The Whole Enchilada
That's how some people came to refer to overture 01-08 as amended from
the Presbytery of New York City which was approved at the General Assembly
just ended. [See 3 Actions for text.] It has four parts:
It asks the presbyteries to:
Pending the vote on 'b,' makes the definitive guidances of 1978 and 1979
and the other legal bars to glbt ordination "of no further force or effect."
Instructs Moderator Jack Rogers to issue a pastoral letter to all the churches
interpreting these actions.
The Assembly approved this after almost two hours of debate (including
debate on proposed substitute motions) by a vote of 317 to 208 with
3 abstentions. That's 60 percent! God is good!
remove G-6.0106b from our church's constitution. (That's the paragraph
which has been understood to mean gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender
people may not be ordained.)
Add to G-6.0106a, "suitability to hold office is determined by the governing
body where the examination for ordination or installation takes place,
guided by scriptural and constitutional standards, under the authority
and Lordship of Jesus Christ."
GA's proposal recognizes our present policy governing ordination has
not been working. It does not create a new policy. It reaffirms an old
practice of trust. It does not require anyone or any governing body to
do anything they would not choose to do today. It is a confession that
we as a denomination, we as a people loved by God, do not know what is
right. It is an invitation to come together at the great table to seek
How challenging this next year will be! As I was leaving after the decisive
vote, one woman, bowed in conversation with a friend asked, "How could
they do this?" Many people feel threatened at the core of their faith.
This discussion is beyond their present comprehension. To remain truly
welcoming, hospitable, inclusive, we must reach out with patience and understanding.
As a practical matter, we must also do so if these proposals are to win
the vote by presbyteries.
Education is one of Presbyterian Promise's key missions. We are
here, eager to help you understand and interpret the issues we face together.
Won't you call on us?
Moderator Jack Rogers
This assembly was challenged from the beginning to find a better way,
a way of healing. At one point, Moderator Jack Rogers offered a metaphor.
The church may be seen either as a bird cage where those inside are well
cared for but are not free, or it may be a bird bath where all may choose
to visit and be refreshed. This GA has invited us all to visit and be refreshed.
Read on for further perspectives....
Memo from Don
Greetings in the name of Jesus Christ whose grace has rooted and grounded
us in love so that all barriers to acceptance are torn down and we may
become God's fully inclusive church. Greetings from the 213th General Assembly
(2001) from which I have just recently returned.
moderator Jack Rogers told us to go out from Louisville as ambassadors
to tell the rest of the church the good news of what great and powerful
new things God has begun to do in and through the PC (USA). We are to take
to all the presbyteries the vision of a church that is truly rooted and
grounded in love, that leaves no one out and considers no one to be a second
Let no one convince you, as some have already begun to try to do by
putting the worst possible "spin" on the GA, that we commissioners were
confused in our actions. We were deliberate, steadfast, and consistent
in holding fast to our new vision for the church even as we negotiated
a whole mine field of parliamentary procedural roadblocks placed to divert
us from our vision.
We avoided all diversion and kept our eyes fixed resolutely on the goal
of our vision of a fully inclusive church. We accomplished, among other
things, three very significant actions to begin to lead the PC (USA) into
a new day.
We resolutely affirmed our Reformed heritage as a confessional church.
We commended for study and renewed use the Book of Confessions as
an adequate guide for what we believe.
In doing so we refused several overtures that would have had us adopt for
the PC (USA) subscriptionist statements about the meaning of Jesus Christ.
In refusing to adopt such statements we commissioners, I believe, were
making a powerful affirmation for "freedom of conscience" and the "right
to a broad theological spectrum" within the church. [See 3 Actions: Theological
YAD Amy Bell waiting to speak against
the substitute motion
and for the amended New York Overture
We called for the appointment of a task force to lead the PC (USA) in spiritual
discernment of our Christian identity for the 21st Century and to lead
us in a sustained dialogue about the important issues that divide us.
