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October 15, 2007: The Big Picture and More on Chapter 2

Boy, is it difficult to sustain interest and energy for this project. Please do not read that as a condemnation of the Task Force -- the group that put together the substitute constitution took on a huge task.

That said, it is important to evaluate the substance of the proposal on its own merits without reference to how much time, energy, and resources have been spent to produce it. If it stands on its own, it stands; if it does not, it should not be approved because we feel badly for those who worked hard on it.

Just a reminder: when evaluating changes to a Constitution, you have analyze both:

a. What is it supposed to do?

b. What does it do that it is not supposed to do? (Unintended consequences)

Most of the analysis here has been focused on the second question. There is a reason why: if approved by a General Assembly (whether the 218th (2008) or 219th (2010)), the question will go to the presbyteries as, "Shall the substitute constitution become the Form of Government," making what currently exist a relic for the Historical Society.

When I finish going through the six chapters, I plan on addressing two "big picture" questions:

1. Is the substitute constitution -- problems and all -- better than what currently exists?

2a. If the answer to #1 is "no," can the problems be fixed to make it better?

or

2b. If the answer to #1 is "yes," what problems can be identified and fixed to make it better before it is adopted?

Back to Chapter 2

G-2.0302 Validated Ministries.

Validated ministries include things like "teachers, evangelists, administrators, chaplains, and in other forms of ministry recognized as appropriate by the presbytery." (G-6.0203 current; G-3.0307 substitute).

Kudos to the Task Force for highlighting the changes they have made to in this area. (See page 6, here) I would not have spotted this unless they pointed it out.

Validated ministries have been a hot topic of conversation in the last several years. Two names may suffice to illustrate: Katie Morrison and Parker Williamson.

In September, 2001, Redwoods Presbytery validated the ministry position of "field representative" for the More Light Network, "a network of people seeking the full participation of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people of faith in the life, ministry and witness of the Presbyterian Church (USA)." Into that position, Redwoods Presbytery approved the examination of Katie Morrison who, by her own words, was a self-avowed, unrepentant, practicing homosexual person. Remedial challenges to those decisions were denied on procedural grounds.

In 2002, Parker Williamson, now the Editor Emeritus of the Presbyterian Layman, was denied renewal of the validation of his ministry by Western North Carolina Presbytery, leading to a reversal by the General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission.

What Change?

In the introductory material for the substitute constitution, the Task Force wrote this regarding the validated ministry section (G-2.0302 in the substitute):

This section adds to the list of required functions of validated ministries that of the proclamation of the Word and the administration of the Sacraments. This is a step beyond the requirements of curent G-11.0403, which makes no reference to the Sacraments. The task force reasoned here that the ministry in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is a ministry of the Word and Sacrament, and thus it is reasonable to expect that ministers in validated calls should be engaged in some way in proclaiming the Word of God and administering the Sacraments. The presbytery is left to determine how to interpret this provision, but task force conversation suggested that most presbyteries have several congregations without installed pastors where pastors in non-validated ministries might provide occasional preaching and sacramental leadership. (emphasis in original)

Here is a good example of two things going on at once: clarity to address mistrust and flexibility to allow for wide interpretation.

Personally, I think the idea to add this clarification is good. Then, the Task Force's comment, "the presbytery is left to determine how to interpret this provision," just undercuts what they tried to accomplish. What does an undefined "shall" mean? It just sets it up for a disagreement resulting in either a PJC case or a later amendment.

For example, does someone ordained as a minister of Word and Sacrament whose ministry is a private Christian counseling practice actually have to preach and administer the Sacraments in congregational worship?

Does teaching in a classroom count as proclamation of the Word? If so, how does a teacher baptize or administer the Lord's Supper?

Will presbyteries then become characterized by holding multiple worship services on meeting days in order to provide opportunities for validated ministers in administrative positions to fill those requirements? The answer to those questions will impact the individual's right to voice and vote at presbytery. Does shall mean shall or is there wiggle room implied in the interpretation?