Wednesday, June 21, 2006

PUP report adopted without changing ordination standards

The 217th General Assembly of the PCUSA adopted the recommendations in the report of the Theological Task Force on the Peace, Unity, and Purity of the Church on Tuesday. The Presbyterian News Service story erroneously describes this vote "gives ordaining bodies greater leeway in applying those [ordination] standards to individual candidates for ordination."

At the center of the controversy is the so-called Recommendation 5, which was amended in the committee and again on the floor before it was adopted, so that it now reads

5. The Task Force on Peace, Unity, and Purity of the Church recommends that the 217th General Assembly (2006) approve the following authoritative interpretation of section G-6.0108 of the Book of Order:
a. The Book of Confessions and the Form of Government of the Book of Order set forth the scriptural and constitutional standards for ordination and installation.

b. These standards are determined by the whole church, after the careful study of Scripture and theology, solely by the constitutional process of approval by the General Assembly with the approval of the presbyteries. These standards may be interpreted by the General Assembly and its Permanent Judicial Commission.

c. Ordaining and installing bodies, acting as corporate expressions of the church, have the responsibility to determine their membership by applying these standards to those elected to office. These determinations include:
(1) Whether a candidate being examined for ordination and/or installation as elder, deacon, or minister of Word and Sacrament has departed from scriptural and constitutional standards for fitness for office,

(2) Whether any departure constitutes a failure to adhere to the essentials of Reformed faith and polity under G-6.0108 of the Book of Order, thus barring the candidate from ordination and/or installation.
d. Whether the examination [assembly amendment: and ordination and installation decision] comply with the constitution of the PCUSA, and whether the ordaining/installing body has conducted its examination reasonably, responsibly, prayerfully, and deliberately in deciding to ordain a candidate for church office is subject to review by higher governing bodies.

e. All parties should endeavor to outdo one another in honoring one another’s decisions, according the presumption of wisdom to ordaining/installing bodies in examining candidates and to the General Assembly, with presbyteries’ approval, in setting standards.

I have highlighted the committee's amendment in green and the assembly's amendment in red; both of these changes mean that those commenting on the language in the originally published report are interpreting something other than what the General Assembly actually adopted.

So what is the significance of these changes? The original recommendation 5.d. attempted to limit what a higher governing body could review in an ordination decision to whether the examination had been conducted "reasonably, responsibly, prayerfully, and deliberately." It attempted to shield from review whether the examination was ultimately correct, and whether the ordination or installation decision made on the basis of the examination was correct. The language as adopted makes it clear that higher governing bodies can examine those basic questions.

There is no additional leeway given to ordaining bodies, and Stated Clerk Clifton Kirkpatrick said very plainly, "With the vote today we have not altered the fundamentals; we have the same standards as before."

It has always been the responsibility of ordaining governing bodies to make such decisions, and they have always done so with the possibility of review by higher governing bodies.

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