In taking this action we refused to create a "Table of Dialogue" based
on injustice and inequity. We insisted that everyone must have a place
at the table and have freedom to join in the dialogue without fear of intimidation,
loss of career, or loss of place in individual faith communities. This
dialogue was set up in order to include lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender
members of the church.
We called for the appointment of a task force that does not have the specter
of G-6.0106b looming over it, making the process of dialogue hopelessly
flawed from the beginning. The matter of G-6.0106b was specifically not
referred to the task force. For a free, open, just and equal dialogue to
proceed, the work of the task force must be free of the strictures of G-6.0106b.
[See 3 Actions: Peace, Purity and Unity]
We Commissioners decided that the peace, unity, and purity of the church
can only be preserved by ridding our Constitution of the prohibition placed
on presbyteries and sessions acting, in the freedom of their conscience
and due deliberation and discretion, to ordain whatsoever candidates fulfill
their criteria and are judged to be called by God to lead the people. We
therefore voted to send an amendment to the presbyteries deleting G-6.0106b
from The Book of Order.
We also adopted an Authoritative Interpretation (to go into effect once
a majority of presbyteries vote to delete G-6.0106b) declaring the 1978
Definitive Guidance and all judicial decisions and previous Authoritative
Interpretations deriving from the 1978 Definitive Guidance to have no further
force or effect. [See 3 Actions: Ordination Standards]
Commissioners in debate
WE HAVE A LOT OF HARD WORK AHEAD. We must be as resolute as the 213th
GA in holding up before the church this vision of a PC (USA) rooted and
grounded in Christ's love that makes room for everyone. We must go out
into all the presbyteries with this vision and convince the rest of the
church that this is Good News that shall transform it into a beacon of
light to all peoples.
So let us pray together for guidance in holding up before everyone this
beautiful vision of the church. Let us work under the studied guidance
of the Progressive Partners and those who join in helping us to act in
wise and deliberate ways to fulfill our call to make this vision a reality.
But above all let us trust in God's grace in Christ to give us faith to
move the oppressive shadow of a mountain and let more light shine into
our hearts and minds as a denomination.
Don Stroud, Minister Commissioner from Baltimore and
Minister of Outreach and Reconciliation,
On Being a GA Commissioner
It was a powerful week in Louisville, Kentucky. Commissioners, Youth
Advisory Delegates, Theological Student Advisory Delegates, Missionary
Advisory Delegates, Ecumenical Advisory Delegates, and staff people from
all over the nation and beyond came together for a week of discussing church
business and discerning God's call. I was delighted to get the nod as the
elder commissioner from our presbytery last February but not until I touched
down in Louisville did I really sense the excitement and responsibility
of my call.
The assembly started off with the election of Jack Rogers as moderator.
He is a fair, compassionate, listening, moderator with a sense of humor.
He conducted the plenary sessions with objectivity and caring and used
excerpts from our Confessions during devotional moments.
GLBT's and supporters participated in two worship services on Sunday
that were energizing and uplifting – not only the sermons but also the
prayers, the singing and the dancing through the open door of inclusiveness.
The great number of people attending showed the solidarity and strength
of those committed to a more welcoming church. Powerful.
More Light Presbyterians at Worship
Another positive for me was seeing all our brothers and sisters in Christ
from other presbyteries, people I usually hear from only through e-mail
and newsletters. To gather with others who hear God's call to an open,
affirming church was wonderful. Talking, eating, drinking, hugging, singing,
praying and listening to each other felt so good! To be with others who
believe in this cause reassured me and lifted my spirits immeasurably.
Being part of the whole body of commissioners who voted to eliminate
G-6.0106b and reaffirm the commitment to all welcomed by Christ was a culminating
moment, a solemn moment. The anticipation built all week, but was not unbearable
– debate and discourse were civil and polite when the Ordination Standards
committee presented their report Friday afternoon. Yet knowing that 60%
of us voted to remove 'b' was good news, very good news. That night the
move to have it reconsidered failed by an even larger margin. Now it is
up to the 173 presbyteries to decide, but I believe God is calling us to
a "more excellent" way - to include all in the church of Christ.
