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January 28, 2008

Why Bother With the New FoG?

The test cases being pushed around the country beg the question, "Why bother with the New Form of Government anyway?" If current standards and words are meaningless, so is the new FoG. There is no reason to say yes to a meaningless, dead document.

The Presbytery of Twin Cities became the second presbytery to abandon their constitutional responsibilities by reinstating the ordination of Paul Capetz this past weekend. Capetz was perfectly clear that he was "scrupling" -- stating his unwillingness to abide by -- G-6.0106b. The decision says that for a majority of commissioners in Twin Cities Presbytery, the ordination promise to "be governed by our church's polity, and will you abide by its discipline?" meant "yes, unless we really want do something else."

(Yes, I know that the ordination promises were amended out of the Book of Order in the re-write of Chapter 14 in 2006. However, only the most recent ordinations and installations would not been required to make those specific promises. See how ambiguity and "flexibility" make all sorts of things possible?)

According to the Presbyterian News Service account, the process was led by the Rev. Vickie Curtiss, a member of the Theological Task Force on Peace, Unity and Purity: yes, the same group who assured commissioners to the 217th General Assembly (2006) that the Authoritative Interpretation the Task Force was advocating would make "no change" to ordination standards. For what it is worth, she is not the first Task Force member to leave the "no change" camp; Scott Anderson was already declaring a scruple in John Knox Presbytery ("Anderson said he does not believe his case will be pivotal in deciding what the authoritative interpretation allows. But, contrary to many who say the AI changes nothing, he believes it opens the door. "I have always felt called to be a pastor," he told The Layman Online today. "Given the action of the General Assembly, I felt this might be an opportunity. It gives some clarity to the scrupling process.")

Apparently for the Task Force, "no change" meant "complete change." The Rev. Vickie Curtiss lead the process to determine that it was permissible for one presbytery -- on behalf of all 173 presbyteries -- to set aside aside the most discussed, debated, and constitutionally-enacted part of the Book of Order. By the way, the result of their action was not only to void G-6.0106b, they also effectively voided G-18.0300, which limits the ways that amendments to the Book of Order can be made. Now, an act of a simple majority of a single General Assembly can amend the Constitution without ever consulting the presbyteries.

How I wish there were an elected officer of the church responsible for maintaining and advocating on behalf of the integrity of the Constitution! Oh, that's right, we DO have someone capable of speaking up on behalf of Constitutional standards -- surely the Stated Clerk will stand up and publicly say that both San Francisco Presbytery and Twin Cities Presbytery are out of line for using misconstruing an authoritative interpretation to overrule the Constitution. It is rather weak to hid behind a process that is being directly assaulted and ignored -- trust the system that is being ignored?

As for the new FoG? If the clear language of the existing Constitution does not mean what it says, how much less will the unclear language of the new FoG serve to bring together what has been broken?