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May 20, 2008:

DAY 5 ON nFoG WATCH: I have been looking around on-line and have not found anyone writing in support of the nFoG (that is, anyone who was not a part of the Task Force itself). Can you? If so, send me a link. I will post, I promise. Is there a presbytery, a stated clerk, an executive presbyter or other blogger who is advocating in favor of this nFoG?

1. Jack Haberer, Editor of the Presbyterian Outlook, wrote a piece entitled "Constitutional Dentistry", which compared the nFoG to a trip to the dentist for major surgery.

The Form of Government (FOG) section of the Book of Order will climb onto the dentist’s chair for commissioners’ diagnosis when the 218th General Assembly gathers in San Jose, Calif., this coming June 21-28.

So, how are those teeth? Are they chewing as needed? Are their roots strong? Have they become overcrowded — some needing to be pulled? Maybe they all need to be pulled, in order to make room for a complete set of implants.

Ouch. That cannot be the image the nFoG Task Force wanted in commissioners' minds.

Haberer's recommendation is to seek a second opinion before agreeing to go forward or to abandon the project. That is not a ringing endorsement of this proposal.

2. The Witherspoon Society's Network News reviews many of the issues coming to the General Assembly, including the nFoG (page 24). Gene TeSelle provides a good description of the background for the creation of the proposed nFoG and then recognizes some of the problems posed by choices made by the nFoG Task Force. The problems he raises are different than the problems I have raised -- suggesting that concern over the approval of this nFoG is not limited to one political camp or the other. (By the way, read the whole issue -- not just the part on the nFoG.)

So, I press on in my nFoG Watch for another day. (Hat tip for both links: Presbyweb)

Committee Survey: Committee 5, Church Orders and Ministry

This committee will experience the closest scrutiny of any of the commissioners' committees. This is the committee handling all the issues surrounding ordination, sexuality, PUP #5 and freedom of conscience.

Though the overarching issue is clear enough -- that is: whether self-affirmed, unrepentant, practicing homosexual persons are eligible for ordination in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) as elders, deacons, and/or ministers of Word and Sacrament -- it is likely that the conversation and reporting will be focused on procedural nuances. Terms like PUP #5, scruples, "essential," and authoritative interpretation are going to become very familiar.

Every word will be parsed.

There are eighteen items listed for this committee on PC-Biz. For me, this is an opportunity to consider how the flow of business may impact the substance of recommendations that are made. In other words, when things are handled may have a tremendous influence on how things are handled.

The committee will convene for the first time Sunday night, meet all day Monday and Tuesday. According to the proposed Agenda, this is the order the issues will be handled:

a. Monday, there will be public hearings in the morning. This is an opportunity for people -- commissioners, advisory delegates, and observers (people who come to watch and would like to say something to the committee) -- to speak their minds. These are very short speeches -- sometimes, if the line is long, each person may get 30 seconds. The committee will sit and listen. Doesn't that sound like fun?

b. Monday afternoon, the committee will "consider" the Items 05-01, 05-02, and 05-04, which directly related to rescinding the Authoritative Intepretation approved by the 217th General Assembly (2006) commonly discussed as PUP #5. (For what it's worth, it is fairly common to call something by its original name -- 12 years later, people still refer to G-6.0106b as "Amendment B" or "Fidelity & Chastity.")

PUP #5 is significant because of the way it was phrased. The question is whether a governing body (read: session or presbytery) can determine that G-6.0106b is not an "essential" part of the Constitution such that an individual may "scruple" -- declare their unwillingness to abide by it. The Bush decision said no; the General Assembly is being asked to take it up anew. These Items request that PUP #5 be rescinded as the way to resolve any potential ambiguity.

c. Later Monday afternoon, right before dinner, the committee will hear the overture advocates for business related to Items 05-08, 05-06, 05-09, 05-11, and 05-13, all of which are about the subject of G-6.0106b and related Authoritative Interpretations.

d. Monday evening continues that discussion. It seems as if the committee will be looking to vote on these items Monday night.

e. Tuesday morning, the committee is scheduled to return and act on the items related to PUP #5.

If the vote the previous night is to recommend deleting G-6.0106b and/or revising the Authoritative Interpretation, it is likely that the committee will move to answer these items with that action. Yes, I know, they are different subjects; however, Assemblies like simple and efficient answers -- even when they are not really answers at all.

If, on the other hand, the vote is to not recommend deleting G-6.0106b and/or revise the Authoritative Interpretation, this will become Round Two.

f. Tuesday afternoon, amending (which is different than delete) G-6.0106b andG-6.0108b to clarify. Round Three. Items 05-07, 05-05, 05-10, and 05-12.

And the committee process is only the first step. After they vote, their recommendations will be considered by the entire General Assembly later in the week.

You know, that's about all I want to say about this committee. Everyone knows ordination and sexuality are going to be controversial topics. I pray for the commissioners and advisory delegates assigned here -- it is a spiritually difficult task.