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Issue Number 3
November 2000

What in PSNE and
       in Heaven???
Our Concurrence
Other Debates
News Notes
Contact Us

What in PSNE and in Heaven???

As we approach the November 17-18 meeting of our Presbytery, we may well wonder, "What's happening?"

The facts please, just the facts...

  • This past June our General Assembly modified its rules to include concurring rationales with the materials distributed to the commissioners.
    • "A presbytery or synod concurring with an overture may submit additional rationale for its action, provided that it does not duplicate the rationale provided by the overturing body. The concurrence and any additional rationale will be printed with the original overture in the Reports to the General Assembly." [from Polity Reflection #39 <http://horeb.pcusa.org/oga/PolityReflections/Note39.htm>]
  • General Assembly proposed two especially controversial Constitutional Amendments for consideration (the number '00' refers to the year 2000, the letter 'A' refers to the location of the change in the Form of Government):
    • 00-A would, in G-5.0103, replace "because of race, ethnic origin, worldly condition, or any other" with "for any."
    • 00-O would add a section W-4.9007 to the Directory for Worship 'prohibiting Same-Sex Unions' and reading:

    • "Scripture and our Confessions teach that God's intention for all people is to live either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman or in chastity in singleness. Church property shall not be used for, and church officers shall not take part in conducting, any ceremony or event that pronounces blessing or gives approval of the church or invokes the blessing of God upon any relationship that is inconsistent with God's intention as expressed in the preceding sentence."
  • At their September meetings, the Sessions of the Hartford, New Haven: First, Providence and Wilton churches voted to ask PSNE to concur with an overture from Northern New England to delete G-6.0106b from our Book of Order. The texts follow this article.
  • At its October 5 meeting, PSNE Council recommended:
    • "...that the Presbytery postpone indefinitely the overtures from the sessions of Hartford: First, Providence, Wilton and New Haven: First. The Council felt that the debate on these requests is not in the best interests of the Presbytery, and would harm efforts toward reconciliation in our community."
    • "... that the Presbytery limit debate on amendments 00-A and 00-O to 3 minute speeches, 3 on each side, and to provide a pro and con document in advance of the meeting. Before the debate, speakers will identify their intention to speak pro and con and be selected at random."
  • At its planning retreat on October 16-17, PSNE's Committee on Ministry discussed these matters, seeking to be pastorally responsible and prayerfully open.... They developed an alternative process:
    1. Explanation -- Information and Rationality with one presenter for and against 00-A, 00-O and Concurrence
    2. Small group dialogue
    3. Structured Debate
    4. Vote -- on concurrence in November and on A and O in February. A February vote on concurrence would be too late to have any effect.
  • At their October meetings, the sessions of the Greenwich and New Canaan churches voted to join the request for concurrence.
At this time no one seems knows what will happen at the November meeting. We must be there to decide both the issues before us and how we are to make those decisions. Observers are welcome. Please encourage your church’s commissioners to be present for the whole meeting!

Rationale for Our Concurrence

The proposed rationale is our chance to share the gift of our witness with the greater church. At the heart of it is:
Respect for diversity is a central requirement for the peace and unity of the church.... Whether individual or corporate, the right of private judgment is a necessary one. It includes the right to be wrong.... The church protects its own minority point of view as if it were protecting its future, recognizing that the dissenter may well represent the will of God....
The majority of the rationale is excerpted from Historic Principles, Conscience and Church Government,  <http://horeb.pcusa.org/oga/diversity/conscience.htm> adopted in 1983 at the first General Assembly of the reunited church. That was a time filled with anxiety that merger would force people to give up their deeply held beliefs. It still applies.

The rationale recognizes we will not soon reach agreement about standards for ordination and installation or about the even more fundamental issues which divide us. It does not ask anyone to give up his or her convictions and beliefs. It does ask us to respect each other in our differences. We cannot hope for prayerful, responsible dialogue in a situation where one party or another feels threatened and under judgment. 'b' creates a situation in which Christians seem encouraged to bring charges against others who faithfully profess the name of Jesus. Even if no charges had been brought, when some of the parties to a conversation have 'outlawed' the beliefs of others, the opportunities for honest and prayerful seeking are greatly diminished.

The issues often seem too toxic to discuss. Still, we need to acknowledge our divisions. The general lament that American churches are losing members should be recognized as schism -- schism by attrition. Many people have concluded, often very painfully, that the Gospel is not found in the churches. Some have sought more conservative or evangelical forms, but many have found no organization demonstrating Good News. They have found no way to reconcile their experience of Gospel with a Church which burdens them with guilt.

We are charged to recognize all who call on the name of the Lord. We may agree on the Way, but in our pilgrimages we do not all start from the same place so we do not all travel the same road. Honoring the diversity of the faithful is a major theme in Paul's writing, as it was for Peter. Jesus' ministry was controversial in no small part because he touched those who were outside the religious norm. We may well remember that before Pilate Jesus was a minority of one.

Getting rid of 'b' will simply improve our chances of hearing the gifts of our many minorities. Your faithful presence is urgently needed at this November meeting!

