore—has not to come to a decision!” That reminds one of the Majority Report, perhaps clever about unity but not at all pastoral. Not helpful to those who need biblical and confessional guidance.

Hopefully the PNS will interview a member of the Minority Report, perhaps Rev. William C. Teng whom I am sure Karl Barth would find capable of astonishing theological and ecclesiastical conversation.

[1] Barth writes: “The reader of this book would certainly never have suspected that the author’s thesis for his doctorate, published 1922, had for its subject: “Meat Price Policy in Switzerland during World War, 1914-1918.” Dr. Arthur Frey, Cross and Swastika: The ordeal of the German Church, (Student Christian Movement Press), 1938.


Anonymous said...

I would have to disagree with you that there is any bias in the reporting in the PNS article. In fact, based only on the article itself, I am unable to conclude with any certainty which side of the Marriage issue Rev. Aymer falls on. I find only one clue, and that, in my opinion, is inconclusive. That is her statement that she hasn’t read the minority report. That, in itself, isn’t proof that she is an advocate of Gay Marriage. It could simply mean that she agrees with me that a report written solely by a minority group of the minority viewpoint (3 out of maybe 7) on the committee (total of 15) wouldn’t be an essential read particularly when she already knows what their point of view and arguments are.

I would like to commend Ms. Boardman on a very fair and well written article which stuck to the facts.

Clark Hazlett
Lake Mary, Fl

Viola Larson said...

The bias is in asking only one person's opinion about a subject the Church will be voting on, and that in our only official news service. And yes, she does affirm the ordination of gays and lesbians and same sex marriage. I did not get this from the article it is something I already knew.

Anonymous said...

I don't buy that argument. I just think you're in the midst of a complaining frenzy. I'm glad you seem to admit that the author wasn't advocating a position with regard to the committee's report. For me, it did a good job of pointing to the committee report and also the minority report without taking sides. How can that be bias?

Dave Moody said...

I think when we decide that there is another way forward, other than obedience to what scripture clearly says re: any subject, then we will forever be entangled in these gnat straining and camel swallowing debates.

I'm very grateful for those who put their names to the minority report...

my 2c,
Dave Moody