PRESENTATION FOR THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY'S COMMITTEE ON THE BOOK OF ORDER REGARDING OVERTURE 97-10 AS AMENDED

June 20, 1997, Syracuse, New York

by Laird J. Stuart, Chair


THE VALUES AND PRINCIPLES OF OUR DENOMINATION'S GOVERNMENT REAFFIRMED BY THE COMMITTEE

As the General Assembly's Committee on the Book of Order discussed various issues relating to amendment B, issues such as authoritative interpretation, the role of governing bodies in determining standards, and the dynamics of inclusiveness, we affirmed a number of the values and principles of our denomination's way of government.

We affirmed the role of the Advisory Committee on the Constitution.

We affirmed the right of the General Assembly to issue authoritative interpretations.

We refused to rescind any former authoritative interpretations.

We affirmed the right of the denomination to establish standards for ordination.

 

OUR PROCESS

I want you to know something about the process we used as a committee.

First, the very large number of items referred to our committee was organized by the committee's leadership team into two large groups or categories. All the items referred to us on a variety of matters were in one group. All the items referred to us which were related to amendment B were put in another category. We dealt with all the items in the first category on Monday.

Tuesday morning we held an open hearing on the amendment B related items. We had a sign-up sheet posted in the normal way in the announced place. When it was time to have the open hearing we did not constrain our speakers, except by asking each speaker to speak for three minutes. We did not try to orchestrate in any way who would or would not speak. We did not try to order comments along established lines of debate. We heard a chorus of voices from different points of view.

It was obvious, however, that many of the people who spoke were telling us amendment B is not working. It is not healing our denomination's life. It is itself a source of conflict and fear.

When our committee met, we took up overture 97-10 from Kiskiminetas Presbytery. It was the first overture on our list of overtures to be considered that day. Once it was placed before the committee, we moved into a quasi-committee of the whole This allowed us to talk with each other without the need to follow parliamentary procedure. We spoke and listened for about 45 minutes to an hour.

While I am from San Francisco, the committee was not from San Francisco. We are like every other committee of this General Assembly. We are like the General Assembly. We have people from north and south, east and west. We have people from rural settings and metropolitan centers, as well as people from suburban and town environments.

What developed out of our committee's discussion was a desire to do something with amendment B. We decided it needed to be revised.

 

THE CASE FOR REVISION

It is often asked: Why put the church through more conflict and debate?

It was the conviction of the majority of the committee that something needed to be done. Based on what we heard in our open hearing, based on what we heard from each other, and based on our own experiences in our own churches and presbyteries, it seemed obvious to us amendment B is causing concern and conflict. The issues addressed by amendment B are difficult and challenging issues in and of themselves. But we came to believe amendment B itself was compounding the turmoil in our denomination's life.

It is said we should stop the turmoil, accept amendment B, and move on to the other issues we need to address as a denomination.

We want to stop the turmoil also. But we have come to believe the only way to stop or ease the turmoil is to move beyond amendment B. As I just mentioned, we believe amendment B generates tension. Many people find the language of amendment B disturbing and constricting.

It is said further discussion and debate will be a waste of time.

When did the search for healing become a waste of time?

It is said we should wait and see how amendment B will work in our life together.

We believe there is already enough evidence of how it is working. There is enough evidence of its shortcomings and problems.

 

REGARDING OUR PROPOSED AMENDMENT

I want to tell you something about the proposed amendments or changes we are recommending to amendment B. Then commissioner Laurie Kraus, who presented these revisions to our committee, will speak for the amendment.

Amendment B calls us to honor standards in our life together. Amendment B states: "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."

Our proposed revisions to amendment B honor the role of standards in our life together, but expand the ones which are stated and places them in the appropriate sequence of authority. Our proposed wording states: "Those who are called to office in the church are to lead a life in obedience to Jesus Christ, under the authority of Scripture and instructed by the historic confessional standards of the church."

This language comes from the ordination vows presently in use by our denomination. It calls us to acknowledge that we are to live in obedience to Jesus Christ, then honor the authority of Scripture and be instructed by the historic confessional standards of our church.

Secondly, amendment B calls us to responsibility in our relationships, especially marriage.

