GAPJC Decisions – 2/08

Pastoral Letter from the Co-Moderators
of the Covenant Network of Presbyterians
on the Recent Decisions of the
Permanent Judicial Commission

February 15, 2008

Dear Friends:

Earlier this week the Permanent Judicial Commission of the General Assembly issued several rulings.

One decision of the PJC was profoundly disappointing. In the case of Bush v. Pittsburgh Presbytery, the PJC ruled that the second sentence (including “chastity in singleness”) of G.6-0106b is an “essential of Reformed faith and polity,” from which behavioral departure is not acceptable for those seeking church office. This ruling lifts one sentence in the Book of Order to a position of authority above all others in the Constitution, including the Book of Confessions of the church.  We do not believe that there is any sound theological or legal basis for making such a distinction.

Other features of the Bush decision, and all the rulings in two other cases, Buescher et  al. vs. the Presbytery of Olympia and Washington et al. vs. the Presbytery of Washington, were encouraging.  They reemphasized local application of ordination standards, in line with the Authoritative Interpretation adopted by the 217th General Assembly, and they ruled unconstitutional attempts of presbyteries and sessions to create their own lists of essential requirements for ordination. Further, they upheld the right of candidates to declare departures of conscience regarding both behavior and belief.  These are important confirmations of freedom of conscience and the discerning approach to ordination that the Assembly commended to the whole church. 

Despite these important affirmations, the ruling in Bush is deeply hurtful. It harms the church as well as the many gifted and called Presbyterians whose service it would deny.

For decades, the church has been locked in a painful and polarizing struggle over issues of ordination.  It is particularly disappointing that, having been offered a better way by the 217th General Assembly, the GAPJC now endangers the peace, unity, and purity of the church with this ruling.  In inexplicably lifting up one sentence as outside the bounds of discernment, they appear to have disregarded the wisdom of that General Assembly and its clear intention as made explicit in the report of the Theological Task Force. We pledge to do everything we can to help set the church back on the path that the PJC decision has partially blocked.

We vigorously disagree with the Permanent Judicial Commission.  Strengthened in resolve by the persistence with which God is leading the church toward justice, we will work with new energy in every way for a church as generous and just as God’s grace.

Grace and Peace,
Jon M. Walton and Deborah A. Block
Co-Moderators, Covenant Network of Presbyterians

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