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October 8, 2007: Chapter 2

Chapter 2 of the substitute constitution involves "ordered ministry, commissioning, and certification." Given that this is where many of the most highly-contested sections of the Book of Order can be found, it is interesting to note how the Task Force handled it.

Ordination Standards

First, G-6.0106 (a and b). Many people who are going to evaluate the substitute constitution are going to look here first, "Did they change anything?"

No.

They did not change anything. And that may be the problem.

This is not trickery on the part of the Task Force; rather, it is an inevitable result of the limitations imposed by the General Assembly.

There is a footnote that reads as follows:

"The task force was directed by the 217th General Assembly (2006) not to alter the current wording in G-6.0106b. Elsewhere in this proposed Form of Government, we have specified "ruling elder" in place of "elder," as used here, and have used "ordered ministry" in place of "office."

What's the big deal? Two things:

1. The change in language in other places -- but not here -- creates an ambiguity. The argument could be made that the effect of this change is that self-avowed, unrepentant, practicing homosexual persons can be elected and installed as "presbyters" -- "ruling elders" or "teaching elders" or one or the other -- because "presbyters" would be somehow different than "elder" as understood in the current language of G-6.0106.

It would be naive to suggest that this argument would not be used. Remember, the parsing of the definition of "chastity" came to include the notion that having sexual relations with a single same-sex partner was consistent with being chaste.

The task force anticipated this potential; thus, the footnote. However,...

2. Footnotes are not binding. They are helpful, they are explanatory, they are not binding. Thus, should a Permanent Judicial Commission in, say -- oh, where could we pick? -- Redwoods Presbytery decide to make a test case out of this, we're off to the races in the PJC's again. Uncertainty abounds.

This just illustrates how difficult it is to introduce a system based on trust in an environment that has manifest so many examples where trust is betrayed.

Overall

Taking a step back to look at the bigger picture involved in Chapter 2, there is an admirable effort to simplify several complicated processes. Sessions and candidates for ministry and presbytery committees all have lamented the difficulties involved with understanding the appropriate steps in the processes.

It is worth remembering that the presbyteries just approved amendments to Chapter 14 of the current Form of Government to try to help simplify the process.

Over the next several days, we will look through some of the rest of Chapter 2 to see what impact the changes will make.