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Call For Sabbatical on Ordination Standards
PCUSA NEWS <firstname.lastname@example.org>
16 Jun 1998 12:59:42
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Call For Sabbatical on Ordination Standards Sparks Lively
Debate in Church Orders And Ministry Committee
by Jerry Van Marter
CHARLOTTE, N.C.--The 210th General Assembly may or may not heed the call by
some denominational leaders for a "sabbatical" on further amendments
regarding standards for ordination in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), but
there certainly was no sabbatical on discussing the matter during open
hearings conducted by the Assembly Committee on Church Orders and Ministry
At issue in the committee was Overture 98-37 from Milwaukee Presbytery,
which asks that G-6.0106b -- the "fidelity and chastity" provision of "The
Book of Order" -- be deleted from the church constitution. More than 20
speakers filled the 90-minute time allotted for the hearing.
"Don't send anything to Lackawanna Presbytery," pleaded the Rev. Carl
Batzel, a member of that presbytery. "So far our differences on this issue
[ordination standards] have been secondary to the mission of our
presbytery, but we are perilously close to dividing over this issue and
another debate (a proposal to delete would have to be voted on by the
presbyteries) on this would surely divide us."
But the Rev. Tim Hart-Anderson, a member of San Francisco Presbytery,
urged that the Milwaukee overture be approved. "The reality of the vote on
Amendment A is that it only failed by a 54-46 percent vote of all
commissioners in all presbyteries," he argued. "Such a vote on a candidate
for a pastorate would result in withdrawal of the nomination -- that is
what should be done with [G-6.0106b]."
Several speakers talked of the weariness of repeatedly addressing the
ordination standards issue. "For 20 years we have reaffirmed the historic
standards of ordination," said the Rev. Paul Leggett, a member of Newark
Presbytery. "The church has consistently said it does not wish to change
the standards....Let's continue to discuss this issue, but more attempts to
change `The Book of Order' will accomplish nothing."
The Rev. Harold Brockus of Tampa Bay Presbytery, calling G-6.0106b
"divisive and disingenuous," said the provision is "a nightmare for
sessions and nominating committees." Noting that more than 200 behaviors
are called sin by various of the church's confessions, he asked, "How are
we supposed to deal with this -- it's hypocritical selectivity."
But like a marriage, where the partners sometimes fight but stay
together, noted the Rev. Brad Caldwell of Philadelphia Presbytery, the
church "needs to step back and let the air clear. We have to say to each
other, `I love you, but to talk about this more tonight will only cause
more pain -- let's wait till morning.'"
The Rev. John Gregg, a member of Milwaukee Presbytery, said removing
G-6.0106b will "allow us to get back to a point where we can talk to each
other without having an axe hanging over our head."
The Rev. James E. Mead of Olympia Presbytery, one of the three
moderator candidates who endorsed the sabbatical, acknowledged that any
decision on ordination standards will cause someone pain. "You will have
to choose who you will make unhappy and who you will cause pain," he said.
"But please don't choose to cause the whole church pain."
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