Draft Report of the Theological Task Report – 8/04

A Letter from the Co-Moderators of the Covenant Network
Regarding the Draft Report of the Theological Task Force on the
Peace, Unity and Purity of the Church

As Co-Moderators of the Covenant Network of Presbyterians, we wish to express our appreciation to the members of the Theological Task Force on the Peace, Unity, and Purity of the Church for the dedicated effort and personal commitment they are giving to fulfilling the 213th General Assembly’s charge to help us live more faithfully as Presbyterians in a time of disagreement.   All of us in the church have waited with eager longing for the Task Force’s insight, wisdom, and recommendations.  As the report states so well, ours “is a church both preoccupied with and weary of conflict.”  It is our hope that the final version of the Task Force report will move the church forward in its high calling to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.

In the draft version of the report, the Task Force offers important observations about the state of the ordination debate and how it has shaped us as a denomination.  The Task Force lays a particularly helpful groundwork by identifying the theological ties that bind our lives together as Presbyterians with a common Biblical, theological, and historical story.  The assertion that “In a world of divisiveness and violence, it is essential for those who confess Jesus Christ as Lord to show the reason for the hope that is within us by dealing differently with one another,” is a crucial reminder that the church must seek a “still more excellent way” to resolve its differences.

When the Task Force report discusses the price exacted from Presbyterians during this time of conflict in the church its words are particularly eloquent and sobering.  These findings include the past and present pain inflicted by Anglo-Americans on racial and ethnic groups within the church; the alienation imposed by conservatives upon liberals and by liberals upon conservatives when we caricature each others’ convictions with labels that hurt rather than help; and the alienation suffered by gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered persons who are dehumanized when they are described as “a major threat to the peace, unity, and purity of the church.”  We pray that this honest confession of the cost of disagreement will lessen the likelihood that the same mistakes will be repeated in the future. 

There are, however, many questions which are left unanswered in this draft version of the report.  It is our hope that the final section of the report’s findings, Section IV, will help to clarify and guide the church as it responds to the Task Force’s recommendations. 

  • As it stands, for instance, it is not yet clear how the salutary effect of the Task Force’s hard won trust in one another and its mutual respect as a group can be replicated in a practical way at the G.A., synod, and presbytery level. 
  • It is not yet clear how the promising description of a way for change in the church which does not rely on parliamentary procedures or decision making by up-or-down votes will lead to a change in the stance on the ordination of gay and lesbian persons. 
  • The Task Force itself acknowledges that while profoundly respecting one another at a much deeper level, “None of us has traded our basic commitments for a middle ground or compromise position.  We still hold most of the views and perspectives we brought to the Task Force.”  It, therefore, remains unclear how the Task Force’s recommendations will help Presbyterians move from the same “basic commitments” that they currently hold to a new circumstance in which we can live with less conflict and more “patience, mutual forbearance, and dedicated communal discernment.”

The most critical elements of the Task Force’s Report, Section IV, the recommendations to the church, are yet to be published.  These recommendations will convey the heart of the Task Force’s study and advice to the church.  It is our sincere hope that the poignant and crucial issues raised in the draft sections of the report will give rise to concrete guidance to the church which will help it to move from its current situation to a church more reflective in every way of the justice and grace of God.  Our prayers remain with the Task Force as it completes its work and we commend its reading to the whole church. 

Rev. Kimberly C. Richter and Rev. Jon M. Walton.
August 3, 2005

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