Sunday, July 13, 2014

The 221st GA-my final thoughts and advice to the orthodox

Putting away the event of the 221st General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church would probably be the best of all worlds as far as my emotions go, but neither my emotions nor those seeking information will allow that. I woke up this Sunday morning thinking about the letter from the Palestinian Business Committee addressed to Kristine—a commissioner who was a member of the committee on Middle East Issues. It was handed to her as she began participation in the consensus part of plenary, the part having to do with divestment. My thought, as I awoke, was it had to be a staff person or GA helper, who handed her the letter because no one else was allowed in the area.[1]
And then as I entered our courtyard at church this morning a friend asked about my perceptions of General Assembly. So let me lay it out in a more structured way than I have in other postings.

This GA was lawless and chaotic and here are the reasons:

Marriage: As so many have already written, the GA voted on an Authoritative Interpretation that should never have been voted on because rather than being an interpretation it was a redefinition of the Directory of Worship’s definition of marriage. It contradicted not only the Directory of Worship but also the Book of Confessions which alongside of the Book of Order is our constitution. That makes the action unlawful.
What caused it to be chaotic is the fact that the item was addressed before the assembly with this recommendation by the Advisory Committee on the Constitution:

“This overture proposes an authoritative interpretation which would allow the exercise of pastoral discretion and freedom of conscience in conducting a marriage service for any couple as permitted by the “laws of the place where the couple seeks to be married.” It suggests an interpretation contrary to the clear statement of W-4.9000.

Section W-4.9001 and related citations (W-4.9002a, W-4.9004, W-4.9006) limit marriage to couples who are “a woman and a man.” Because these statements are clear and unambiguous, they can not be interpreted in a manner that is inconsistent with their plain and ordinary meaning.

The Book of Order is not based upon state and civil law, but the church’s understanding of Scripture and Reformed theology. As noted in Southard v Presbytery of Boston (GAPJC 2012, 220-02), “While the PCUSA is free to amend its definition of marriage, a change in state law does not amend the Book of Order.”

Freedom of conscience is a foundational principle of the PC(USA) (G-2.0105) but must be exercised within certain bounds. The exercise of freedom of conscience in and of itself is not necessarily a violation of polity or an obstruction of constitutional governance. Such freedom of conscience, however, is not freedom of action. All persons in ordered ministry have a duty to fulfill constitutionally mandated responsibilities.

If it is the will of the assembly to change the definition of marriage, such a change is better accomplished by amendment of W-4.9000 rather than by authoritative interpretation.”

But when the ACC was asked in plenary to explain why the AI was not an acceptable answer for what the GA was trying to do, they gave a different answer. And when they were asked why their advice on the item 10-03 did not match their advice on the floor they ignored the question. Leadership in this GA was so focused on moving the PC (U.S.A.) into a position that would conform to postmodern western values rather than biblical values that they were willing to lay aside proper procedure even to the point of telling commissioners that it was up to them to fix the contradictions they were voting on.

 Divestment and Israel: I have already written a considerable amount on this subject. The committee members were manipulated and controlled.[2] They were never given the other side of the story. They were even addressed by a Palestinian who inferred that a Jewish State of Israel from its beginning was an illegitimate state. This was Rifat Odeh Kassis who spoke to both the committee and the plenary before the vote on divestment. He also inferred that the first Christians were Arabs and not Jews.  
And I have written about how the vice moderator of the Middle East Committee, in her supposed devotional, stated that Jesus was not afraid to tell the Jews when they were wrong with the inference that the committee members should not be afraid either. [3] It never entered her head that positive investment with the goal of peace was as much a Christian value as any other decision. It never occurred to her that she was not placed in the committee to influence them.

Actions on Middle East issues were more than illegitimate, they were imposed by outside organizations[4] who from the very beginning menaced the committee with their complaints that the original moderator of the committee was unsuitable because he had traveled to Israel via funds by a local branch of the Jewish federation and had attended an interfaith Seder. They failed to note that he had also visited Palestinian refugee camps.
Commissioners in the ME committee pleaded to hear the other side and were ignored or lied to.

