GAPJC to consider Larges ordination

Few servants of the Presbyterian Church (USA) have experienced such a long and winding road to ordination as Lisa Larges.  On April 27, the General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission will hear arguments in yet another proceeding arising from objections to the decision of the Presbytery of San Francisco to ordain her.

The Presbytery’s Counsel has submitted this Brief, drafted by Covenant Network Director Doug Nave.  A primary issue in the case is whether one interpretation of Scripture concerning the morality of same-gender relationships will be imposed on the whole Church, or whether the Church will acknowledge the fact that Bible-honoring Presbyterians come to different conclusions about what Scripture teaches.

From the Conclusion:

It is now over four years (50 months) since the Presbytery of San Francisco found Ms. Larges “ready for examination.”  It is over two years (28 months) since the Presbytery voted to ordain her.  This case has entailed three meetings of the SPJC and two GAPJC hearings, with thousands of hours of preparation, briefing, argument, testimony, and consideration by the various parties and commissions.  The Principles of Church Discipline, read aloud at the beginning of every hearing, say that church disciplinary procedures are meant to “secure the just, speedy, and economical determination of proceedings” (D-1.0101).  It is well past time to implement that promise.

The Presbytery of San Francisco has attempted in good faith to follow every directive and request of General Assembly and the church’s judicial commissions, to design procedures that are transparent and fair to all members of the body, and to give honor and weight to every point of view.  After exhaustive preparation, the members of Presbytery examined Ms. Larges in light of her statement of faith, manner of life, views of Scripture, and fit for the office of call, and discerned that her ordination is consistent with Scripture and the confessions.  The Presbytery’s collective discernment is entitled to deference now.

 

Comments

  1. Dottie Villesvik says

    My husband, Alan, and I have known Lisa Larges for several years now, and have been in worship services which she has led during special services at General Assembly. Here is a gifted, creative, committed young woman that is being denied the privilege of serving her Lord because she is true to who she is. She will certainly be a gift to the church once all the hurdles have been accomplished. May it soon come to pass!

  2. Thomas L. Fultz, Ruling Elder says

    The article by the Covenant Network has the issue turned around: the primary issue in the case is not whether the Church will acknowledge the fact that Bible-honoring Presbyterians come to different conclusions about what Scripture teaches – certainly the PCUSA in various ways has acknowledged that; however, as a Confessional and a connectional denomination we have adopted one interpretation of Scripture concerning same-gender relationships for the whole denomination (the orthodox interpretation followed by all of Judeo-Christian faith practice for thousands of years).

    At the same time we in the PCUSA have a national standard that matches the world-wide standard of Christianity, the PCUSA is attempting to apply that one standard on a person by person approach to ordination. Whether such local application can bring unity to the PCUSA or will result in total fracture to our connections and Confessions remains to be seen. We all are watching the process as it procedes along the judical and legislative paths of our polity – these take time because of the sensitive nature of the situation and the unwillingness of those demanding change to concede anything never using an atitude of humility desired by Christ. I find there is a sense of demand upon the denomination to overturn at whatever the cost, the orthodox determination affirmed by the PCUSA Confessions as reliable interpretation of the Bible. That is not a Reformed perspective, because rather than seeking to follow the determination clearly found in Scripture and adopted by those Christians before us into the Confessions, the proponents of affirming same-gender sexual relationships adopt that view and construction a faith system to match their view. If the so-called justice premise is what you see as God’s way, then those proponents should long ago have departed from the PCUSA because it has refused to adopt that theology. Having adopted the view that corresponds to the postmodern culture, they systematically have brought division into the PCUSA and continue to demand change on a pace that disrupts all efforts at unity all the while preaching inclusiveness, they demand the exclusion of any of us in the PCUSA that disagree with the culturally acceptable interpretation that is in direct opposition to our Confessions and the Scripure the Confessions speak of.