I was glad to serve my church and my presbytery. It was a positive
experience all around. I really felt that the Holy Spirit was with me and
carried me, energizing and empowering me through a busy schedule, loads
of paper and lots of walking. I would do it again.
Talk Softly and Carry a Big Stick
As the Overture Advocate for Southern New England Presbytery, I return
from General Assembly with a feeling of hope and joy, a resurrection of
that "old love" for my church which has been tested mightily for the last
We passed Overture 08 from New York City. Now comes the hard work of
winning a majority of the presbyteries. I want to take this moment to give
thanks and let you know a little about how this wonderful thing happened.
First, we carried a "big stick." About 28 overture advocates collaborated.
Because there were so many overtures related to 'Amendment B,' we decided
a united approach was best. Together we created what is now called the
"PowerPoint" presentation, of which we are very proud and excited. It was
shown to the Ordination Standards Committee [and repeated twice later]
and it alone, I believe, was a major factor in changing three people's
minds. The presentation will be available to presbyteries and anyone else
who wants it during the next year. I, along with others from Presbyterian
Promise, will make myself available to churches and groups to speak in
more detail about the General Assembly and the proposed overture.
The presentation was balanced, faithful, pastoral and reasonable. It
presented the points, that:
There are differing but faithful points of view on this issue;
There are faithful Biblical interpretations which differ from the traditional
Where there is such a large minority in pain and anguish, a loving and
diverse church should have respect for individual conscience and mutual
The local church and presbytery is where the decisions on ordination are
Overflow crowd of commissioners at
a second showing of
the Advocate's Presentation, about 9:45
PM, after a full day of debate.
This was the first time I was in a group project where I felt the whole
was actually greater than the sum of the parts! Those of you who
know me will know this says a lot: I usually detest group projects, ever
since they were the thing to do at college. However, we were so great that
I did not speak to the Ordination Standards Committee or the General Assembly
itself at all. I had total confidence in our folks and our work and therefore
kept quiet. The Holy Spirit definitely is present when I can do that and
feel fine about it!
The "talk softly" was, I believe, the fact that we truly presented a
compromise. While many who are pro-gay would like a mandate of equality
in our church (such as we have with people of color and women), we advocates
knew the time is not right for that. Therefore we stressed that Overture
08 would not require any governing body to ordain any homosexual person
if they did not believe they could and be faithful to their conscience.
On the other hand, the overture allows those churches and presbyteries
who so desire to go ahead. It passed the assembly by 60% to 39%, a solid
affirmation that we were on the right track, in spite of many somewhat
vitriolic speeches by the opposition. The vast middle – the quiet, faithful
Presbyterian majority – voted for us on this and carried it. These are
the many folks across the country who do not think they know any glbt folks,
but also know their gospel well enough to suspect the way we have been
going is not right. They want a choice which allows them to feel faithful
to their conscience, the Bible and the Presbyterian church, and we gave
Right after the vote, while I was outside jumping up and down all by
myself I immediately thought of Tom Otte and knew he was watching and smiling
his grin, happy and proud of us all.
General Assembly is a special world, shared by some 3,000 of the most informed
and committed in our denomination. It begins Saturday afternoon with an
orientation period and, after dinner, the election of the Moderator. Sunday
is a time of worship. Working committees commence after supper and continue
through Tuesday. Plenary reconvenes after lunch on Wednesday. All the decisions
are made by Friday night, except for the budget which is finalized Saturday
morning. There are breakfast, lunch and dinner events throughout.