Our proposal honors the need to be responsible in our relationships, but it calls us to practice fidelity and integrity in marriage and in all the relationships of life.

Thirdly, amendment B called us to acknowledge our sins and to repentance. However it contained a reference to a catalogue of sins contained in the historic confessions of the church. This catalogue of sins is cumbersome and confusing. It contains sins which were regarded as sins in their historical context, such as having pictures of Jesus which we do not believe to be sins now.

Our proposal honors the need to confess our sinfulness, to express repentance, and then to receive the grace of God as we move into the practice of ordained office and the joys of our life and witness for Christ.

 

COMMENT ATTACHED TO THE MOTION BY THE COMMITTEE

 

"By grace reborn,

adopted, cradled, named,

forgiven, healed, restored,

we meet as friends of Christ on common ground,

to show and tell

how all our aching world

can find what we have found, and cease to mourn,

by grace reborn?"

Brian Wren's hymn for the 209th General Assembly

 

We confess that we have not heard God's call to unity as clearly as we ought.

We confess that we have sought to impose our understanding of God's will upon our sisters and brothers in Christ who understand God's intention differently.

We confess that we have sought unity in majority votes rather than our own repentance and renewal.

We recognize that our beloved church is still deeply divided.

We recognize that amendment B sought to express our church's commitment to choosing officers who can be an example to the flock.

We recognize that, for a significant minority, amendment B presents problems of conscience, and not only because of the issues of homosexuality.

 

And yet...

We affirm that we are called to common ground in the one spirit of Jesus Christ.

We affirm , as our Moderator Patricia Brown put it, that "we are a family". God has put us together and we're going to have to behave."

We believe this overture presents an interim step. If it is not common ground, it may at least serve as a "demilitarized zone". We believe, despite the contention that will surely continue, that this overture will allow us to concentrate on our call to the "Great Ends of the Church."

We believe this overture can lead us to Holy Ground.

This overture does not overturn the 1978 and 1979 General Assembly policies against the ordination of self-affirming, practicing homosexual persons and subsequent reaffirmations of that policy as authoritative interpretations of the Constitution.

This overture does allow us the grace and the space to grow toward rebirth as a community of God's people.

We urge its adoption.

 

CONCLUDING COMMENTS AT THE END OF DEBATE

This morning, for what should be obvious reasons, I felt a special need to read the Bible, to go to the well. I thought about several passages which I might read but decided I needed the 23rd Psalm.

I opened my bible to the psalm, but when my eyes first went to the page, I was looking at the opening of Psalm 22. Instead of reading "The Lord is my shepherd I shall not want..." I found myself reading, "My God, my God, why have your forsaken me?..."

Honestly my first thoughts were "I do not want those words for me."

Yet the difference between the opening words of Psalm 22 and Psalm 23 points right to the issue before this denomination. There are too many people who feel forsaken, forsaken by the language of amendment B. it is not leading us together to green pastures and still waters. It is causing tension and estrangement.

 

During this debate, several people mentioned the desire for peace, peace for our denomination, peace from this struggle. There are times when we are led to the peace of green pastures and still waters. There are times when we are led away from or beyond conflict. Yet at other times the way toward peace is to keep struggling and to move along the struggle in the presence of our Lord receiving from the Lord the peace he gives in the experience of discipleship. It is a peace which grows and is strengthened when during the struggle we insist on and practice a determined loyalty to each other as well as to our Lord..

There is an obvious concern for the standards of our denomination. There is no interest in our committee to dismantle or undermine the role of standards in our life together. Yet just as justice needs mercy to temper it and keep it from becoming too severe, so standards need grace to temper them and keep them from becoming too severe.

We believe our proposed amendments to amendment B will enable us to build a better nest. Even a nest has a boundary,. Yet as we were reminded earlier this week a nest is meant to be a place of nurture. (1) It us a place if growth, spiritual, moral, intellectual and physical growth.

On behalf of the committee I urge you to support our proposed amendments to amendment B.

_________________

(1) A reference to a sermon by The Rev. Linda C. Loving, "Birds' Nest or Hornets" Nest?" (Given during worship at the General Assembly)


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