Worshipers at the Soulforce Demonstration at General Assembly 2000

... in Heaven???

We cannot know what is happening in heaven but Walter Wink's The Powers That Be is a helpful guide to understanding how cosmic events affect us here on earth. Wink points to a spiritual dimension in all hu-man institutions and also recognizes that some spirits may be demonic (in modern terms, pathological). The demonic spirits are spirits, though, NOT individuals. We need recognize something of the faithful and something of the faithless in all our endeavors and institutions. We are, none of us, perfectly good or perfectly bad. We have all sinned....

Writing about the Institute for Democracy Studies research, Lewis C. Daly begins, "The mainstream Presbyterian Church (USA) is infested with demons, according to a small but increasingly potent network of activists operating within the 2.6 million-member denomination." [Spiritual Warfare in the Presbyterian Church  <http://www.institutefordemocracy.org/warfare.html>]

I agree! -- as long as these activists do not mistake individuals for demons. How else would good, loving, faithful, prayerful people be found using Scripture and the church to marginalize other good, loving, faithful, prayerful people? And while the barbs and arrows coming my way may seem sharper to me, I am well aware that our demonic entrapment in hurting each other shows no respect for theological perspective. It goes both ways.

There are profound theological issues behind this debate. Our spiritual lives depend on it. But let us acknowledge we are all in it together and none of us is in a position to reject another's wisdom. Can't we remove this 'b'arrier between us? Why are we afraid of other Christians?

Ralph Jones

Proposed PSNE Concurrence

Concurrence with Overture 00-13.
On Striking G-6.0106b from the Book of Order

The Presbytery of Southern New England concurs with Overture 00-13. On Striking G-6.0106b from the Book of Order, from the Presbytery of Northern New England.


Since the passage of G-6.0106b it has become clear that Presbyterians are not of one mind about ordination standards. The effect of this policy has been deep and painful division. While its removal will not resolve all the underlying issues, it will create an environment more open to study, reflection and prayerful consideration.

Consider the following excerpts from Historic Principles, Conscience and Church Government, adopted by the 195th General Assembly, PC USA (1983), the first meeting of the reunited UPC (USA) and the PC US:

Schism is generally the result of an improper understanding or use of Presbyterian polity. Lessons available to us from our history suggest the following as contributing factors: ...a governing body assumes the simple majority to be sufficient for taking action binding the conscience of a large minority....

Respect for diversity is a central requirement for the peace and unity of the church.... Whether individual or corporate, the right of private judgment is a necessary one. It includes the right to be wrong.... The church protects its own minority point of view as if it were protecting its future, recognizing that the dissenter may well represent the will of God....

There are times when delay is a valuable way of avoiding premature decisions, especially when the minority position is held by a fairly large number of people.... Mutual forbearance is to be exercised by individuals within the church toward one another. Forbearance is willingness to accept other people in the church who do not share our own ideas. To exercise forbearance is to accept diversity with gratitude for those who differ and willingness to remain in conversation with people whose perspective may disturb us....

...all church bodies must exercise care not claiming too much authority for themselves.... When an attempt is made to force consensus before the time is right, the impatience of those who demand premature action may produce a lack of proper attention to the convictions of a large minority. Such a lack is one which produces ill will and potential for schism.... When a very close majority vote is taken on an issue of importance, the result is often troubling.

While twenty-two more presbyteries voted for than against G-6.0106b, a change of vote by 32 commissioners in 11 presbyteries would have defeated it (based on analysis of announced votes). We are presently struggling with the consequences of attempting too quickly to reach a decision.

Northern New England Overture

Overture 00-13. On Striking G-6.0106b from the Book of Order -- 
From the Presbytery of Northern New England. 
[Concurrence to Overture 00-13 sent from the Presbytery of Baltimore to the 212th GA.]
           212th General Assembly action: referred to 213th General Assembly (2001)

The Presbytery of Northern New England respectfully overtures the 212th General Assembly (2000) through its Stated Clerk to send the following proposed amendment to the presbyteries for their affirmative or negative votes:

          Shall G-6.0106b of the Form of Government be stricken from the Book of Order.


The peace, unity, and purity of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is endangered by the presence of this paragraph in our Constitution. On the one hand, as written, the paragraph has the effect of targeting a group of people for exclusion from ordained office, and therefore carries the potential for being in contradiction with other parts of the Book of Order that mandate an inclusive church. In this regard the church is reminded of the authoritative interpretation of G-6.0106 and G-4.0403 (1998), which states:

Standing in the tradition of breaking down the barriers erected to exclude people based on their condition, such as age, race, class, gender, and sexual orientation, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) commits itself not to exclude anyone categorically in considering those called to ordained service in the church, but to consider the lives and behaviors of candidates as individuals.
On the other hand, as written (with its reference to The Book of Confessions), the paragraph creates a set of potential circumstances that render it either completely unenforceable or selectively enforceable -- both possibilities that make it problematic for the church.

