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04/28/2011

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Matt Ferguson

You wrote, "In the matter of the ordination of women, we decided, there is no room within our denomination for differing ways or views. We decided against allowing room for significant difference of opinion. We insisted that in this matter there will be like-mindedness internal to our denomination."

That view is why many of us who believe the ordination of persons in same gender sexual relationship is contrary to God's word believe we will soon be forced to comply with this change.

Do you believe that is valid concern? If not, why not given what you wrote about how things worked out (sometimes in some very grace-less ways) in the area of the ordination of women?

God's blessings to you,
Matt Ferguson, Hillsboro, IL

Barry Ensign-George

Hi Matt,

Thanks for your question. I know that others are asking the same question. The unity of a denomination is always open to change, always a matter to be explored.

If Amendment 10-A is approved by a majority of presbyteries, then we (the PC(USA)) will enter a time of figuring out what that change means for us as a denomination. It’s likely to take some time. When we worked through understanding our affirmation of the ordination of women to all ordained offices there were 20 years between first permitting such ordinations (starting in 1956) and settling the matter with the decision in the Kenyon case (1975), when we required affirmation.

My blog post seeks to draw attention to the fact that our PCUSA heritage and identity gives us a variety of ways of living out the changes that will happen should Amendment 10-A be approved. Demanding uniformity of practice, as an eventual outcome of sorting out what has changed, would accord with part of our denominational DNA. But I don’t believe that that is the only element of our denominational DNA that can shape how we would live out the changes approving 10-A would bring.

Barry

Walter L. Taylor

So, in effect, instead of maintaining a Reformed faith that trusts the teaching of Scripture above everything else, you would ask those of us who believe that 10-A is a deathly decision to wait and trust the "church" (i.e., the denomination) to see what happens? Is that the course of action you are asking of us?

Such a course of action, while perhaps in accord with the DNA of a mainline liberal American denomination (where institutional belonging seems to be the highest virtue, regardless of one's confession), it is entirely out of accord with the faith and teaching of the Reformation. This strikes me as a form of the "implicit faith" in the church itself that Calvin rejects in the Institutes, and a supplanting of the scriptures with the church itself.

Barry Ensign-George

Walter,

Thanks for picking up the thread of this conversation and moving it forward.

I affirm, as I believe you do also, that God alone is Lord of the conscience (others might be helped to have the references: W’min Confession 6.109, current FOG 3.0301, nFOG 3.0101). I trust you, and Matt, and all PC(USA) Presbyterians to reach decisions about whether the possible change in ordination standards puts one in a situation in which that person finds they can no longer follow Jesus Christ with integrity within this denomination. I trust you to make decisions about what to do in such a situation. I hope that all of us, all PC(USA) Presbyterians will be attentive to conscience, and will respect decisions of conscience made by others. If your conclusion is that reasons of conscience compel you to go, or to take some other particular stance of public rejection of changes that may be made, then I believe you are compelled to follow those conclusions. Should you wait? That’s not a question I can answer. I can answer only for myself. My prayer for you is the same as my prayer for me and for all of us: that we will be attentive to the leading of the Holy Spirit, and willing and able to follow that leading with joy.

As for putting our ultimate faith in the denomination, or pretending that institutional unity is the highest virtue, you are correct: there would be no Reformed tradition, much less a PC(USA) if those were our highest values. Faithfulness to Jesus Christ always takes precedence over commitment to any particular denomination. When those two come into conflict, then I believe there is no question which to choose: faithfulness to Jesus Christ. As our denomination’s Constitution makes clear, we affirm that at the end of the day such judgments are made privately. That’s their very nature. To repeat, I trust you to make those judgments. I hope you are finding good conversation partners as you work the issues through. I genuinely pray for you that you will have strength, peace, and joy as you follow Jesus Christ through this time. That’s what I pray for all of us – very much including myself.

The purpose of my blog post was to point out that our denominational DNA has some elements conducive to demanding uniformity, but also other elements that might help us build structures that enable us to find a way to hold together, in some fashion, even groups of PC(USA) Presbyterians with contradictory understandings of what the faith is and how to live it faithfully. I don’t know what the outcome will be any more than anyone else. I don’t know whether it is even possible, nor do I know whether we (the PC(USA)) have the will to do so. I also do not know how long anyone should wait to see what develops. Which means that I trust you and all other PC(USA) Presbyterians to make faithful judgments, in this as in other matters.

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