  3. Randy Bush says

    I believe we should work diligently to ensure that a gifted, called person like Lisa Larges is granted ordination in our denomination, and that her ordination as teaching elder is something to celebrate. Mr. Fultz has rightfully echoed Doug Nave’s comment that Bible-honoring Presbyterians can come to different conclusions about what Scripture teaches. Unfortunately, he then takes two steps sideways (or at least in an unhelpful direction) when he suggests that 1) only one interpretation has been adopted by the church plus asserting that 2) an exclusionary practice is the “orthodox” interpretation supposedly followed by two faith traditions for thousands of years. The Presbyterian twofold doctrine of “God alone is Lord of the conscience” and that governing bodies gather together, not to simply reflect the will of the people, but to discern the leading of God’s Spirit together, can be far better adhered to under the new language in the Book of Order (G-2.0104b) than was possible under the badly-worded, flawed-theological language of the old G-6.0106b. Ascribing the desire to ordain Lisa Larges as based on something less than a valid interpretation of the scriptural and confessional church witness (e.g., claiming Lisa’s ordination is simply imposing postmodern culture on Presbyterian standards) lacks the forebearance and humility of Christ Mr. Fultz himself has said he values.

  4. Dan Anderson-Little says

    I greatly appreciate Ruling Elder Fultz’s comments–for without serious and thoughtful engagement such as the kind that he has offered, the church reform-ed can never be the church reform-ing. I do appreciate his concerns for the unity of our own denomination and for the unity of the larger church of which the PC(U.S.A.) is but an expression. As a Board member of the Covenant Network, I am not only committed to the full inclusion of all persons in the whole life of the church, but I am also committed to the whole life of the church–to its unity as well. Now I suppose that I or the Board of the Covenant Network could be accused of damaging the unity of the church because we hold a different interpretation of scripture and work to make that interpretation a reality; but then we would also have to argue that those who fought against slavery or for the ordination of women were also schismatic. Those positions also worked against prevailing and long-held interpretations of scripture and the promotion of those positions did result in division within the church. But I am hard-pressed to imagine that we are demanding a pace of change that is unreasonable. The GA’s first Authoritative Interpretation against ordaining gay and lesbian persons was first adopted in 1978. A constitutional ban against such ordinations was adopted in 1996. It is only in 2011 that that ban was overturned. That hardly seems to me to be an unreasonable pace. And in the meantime, persons like Lisa Larges have continued to languish in the call process.

    One other point that Ruling Elder Fultz raises requires some response. He suggests that those of us who have promoted this new understanding of what scripture says (and doesn’t say) have deviated not only from an historical interpretation of the Bible, but from its clear meaning; that we have given up faithful adherence to scripture and instead have followed the dictates of the post-modern world. While I would agree that we must always engage in and take seriously the conclusions and convictions of our forebearers as we do our own theological work, our Reformed tradition insists that no one era has perfectly or completely understood what the scriptures would have us believe and do. That is, every time we read scripture, it is incumbent upon us to hear anew what the Spirit is saying–and we are to bring all of our abilities and faculties and prayer to that process. And sometimes, the Church understands those scriptures in new ways and as a result the entire Church is reformed. I would ask Ruling Elder Fultz is it at least possible that this is the situation that we now find ourselves in? That is the conclusion that I and the majority in the PC(U.S.A.) have now arrived at. It is my prayer that we can continue to work together to discern and discover God’s will for us and together witness to God’s saving love for all people.

  5. Thomas L. Fultz, Ruling Elder says

    Can I be thankful for dialogue and repent in one response?

    I thank both Randy Bush and for Dan Anderson-Little for responding to my comments. Randy Bush was on target to question my forbearance and humility, suggesting that I stated those were values I held; however I did not make that specific statement in the comment to the Covenant Network’s analysis of the Parnell case. Rather I suggested that our Lord, Jesus Christ desires those who follow the Way to show forbearance and live humbly. Randy Bush was kind to say I held those values and therefore found reason to call me to account. I acknowledge my sinfulness in general; and in particular, my failure to show forbearance and live humbly as we in the PCUSA dialogue on same-gender partnership/marriage.

    In response to the comments from Randy Bush and Dan Anderson-Little – I have five more questions to answer and it seems best to separate them into individual responses.