Note the stoles on the table
At 9 AM the Three Sisters (More Light Presbyterians, That All May Freely
Serve, The Shower of Stoles), joined by a group of dissenting churches
from Hudson River, held a joyous worship in a park across from the convention
center. We prayed and sang, led by an inclusive choir. We danced. We listened
to scripture. We shared the very special peace of Christians greeting each
other after a time of absence. In parting, we commissioned each other with
stoles – reminders of those who have been unable to serve.
Then came the formal opening worship with great music, preaching by
Syngman Rhee (the previous moderator), communion and celebration of the
gifts of our missionaries – including 108 year old missionary nurse Nola
Pease Vander Meer who with her husband had served the church in Kentucky
for 98 years. She was quoted as praying, "Lord, give me patience, and please
More Light Presbyterians at Worship
At 4 PM, a throng of welcoming and hospitable folk gathered at Louisville's
Central Presbyterian Church for a celebration of God's inclusive love.
We shared in true liturgical dance as led by Jef Sodowsky with WS Walton,
Jr. as cantor. We entered through the door of God's space. Johanna Bos
led us in a reflection on Psalm 118, Open the Gates of Righteousness, taking
it as a response to the post exilic period – a gratitude for God's goodness
tempered with memory that things are not always good.
This assembly set out to find a way to remain together. That was the hope
Jack Rogers expressed in his moderatorial campaign. That was the hope of
the Peace, Purity and Unity committee when it proposed a task force to
lead a four year period of discernment.
We came together knowing the challenge was what to do about 'b'. The
Committee on Ordination Standards struggled long and hard with the numerous
overtures and concurrences it received. In a remarkable display of hard
work and cooperation, many of the advocates for these overtures began working
together weeks ago. Led by Doug Nave, from Presbyterian Welcome, the advocates
produced a careful and thorough presentation reviewing the personal, theological
and scriptural considerations. A recording of this is already available
on www.tamfs.org/ga Presbyterian
Promise will be happy to share this with your congregation!
On the Sidelines
There is the official assembly and then there's the assembly for the rest.
While the commissioners are hard at work, many others come together
to greet, network, dine and even shop. Yes, shop. The exhibit hall provides
a great place for people to meet, to share and to learn from one another.
The MLP, TAMFS and Shower of Stoles booths were next to those for One by
One and the Presbyterian Lay Committee. We shared the floor with representatives
of the denominational offices – and with other efforts of love and
compassion like the Peace Fellowship at whose breakfast we heard Walter
Wink speak about turning the other cheek Jesus' way. While George Will's
message to the Lay Committee gathering was that this is the time "to serve
the soul," Jimmy Creech challenged MLPers to understand marriage as a spiritual
MLP, TAMFS and Layman Booths
Some 21 gathered for the PSNE luncheon....
3 Actions – GA 213 [from PC USA web site]
ON THEOLOGICAL ISSUES
The General Assembly offers its thanksgiving for the concerns raised
by the Presbyteries of Beaver-Butler, San Diego, and San Joaquin regarding
faith in Jesus Christ, to whom all power in heaven and earth has been given.
We recognize a widespread concern for recovering the place of
our confessions in all aspects of church life. The General Assembly answers
01-43, 01-51, and 01-52 by requesting the Office of Theology and Worship
to prepare and widely publicize a list of available materials for study
and worship that will help our congregations better understand the
theological richness of the Lordship of Jesus Christ in The Book of
Confessions, Book of Order, and the Scriptures; the imperfections
in our daily responses to God's calling; and ways in which congregational
and individual witness can be strengthened.
As a witness to what we believe, we affirm the following statement:
We confess the unique authority of Jesus Christ as Lord. Every other authority
is finally subject to Christ.
Jesus Christ is also uniquely Savior. It is 'his life, death, resurrection,
ascension and final return that restores creation, providing salvation
for all those whom God has chosen to redeem.'(1) Although we do not know
the limits of God's grace and pray for the salvation of those who
may never come to know Christ, for us the assurance of salvation is found
only in confessing Christ and trusting Him alone.
