From the Worldwide Faith News archives www.wfn.org
GAC affirms Lordship of Christ, defends "open dialogue" in
24 Feb 2001 11:11:54
Note #6399 from PCUSA NEWS to PRESBYNEWS:
GAC affirms Lordship of Christ, defends "open dialogue" in conferences
Council says it has no standing to discipline speaker or make theology
by John Filiatreau
The General Assembly Council (GAC), responding to a controversy over a
conference speaker's statements, which some critics have alleged to be
heretical, on Feb. 24 approved a document that affirms "the Lordship of
Jesus Christ and our salvation through Christ," but also defends "the
propriety of open dialogue at GAC-sponsored conferences."
The controversy developed after the Rev. Dirk Ficca of Chicago, a speaker
at last summer's Presbyterian Peacemaking Conference in Orange, Calif.,
suggested that an omnipotent and merciful God might provide other avenues to
salvation for Jews and Muslims and other non-believers in Christ. Ficca is
the director of the Chicago-based Parliament of the World's Religions.
Twenty-one sessions of the Presbyterian Church (USA) and one presbytery had
called for the GAC to discipline Ficca or disavow the views he expressed.
The GAC unanimously approved a motion put forward by the Rev. Adelia Kelso
of the Southern Louisiana Presbytery and Neal Presa of the San Francisco
GAC Chair Peter Pizor said before the discussion that the council lacks
authority to take judicial action against Ficca or to "make theological
statements on behalf of the church."
Pizor said he had discovered, in his travels around the church, that "women
and men of good faith disagree on this matter."
Kelso observed in presenting her motion that "the presbytery has
disciplinary jurisdiction over its minister members," and that "the GAC does
not initiate and cannot alter the theological statements and beliefs of the
Sara Lisherness, director of the Peacemaking Program, responded to a
council member's question by outlining the processes by which church-wide
conferences are planned and evaluated. She noted that the group's 1999
conference was about the person and ministry of Jesus, and said it was
purposely scheduled that way to help Presbyterians become more grounded in
their faith before engaging in inter-religious dialogue. She said that
conference "was planned with the understanding that Jesus Christ is our Lord
The wording of the motion was changed slightly at the suggestion of council
members, but no one objected to its substance, mounted an effort to
materially change its meaning, or opposed it on the floor.
Michael Espy of the Cincinnati Presbytery said that in his opinion the
Peacemaking Program's leaders do their work "with theological competence and
spiritual integrity." Mike Gillespie, who chairs the council's Education and
Leader Development subcommittee, offered a similar endorsement. Presa asked
council members to refrain from "divisive assertions and vitriol" and to
"rise above the fray" between church conservatives and liberals. After the
vote, Paul Masquelier of the San Jose Presbytery expressed satisfaction that
the council had "raised up this most important issue and affirmed the
Lordship of Jesus Christ," and thanked his fellow members for their "careful
consideration of this most important issue."
Parker Williamson of the Presbyterian Lay Committee and The Presbyterian
Layman, who had called for disciplinary action against Ficca, distributed a
statement after the vote in which he charged that the council had "violated
its sacred trust and abandoned its fiduciary responsibility" and asserted
"its determination to showcase ideologies that deny the Gospel," thereby
demonstrating that it is "no longer fit to lead" the PC(USA).
Full text of the council's statement:
The General Assembly Council is grateful for all the churches and one
presbytery that have written to us concerning the remarks of the Rev. Mr.
Dirk Ficca during the 2000 Peacemaking Conference. The communications
received revealed what we already believed: that the Presbyterian Church is
full of faithful and respectful Christians who, though we may disagree on
many issues, are, nevertheless, committed to the Lordship of Jesus Christ
and our salvation through Christ. Thank you for contributing to the ongoing
dialogue about what it means to be Presbyterian Christians.
Some letters call upon GAC to discipline the Rev. Mr. Ficca. The GAC,
however, does not have disciplinary authority over him, nor any authority
over his call, employment, or individual work. Ministers of the Word and
Sacrament are members of a presbytery "which shall designate them to such
work as may be helpful to the church in mission, in participation in the
larger ministry of the church in addition to the duties to which they are
called and designated by the presbytery." (G-6.0201) The presbytery has
disciplinary jurisdiction over its minister members. (D-3.0101b.(1))
In addition, some of the letters call upon the GAC to make theological
statements on behalf of the church. The GAC does not initiate and cannot
alter the theological statements and beliefs of the Presbyterian Church
(U.S.A.). These statements and beliefs are set out in scripture and our
Constitution (Book of Confession and Book of Order (G-1.0500)). The
amendment process for the Book of Confessions (G-18.0201) and the Book of
Order (G-18.0301) does not include a role for the GAC.
Further, the GAC is made up of voting members from across the United
States, ordained teaching and ruling elders, or active members of a
congregation. We stand by our baptismal and ordination vows. We affirm the
Executive Committee's letter of October 25, 2000.
We appreciate the Peacemaking Program's attempt to take on and discuss many
of the more difficult and disconcerting issues of our era. While we may
agree or disagree with some remarks by some speakers, we applaud the
Peacemaking Program's disciplined efforts to listen to the world from the
position of the reformed/Presbyterian church, and we pray that they will
continue to stretch our minds and hearts to be peacemakers. We affirm the
propriety of open dialogue at GAC?sponsored conferences to explore emerging
perspectives and we urge speakers to further explore what our constitution
may say on their topic to educate the participants about historical
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