Life Issues: One of the saddest outcomes of this GA was their rejection of an overture that would have protected infants aborted alive. The committee not only rejected care for the unborn, they rejected care for those babies who survive abortions agreeing with those abortionists who commit such acts of murder as snipping the spinal cords of babies surviving botched abortions.
Item 09-02 was disapproved both in committee and plenary. This is the first two recommendations of that item:

"1.    Call for the Presbyterian Mission Agency and member congregations to enter a two-year season of reflection upon the plight of children unwanted by human society, both born and not-yet born, and to purposefully seek to enter the pure worship of God by offering aid, comfort, and the Gospel to those responsible for the care of our most desperate orphans (including those who survive abortion procedures): parents, siblings, church and community leaders, and the medical profession.

2.    Direct the Moderator of the General Assembly and the Stated Clerk to issue statements that denounce the practice of killing babies born live following an abortion procedure, such as was revealed in the Dr. Kermit Gosnell clinic in Philadelphia."
One of the commissioners, an evangelical teaching elder, privately stated that once he spoke up for the unborn he was no longer allowed to speak in the committee. Some will be angry with me for using this analogy but an analogy is not wrong when it is right. This clearly aligns the PC (U.S.A.) with the German Christians of the Nazi era. They do not care for the life of the weakest of humanity.[5]

My recommendations to the orthodox in the denomination (and please, this is my own personal opinions)  

The 221st General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has proven itself lawless. By this I mean those directing the assembly, those organizations offering official advice, and those setting the rules, which in many cases were not legitimate rules, paid little attention to proper policy or even human decency as they led and advised.  
It isn’t just that the GA illegitimately voted for an AI that immediately opened the door to same sex marriage, it isn’t just that they voted for divestment from three companies doing business with Israel, it isn’t just that they ignored the plight of the baby who survives an abortion, it is that they manipulated, broke standard policy and lied, that is the biggest problem. And they did this because they call good evil, and evil good. They did it because they have rejected the word of the Lord of the Church.

I believe there needs to be several reactions here:
There are some churches that are in conservative presbyteries. They are in safe places. Unless they feel called to leave they should stay. The denomination needs to hear their voices. Broken people in the PC (U.S.A.) need to hear, over and over, God’s good news of salvation and transformation in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

I believe that the Fellowship of Presbyterians will provide an open door and a safe place for these churches. And for equipping those who stay the Presbyterian Layman and Theology Matters are providing excellent material.
There are some churches that are in hard progressive presbyteries. It may be hard to leave but unless the Holy Spirit is calling on them to stay and be the voice of Christ they should probably go. Presbyteries need to understand that those among them who are orthodox are weary and want to serve God without giving time and money to questionable causes. They can’t serve on Presbytery committees that wink at apostasy and false doctrine. They can’t bless candidates who will not affirm biblical truths. They can’t be a part of conferences where false teachers offer a false gospel.

There are some people who are called to a prophetic ministry in the PC (U.S.A). They are called to keep speaking God’s truth until they are no longer allowed to speak. They are called to speak as the insults pile up and their voices grow hoarse. And they must obey the Lord.

And then there are those who are in circumstances that we may not know about or understand, personal circumstances that change the direction they intended to go. This is why we must not judge each other about staying or leaving. God is the sovereign Lord over all of our decisions.  He may stop some of us when we did not intend to be stopped. He may turn some of us aside when we did not intend to turn. May he, the Lord of our life, have mercy on all of his sheep.


[1] The letter in the second paragraph begins: “As you begin deliberations on a number of overtures related to divestment from those companies complicit with ongoing occupation, we would sincerely offer our insights into the best ways to support economic growth and development in Palestine.”
The letter goes on in bold letters to state “Our primary message to you is that the greatest constraint on our economy and economic development is NOT capital but the occupation.” Then there is a whole list of ways the “occupation” hurts Palestine.
[4] While it was undoubtedly Presbyterians who complained all of those who are pro-Palestinian only are connected to and influenced by both Christian and Muslim Palestinian groups outside of the PC (U.S.A.).
[5] I would recommend the book The Nazi Doctors: Medical killing and the Psychology of Genocide by Jay Lifton


Bill said...