In addition, the wisdom expressed in G-6.0106a is quite sufficient in setting standards for ordination. The strength of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) lies in its ability to hold freedom of conscience and church order in tension, and to allow for the flexibility in interpretation of the essential tenets of the Reformed faith by the governing body closest to those it ordains (G-6.0108b). Sessions and presbyteries have the responsibility to weigh the confessions and to determine which segments reflect essential tenets of the faith, and which behaviors are indispensable to doctrine and government. Section G-6.0106b abrogates this historic and fundamental right of ordaining bodies, effectively making an inflexible and questionable theological determination, then turning it into inflexible and intolerant polity.


Other Debates

We should take NO ACTION on Proposed Amendments A and O. They are an insult to many faithful Christians and unnecessary to protect the faith and practice of anyone. There was a general agreement to spend the past year in study rather than trying to legislate about human sexual ethics. These proposals should not be allowed to further divide us.

In case we do have to debate and vote, please read the pamphlet prepared by Rev. Bear Ride and others in the More Light movement.

Ralph Jones


Day-long Retreat Yields Action Plan

Presbyterian Promise members gathered on Saturday, September 23rd for a full day retreat.  The retreat was organized to enable the group to evaluate successes from the past year, plan strategies for upcoming action, and to re-energize the commitment to the pursuit of an open Presbyterian Church.
Carl Dudley and Letty Russell in "Retreat"

Carl Dudley, faculty member at Hartford Seminary, served as the Retreat Moderator. He asked members to reflect on several crucial questions:

  1. What is the nature of our work in Southern New England?
  2. Who are our allies in this work?
  3. What are we planning for General Assembly ’01?
  4. How should Presbyterian Promise be organized to get things done?
The central importance of “personing the issue” arose time and time again throughout the day, leading retreat participants to conclude that much of the group's work should be building personal relationships across the presbytery. Our approach to education and advocacy must take a pastoral, rather than a prophetic tone. The group re-committed to reaching out to Sessions to build a broad base of support and to hold regular gatherings and events that will expand our network of supporters and create a spirit of fellowship. We continue to hope that an expanded network will pave the way for a part or full time evangelist.

The most striking moment of the day was the point at which the group identified allies in this work. Many of us have felt too small, too busy, or too fractured to be effective. But when we are able to expand our vision of who “we” are, the positive effect is stunning. Whether our friends and supporters are local congregations and their pastors, social service organizations, students and youth, businesses, or civil rights groups, it is clear that the success of Presbyterian Promise will be greatest if and when we reach out to these allies and share the work at hand.

Sincere thanks to Letty Russell for hosting the retreat and to Dick Hasbany, Craig Machado and Letty for planning the event.

David Lewicki

News Notes

Dutch Legislators Approve Full Marriage Rights for Gays

September 13, 2000 -- Lawmakers in the Netherlands, long among the gay-rights vanguard, approved a bill today to convert the country's registered same-sex partnerships into full-fledged marriages, complete with divorce guidelines and wider adoption rights for gays. ...

Minister calls for church progressives to issue another ‘Auburn Affirmation’
Downtown Church minister wants liberals to say, ‘This isn't Presbyterian’

by Alexa Smith - Presbyterian News Service - September 19, 2000

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — A minister in Rochester, N.Y., has called for a convocation to reclaim the Presbyterian Church (USA) "for the principles and the person, Jesus Christ, on which it was founded." The gathering would be held in Auburn, N.Y., the site of historic conference in the 1920s that rallied the denomination’s progressives against a fundamentalist faction that had defined Presbyterian orthodoxy by five doctrinal tenets. Another "Auburn Affirmation" is overdue, the Rev. David Bos, interim pastor, told the members of the Downtown United Presbyterian Church in Rochester. The Affirmation, written in 1923, argued that the Presbyterian church must "safeguard liberty of thought and teaching among its ministers" — and that the vows they take at ordination do so sufficiently, without requiring subscription to other particular doctrines.   …MORE….

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Wayne Osborne
Letty Russell
Jack Hartwein-Sanchez
MLP liaison
Pat Wales
Ralph Jones

That All May Freely Serve
More Light Presbyterian

Calendar of Events

    November 7 - 12 Janie Spahr and Ginny Davidson visit Presbyterian Promise
    Tuesday - 7 PM at Letty Russell's Liberation Theology Class at Yale Divinity School
    Wednesday - Noon Covenant Network Luncheon at First PC, New Haven CT
    Thursday at Brown University, Providence RI
    5 PM - Chaplain's Student Dinner
    8 PM - Open Presentation at Manning Chapel
    Saturday - 10 AM Presbyterian Promise Board Meeting at First PC Hartford
    Saturday - 1 PM Open House with Janie & Ginny at First PC Hartford
    November 17 - 18 PSNE at St. Thomas, Bloomfield
To proclaim God's promise of justice and love in Jesus Christ by organizing inclusive and inquiring churches in the Presbytery of Southern New England into a community of mutual support for the empowerment of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgendered persons, and for outreach, education, and Christian evangelism.


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