We are humbled in our witness to Christ by our realization that our
understanding of him and his way is limited and distorted by our sin. Still
the transforming power of Christ in our lives compels us to make Christ
known to others.
1. The Crucified One Is Lord, p. 4.
ON PEACE, PURITY, AND UNITY
Because we are baptized and profess our faith in Jesus Christ as Lord
and Savior, gather together at the Lord's table, share in brokenness as
well as reconciliation, share a heritage of listening for the way in which
Scripture speaks as we struggle with hard issues, share a common although
diverse reformed history and confessional heritage, the Presbyterian Church
(U.S.A.) shall enter into a season of theological clarification of our
Presbyterian identity by:
1. Directing the Moderators of the 213th, 212th, 211th General Assemblies
(2001, 2000, 1999), in consultation with the General Assembly Nominating
Committee, to appoint a theological task force as follows:
a. The task force is to be composed of seventeen members of the Presbyterian
Church (U.S.A.), with membership reflecting the theological and cultural
diversity of the Presbyterian Church, (U.S.A.).
b. The task force is directed to lead the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
in spiritual discernment of our Christian identity, in and for the 21st
century, using a process which includes conferring with synods presbyteries
and congregations seeking the peace, unity, and purity of the church. This
discernment shall include but not be limited to issues of Christology,
biblical authority and interpretation, ordination standards, and power.
c. The task force is to develop a process and an instrument by which
congregations and governing bodies throughout our church may reflect on
and discuss the matters that unite and divide us, praying that the Holy
Spirit will promote the peace, unity, and purity of the Presbyterian Church
d. The task force is directed to make a progress report to each General
Assembly, beginning with the 214th General Assembly (2002) and concluding
its work and making a final report to presbyteries & sessions not later
than the 217th General Assembly (2005).
2. Calling the church to unite in a sustained period of prayer and reflection
on Scripture and our confessions, seeking to promote the peace, unity,
purity, and mission of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
The Assembly voted to amend and adopt (317/208/3) the Committee recommendation
to approve the alternate resolution as follows:
That the overture be approved with amendment; and that this action
be the response to Overtures 00-13, 00-40, 00-48, 01-3, 01-6, 01-12, 01-19,
01-22, 01-27, 01-28, 01-29, 01-32.
Amend Overture 01-8 as follows:
"1. Direct the Stated Clerk to send the following proposed amendments
to the presbyteries for their affirmative or negative votes:
"a. Shall G-6.0106b be stricken.
"2. Approve the following authoritative interpretation:
"b. Shall G-6.0106a be amended by adding a new sentence to the end
of the paragraph to read as follows:
"Their suitability to hold office is determined by the governing body
where the examination for ordination or installation takes place,guided
by scriptural and constitutional standards, under the authority and Lordship
of Jesus Christ.
"Interpretive statements concerning ordained service by homosexual
persons by the 190th General Assembly (1978) of The United Presbyterian
Church in the United States of America and the 119th General Assembly (1979)
of the Presbyterian Church in the United States, and all subsequent denominational
affirmations thereof, shall be given no further force or effect; and Section
G-6.0106a of the Form of Government, together with the other prerequisites
for ordination expressly stated in our Book of Order, hereby are affirmed
as the sole and exclusive standards for ordination by ordaining bodies
acting in prayerful discernment of the leading of Almighty God, pending
the approval of the related proposed amendment."
[Note: The text of G-6.0106b that the assembly committee is asking to be
deleted reads as follows:
"b. Those who are called to office in the church are to lead
a life in obedience to Scripture and in conformity to the historic confessional
standards of the church. Among these standards is the requirement to live
either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a
woman (W-4.9001), or chastity in singleness. Persons refusing to repent
of any self-acknowledged practice which the confessions call sin shall
not be ordained and/or installed as deacons, elders, or ministers of the
Word and Sacrament."]
3. Direct the moderator of the 213th General Assembly to send a pastoral
letter to the presbyteries and sessions interpreting the Assembly's action.