Keeping you in prayer. God bless

Anonymous said...

But I think there is still confusion caused by folks trying to get political points where none are called for. For example, neither Motorola nor HP qualify to be companies the church can invest in due to their dependence on defense contracts. The PCUSA has a policy of not benefiting financially from the business of war. Making it about Israel put everybody in a damned if you do and damned if you don't spot. Our investment rules have nothing to do with Israel. I don't know what the final wording of the motion was, but if it said anything about Israel it should have just been ruled out of order.

In a way the marriage question is the same. The reformed tradition is that the power and authority of pastors to declare a couple married does not come from the book of order or even the bible, but from the State. A fact the Book of Order acknowledges. So the only real thing the GA could do was to explicitly forbid pastors from officiating over same sex marriages. Don't think anybody has ever brought such a motion to the floor. Otherwise pastors and anybody else authorized by the State are implicitly permitted by law to do so if they so please in states that recognize same sex marriage. An AI simply acknowledges that.

I think part of that problem is that many folks treat marriage as if it were a Sacrament, as in the RCC. But in reformed tradition it is explicitly not a Sacrament, so much so that some of the early reformers even believed pastors should have no role at all in officiating over marriages, leaving that job to the State completely. So the reformed "Orthodox" are caught in a logical conundrum that prevents them from making a strong case against same sex marriage. You'd first have to win the case that marriage should really be a Sacrament.

Finally there is the problem of following the rules. There is no real way to enforce the rules in the Church. They are based on voluntary compliance. What I have noticed in this day of surrendering to ideological civil war is that extremists on both sides willy nilly ignore the rules if they do not serve their ideological purposes. The church is just following the example of Congress and our culture, as best as I can tell. The rules don't seem to matter, and folks don't even know them, let alone enforce them. Supposedly that is what moderators are for. It is really a shame, because the rules were written to protect us, and they should be followed even when they feel like they are causing an ideological disadvantage. But the propensity for sabotaging the rules has been around for much longer than our little civil war, and trying to cry foul hasn't been working for a long time. I think it points to the deeper spiritual disease that has affected the church as a whole, and is manifested in the left vs right, liberal vs conservative polemics, but which I believe has nothing to do with where a person lies on that spectrum. The Gospel is above that plain, and the fact that the church continues to argue on that plain instead of above it indicates to me that the Church is just not aligned with the Gospel - as a whole. The rest is just noise.

Jodie Gallo
Los Angeles, CA

Linda Lee said...

Thanks for voicing exactly my own assessment
of this GA as being lawless. There was a time when
the courts of learned Biblical scholars would
decide issues but no more. The gatekeepers just put forth their own agenda and called it God's will.
The messages from Ppresbytery Executives reinforce this lawlessness.
I am thankful someone finally said what happened that proves this lack of order.
What ever side of the issues you are on, every member and pastor should be alarmed at the lack of
order and polity as that will affect the will of God being put forth in our midst.
Thanks for outlining various positions of evangelicals
and the discernment of direction in the face of these realities. 1Corinthians 12:18. "But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased."

Viola Larson said...

Jodie you are confused in several ways and your comment is so long I don't have time to cover everything.

On marriage the Reformation acknowledged civil marriage because the RCC had used marriage in a political way and the reformers wished to remove the quandaries this caused the church and the state.

But the real truth is that no matter the reference to civil marriage and the state in the Book of Order, that doesn't change the church's sound biblical and confessional view that marriage is between one man and one woman. When the state departs from the confessional and biblical view of marriage the church is not allowed to follow. That is apostasy. Since when is the state allowed to override the teachings of the church?

It is one thing when the state insists that ministers of the gospel must perform same sex weddings, that would be persecution. It is another thing when the church itself brings the world into the church and defiles the church with sin. As I have said that is apostasy.

And this has nothing to do with whether marriage is a sacrament or a covenant between a man and a woman and God. In either case biblically the definition of marriage is the same.

Besides that the idea that those who insist on same gender marriage and those who uphold the biblical view of marriage are somehow simply polar extremes is nonsense. The biblical view of marriage is not an extreme it has been the tradition of the church for almost two thousand years.