    Can I agree with DAN ANDERSON-LITTLE?
    Is an AI proceeding at a reasonable pace?
    What is a reason to leave a denomination?
    Why the Adoption of Amendment 10-A?
    Are there Reformed Essentials in USA Presbyterian denominations?
    (to be continued)

  6. Thomas L. Fultz, Ruling Elder says

    Can I agree with DAN ANDERSON-LITTLE?
    YES, I do agree it is possible the Church understands Scripture in new ways and as a result the entire Church is reformed – I see that sometimes it is the entire Church Universal, sometimes it is only one or two denominations. Of the many theological approaches in the Church today, the advocacy of same-gender partnerships is limited to a very small percentage of Christians and a very few denominations. Often reform that develops as Dan Anderson-Little suggests is likely to be a return to basic principles of faith and life affirmed by Scripture but not currently followed by most Christians. I remind Dan Anderson-Little that just because you and members of the Covenant Network and Voices for Justice and some American Lutherans and some Episcopalians come to a new conclusion from Scripture, and then a majority of PCUSA presbyteries adopt a revision to the Book of Order, that does not necessarily change God’s expectations of those in ordered ministry, nor God’s definition of marriage, nor the intended means of sexual expression. You are correct that it is incumbent upon us to hear anew what the Spirit is saying–and we are to bring all of our abilities and faculties and prayer to that process.

    Our situation is that we have incompatible conclusions, and we each see ours as the result of faithful discipleship. Your prayer: “…that we can continue to work together to discern and discover God’s will for us and together witness to God’s saving love for all people.” is one I will join; even if I can see no way to reach a workable solution.

    I also recognize our Reformed tradition insists that no one era has perfectly or completely understood what the scriptures would have us believe and do. The situation of the Roman church at the time of the Reformation pointedly made that case. Certainly the Westminster Confession emphasizes the possible errors of councils. But just because a new conclusion is adopted by some does that conclusion become a reforming factor? Joseph Smith came to a new conclusion, but we are not advocates for the Church of Latter Day Saints. (A poor example, but it comes to mind at this time.)

    Dan Anderson-Little is on target that “we must always engage in and take seriously the conclusions and convictions of our forebearers as we do our own theological work”; and I would add we should take seriously the conclusions of our contemporaries and trust the Holy Spirit to lead us in faithful responses to God’s grace.

  7. Thomas L. Fultz, Ruling Elder says

    Another question addressed:
    Is an AI at 220 GA proceeding at a reasonable pace?
    My frustration on the pace of change was not in view of our denomination’s struggle with the issue of sexuality since the 1970’s; but toward a focus on the current demand for an Authoritative Interpretation at the 220th GA on marriage between two persons, when it was just a year ago that Amendment 10-A was adopted. Jack Haberer, Editor of the Presbyterian Outlook, has written an excellent editorial piece to which I refer your readers to. Any change regarding marriage at 220th GA is a pace that disrupts all efforts at unity and will fracture the PCUSA beyond repair. http://www.pres-outlook.com/opinion/editorials/12036-bad-medicine-for-marriage-.html
    It would preclude the “holding environment” outlined by Ron Hiefetz and suggested as needed by Barbara Wheeler in her essay, What Now? https://covnetpres.org/2012/04/what-now/#comment-1418

  8. Dan Anderson-Little says

    I can’t begin to express how gratifying I find Ruling Elder Fultz’s words:

    “Our situation is that we have incompatible conclusions, and we each see ours as the result of faithful discipleship. Your prayer: “…that we can continue to work together to discern and discover God’s will for us and together witness to God’s saving love for all people.” is one I will join; even if I can see no way to reach a workable solution.”

    This, it seems to me, is the challenge of the church in every time–that we extend mutual forbearance and continue to work and serve together even when it seems as if we are hopelessly divided. For ultimately, unity of the church is not a human work that is born out of agreement, but instead is achieved by Jesus Christ who in his love and grace makes us one.

