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December 5, 2007: General Assembly PJC cases pending

A few weeks ago, I was preparing a paper about the things outside San Diego Presbytery that have the potential to impact how we do ministry here. Among the things I identified were two test cases regarding ordination standards that were developing:

  1. Paul Capetz petitioning for reinstatement as an ordained Minister of Word and Sacrament in Twin Cities Presbytery; a special meeting was set for December 1, but was postponed. A new date has not yet been set.

    The question posed by his petition is whether G-6.0106b is an essential and necessary part of the Constitution; whether an officer may hold a “scruple” against it. Capetz previously requested to be released from the exercise of ordained office as an act of conscience regarding G-6.0106b. He is a self-avowed gay man who is a professor at United Theological Seminary in Minnesota. No disciplinary charges were pending at the time of his petition for release; nor are there any disciplinary charges pending now.

    When Twin Cities Presbytery takes up this issue, it may be the first on-point test of the Authoritative Interpretation approved by the 217th General Assembly (2006) based upon the work of the Theological Task Force on Peace, Unity, and Purity.



  2. Scott Anderson pursuing ordained ministry in John Knox Presbytery. From its November 13, 2007 meeting, John Knox Presbytery reports that it "participated in the second of three planned Committee on Preparation of Ministry mock examination scenarios dealing with candidates' declared departures from constitutional standards."

    Anderson was a member of the PUP Task Force. He is an openly gay man who said in an interview with the Presbyterian Outlook, "if the presbytery accepts him as an inquirer, he intends to declare a “scruple” or an objection to the part of the PC(USA)’s constitution that limits ordination to those who practice fidelity if they are married or chastity if they are single."

    The upshot is that Anderson may be applying to move from Inquirer to Candidacy; and the issue will be whether the dicta in a recent PJC case (Stewart v. Mission Presbytery) is binding.

Eggs in a basket

A few days after delivering my report, I read Leslie Scanlon's report in the Outlook about the Covenant Network's recent convention. (And, to digress for a moment, in my opinion, Leslie is one of the unsung stars and a real blessing to those of us in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) world. She has consistently provided great reporting and analysis of what is happening across the whole spectrum of the denomination.) She wrote,

"In February, the General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission will consider appeals of remedial cases involving Olympia and Pittsburgh presbyteries.

The Covenant Network has “a lot of our eggs in the basket” of how the Permanent Judicial Commission will rule in those cases, said Tricia Dykers Koenig, the network’s national organizer."

Hmmm, I thought. Tricia Dykers Koenig is the E.F.Hutton of the Covenant Network: when she speaks, people should listen. She has been a major player in the development of the Covenant Network strategy to change ordination standards. So, what are those cases?

The GA PJC website indicates that the Olympia and Pittsburgh cases are the only two on the docket for decision at its February 8, 2007 meetings in Louisville.

The Synod of Alaska Northwest did not sustain a challenge to Olympia Presbytery's action approving the following resolution,

“We hereby declare that in our discernment of the movement of the Holy Spirit, every mandate of the Book of Order (2005-2007 is an essential of reformed polity. Therefore, any violation of a mandate of the Book of Order (2005-2007) constitutes a failure to adhere to the essentials of reformed polity and thus presents a bar to ordination and instillation.”

Alternately, the Synod of the Trinity did sustain a challenge to Pittsburgh Presbytery's action approving this language,

“In its discernment of the essentials of Reformed polity and for the sake of the peace, unity, and purity of the church, Pittsburgh Presbytery:

“Adopts the principle that compliance with the standards for ordination approved by the Presbyterian Church (USA) in the Book of Order is an essential of Reformed polity. Therefore, any departure from the standards of ordination expressed in the Book of Order will bar a candidate from ordination and/or installation by this governing body. Provisions of the Book of Order are signified as being standards by use of the term “shall,” “is/are to be,” “requirement” or equivalent expression; and

“Resolves that no exceptions to the requirement that all Ministers of Word and Sacrament must “live either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman or in chastity in singleness” (Book of Order, G-6.0106b) will be allowed within the jurisdiction of this Presbytery; and

“Resolves that Ministers of Word and Sacrament shall be prohibited from conducting same-sex marriages within the jurisdiction of this Presbytery.”

Thus, there is a division in the decisions of the Synods. This is a good illustration of the best function of the General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission -- resolving conflicts that arise among the synods.

And?

The gist of the appeals is this: may a presbytery declare "essentials" that are not subject to scruple, or must every decision be on a case-by-case basis. In other words, are there some things out of bounds no matter what; and, if so, to what extent can the presbytery set those out ahead of time?

Before the GA PJC makes a decision, it is difficult to tell whether the outcome will really have a great impact.

If you are scratching your head and saying, "Really? What does that mean?" I would not blame you.

At this point, it is probably more important to know that these cases are pending than trying to predict the outcome. The Covenant Network does have a great deal at stake -- if the GA PJC decides with the Synod of Alaska-Northwest, it will be much more difficult to make challenges in presbyteries with clear standards.