Final this battle over marriage is about Christology and the authority of his word. There is no higher plain than that. That is the gospel.

Viola Larson said...

Thank you Linda Lee, I am glad I am not standing alone on this. I believe history will affirm that this, like some other historical church assemblies, is a lawless assembly.

Anonymous said...


In any conflict there is a need for compromise. There is a need for opposing parties to demonstrate a willingness to talk. The evolution of non compromising conflict, or total victory-or-death, eventually led to the invention of the atomic bomb and the guarantee of mutually assured destruction.

In world politics that has led to compromise between mortal enemies and relatively peaceful coexistence. It is a sad irony that the Church that professes the Prince of Peace as its Lord and Master has not yet learned the things that make for peace.

Phrases like "defiles the church with sin" and words like "apostasy" are not conducive to peaceful coexistence.

But I would point out that if indeed you believe that Jesus Christ is Lord, then it is Christ who makes the Church pure, not by any action on our part, but by decree. A decree of the Ruling Authority. It is a decree that stands forever in the present tense.

In the lesson of the foot washing, Jesus points out that to walk in the world means to get our feet dirty, even if we are made clean. And as a solution to this problem of tracking mud into the Church, he gives us the task of washing each others feet in mutual forbearance and servanthood.

That would be the appropriate response if keeping the authority of his Word were indeed the highest standard. Maybe the metaphor would be aided by starting with a literal manifestation. It seems to have worked for Jesus.


Viola Larson said...

Jodie, At first Peter objected to having his feet washed but after Jesus said "If I do not wash you, you have no part in me" he wanted to be totally washed and Jesus reminded him he already was. But if Peter had said my feet are not dirty and I won't allow you to wash my feet he would have shown that he had no part with Jesus.

We need to care for all sinners who admit their sin since we are all sinners. Christ has promised forgiveness and transformation, but we must confess our sin including the act of participating in same sex.

Jesus did not promise peace in the world. He isn't asking for forbearance on acts such as this he is pleading for redemption and change.
This is all I will say on this. Please do not comment on this thread again.

Unknown said...

Jodie, I would respectfully point out Jesus offered no compromise. He said " I am the way, the truth and the life no one comes to the Father
but through me" he did not say "a way a truth" Those who seek to compromise his message remind me of some folks I knew who would profess they were vegetarian but would confess they do eat chicken and fish but certainly not red meat. Whatever that is it's not vegetarianism. compromise within the PCUSA has given us a PCUSA pastor who in a recent blog included 8 beliefs. One is that there is no God. Another was if there is a historical Jesus he certainly wasn't born of a virgin and isn't God "but he's cool" Whatever that is it isn't Christianity. He doesn't offer "cool" he does offer " my Lord my God my Savior" He doesn't offer compromise.

Craig said...

"In any conflict there is a need for compromise. There is a need for opposing parties to demonstrate a willingness to talk. The evolution of non compromising conflict, or total victory-or-death, eventually led to the invention of the atomic bomb and the guarantee of mutually assured destruction."

As a former member of a church that tried to transfer to the EPC and was treated by the presbytery in a "no compromise" "total victory", I agree that the power structure of the PCUSA is in many cases unwilling to compromise in forcing compliance with their wishes.

As a current member of a church attempting to graciously separate from the PCUSA, even though the AC has recommended that we should be compelled to stay, I am in the process of watching this same process of "no compromise" political gamesmanship being played out in real time.

So, I agree that dialogue and compromise are good things, unfortunately these are less common among that power structure of the PCUSA, than many would like to believe.

For the record, in the first case there is a trail of lawsuits filed by the presbytery against two churches, all of which were unqualified defeats for the presbytery.

In the second case, it appears that the presbytery is adopting the role of "good cop", as they do yet another "survey" (as if the overwhelming desire to leave the first time the congregation was surveyed wasn't adequate), and prepare to open "negotiations" for the ransom.

The funny thing is, we've always been willing to pay to leave, the problem is the presbytery seemed like it wants it's pound of flesh in addition to a few million dollars.