    This conversation has got me thinking about the ordination of women: when the Presbyterians allowed itself to be reformed by the Spirit in 1956 and started to ordain women, it was just part of a small handful of churches that allowed the ordination of women (although by no means the first). Even today, I suspect that the majority of Christians belong to denominations that do not allow the ordination of women. And yet, at least for Presbyterians, the ordination of women has been a blessing of immeasurable richness–I can’t imagine being part of a church that doesn’t ordain women. And even though some of our ecumenical partners do not ordain women, we are able to work with them, share ministry together, and help bring about God’s Kingdom. And who is right? The denominations that do ordain women or who do not? These positions seem incompatible. And yet, we are still able to find unity–not complete unity, but enough to know ourselves together to be the Body of Christ.

    Thanks for the encouraging words!

  9. Thomas L. Fultz, Ruling Elder says

    Intriguing insight from Dan Anderson-Little and I wish I found the last posting as encouraging as well. Dan Anderson-Little has observed that we belong to a denomination that is able to work well with others in denominations that do not allow ordination of women; sharing ministry and helping to bring about God’s Kingdom. Sounds like what God asks of us – love God and neighbor. I cannot as well imagine a congregation or my denomination not ordaining women who are equipped by God to serve. Internally however, we in the PCUSA struggle with overcoming fractures through mutual forbearance, sometimes we greatly miss the mark. As it relates to the area Dan Anderson-Little draws to our attention, at one time the PCUSA mandated each congregation ordain both men and women, with a requirement for congregations to explain why they failed to have both genders in active service on Session. It doesn’t seem that mandate displayed unity and mutual forbearance within the Body of Christ. Fortunately that mandate is no longer in the Book of Order.
    But as Doug Nave, an attorney and a director of the Covenant Network has stated is the current situation, PCUSA polity requires a different rule when an examination for ordered ministry raises questions whether the candidate is prepared to perform tasks that the Constitution vests exclusively in that office. Doug Nave correctly states the PCUSA type of government vests the responsibility for electing congregational officers in congregations, and the responsibility for determining the fitness of officers-elect in sessions and presbyteries. He notes we do not have “bishops” in presbyterian government, and we do not give individual pastors the power to veto the collective discernment of congregations or councils. Pastoral candidates who say that they cannot participate in the ordination of someone who has been duly elected (by the congregation) and found fit (by the council) are in Doug Nave’s view essentially trying to act as bishops, with the final say about who can serve the church in leadership. He declares such candidates may be very fine Christians, but they are essentially rejecting presbyterian government; thus excluding them from serving in ordered ministry in the PCUSA. So we find ourselves in a denomination open to working with others who have diametrically opposing views on ordination eligibility; but our government excludes individuals called to serve in ordered ministry, but who cannot in good conscience perform every function of the office to which they are called.

    Sadly, I cannot join in Dan Anderson-Little’s encouragement from our unity with those in different denominations. For our polity in the PCUSA determines there to be specific essentials, in this case strict subscription to every functional requirement of an office; with little or no room for mutual forbearance nor trust in the love and grace of Jesus Christ. The conclusion is that while those in ordered ministry in the PCUSA may scruple any matter of faith which their examining council determines is not essential, matters of polity command absolute allegiance. The only relief is to wait until a future General Assembly adopts an Authoritative Interpretation that effects a change in that polity or by foregoing ordination and graciously accepting exclusion from office; or as an extreme measure withdrawing to another denomination. I have failed until now to see the danger of a denomination that relies do much on its polity to set boundaries, but fears any definitative of essential faith matters.

    No matter my lack of encouragement, I continue to appreciate Dan Anderson-Little’s honest, gracious and frank words that honor the efforts of folks like me seeking to live faithfully within the PCUSA.

    As a practical matter and in particular to those outside the PCUSA, this elevation of polity over Reformed theology; thereby allows the Book of Order to trump the Creeds, Confessions and Scripture. For the first time I sense real value in the Congregationalist approach of Reformed faith without what appears to be the encumbrances of Presbyterian government.

    Enough ramblings from a discouraged pilgrim and back to the prayer: “…that we can continue to work together to discern and discover God’s will for us and together witness to God’s saving love for all people.”

    Indeed, it is Jesus Christ in whose love and grace we are made one.

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