LOUISVILLE — Joan Gray, http://www.pcusa.org/gamoderator/bio.htm moderator of the 217th General Assembly, offered a word to a troubled church in the light of the recent decisions of the General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission (GAPJC) http://www.pcusa.org/gapjc/.
On Feb. 11, the highest court in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) ruled http://www.pcusa.org/gapjc/decisions/pjc21810.pdf in a case involving Pittsburgh presbytery that no exceptions can be granted to the denomination’s ordination standards involving sexual behavior. In other words, candidates for ordination or installation as ministers, elders, and deacons must comply with the requirement that they practice fidelity if they are married or chastity if they are single — even if they disagree in conscience with those provisions. (See the Outlook’s Web story, “Top Court prohibits…” for in-depth reporting of the rulings.)
That ruling could have significant implications for gays and lesbians in committed partnerships, some of whom had hoped that the authoritative interpretation presented by the Theological Task Force on the Peace, Unity, and Purity of the PC(USA) http://www.pcusa.org/peaceunitypurity/ and approved by the 2006 General Assembly could present an opportunity for them to serve in ordained ministry. That authoritative interpretation allows candidates to declare “scruples” or objections based on conscience to the ordination standards, and for governing bodies to consider whether to grant such exceptions if they are deemed not to violate an essential of Reformed faith and polity.
But the Feb. 11 GAPJC ruling states that no exceptions can be granted involving the “fidelity and chastity” standard.
Gray, in speaking Feb. 14 to a joint gathering of the General Assembly Council http://www.pcusa.org/gac/ and seminary deans, said she wanted to speak directly about the impact of the GAPJC decisions, issued in the Pittsburgh case and two others.
Gray said she wanted to reiterate a point she made as a candidate for moderator two years ago.
“I do not think polity is the way to the resolution of our issues in the Presbyterian church,” she said. “Polity will not fix our problems.”
Instead, Presbyterians should be asking, “What is God’s call to us today?”
Gray said she’s been instructed by a question posed by the author Kathleen Norris, http://www.barclayagency.com/norris.html who asked in essence: ” `Why is that God calls us to be in families with people we never would voluntarily choose to associate with?’ We know that’s true; God does that.”
So why has God called such a diverse group of people to be together in the PC(USA), Gray asked. What is God’s call to those locked in such deep disagreement?
Norris suggests that “God has called us into these kinds of groups so that we might learn to love each other for the good of our souls,” Gray said. “Friends, God is doing something. God wants to do something with us as a church in the midst of our disagreements.”
To those with deep convictions about these issues — who feel most strongly about what the GAPJC has ruled — Gray said she would encourage three things.
First, “we need to humble ourselves,” she said. “We need to get off our high horses.”
Second, we need to ask forgiveness of one another — to push aside our own hurts, to ask forgiveness of those we have hurt. Gray said we need to “be willing to admit that we don’t have all the answers, that there just may be someone over there on that other side who just might have some small piece of the truth that we can embrace.”
And third, we need to accept what Gray called “in-spite-of love,” or “the love that reaches out to the other, the unlovely, the one who is not naturally attractive to us. … We need to be willing to let God fill us with power, the Holy Spirit power, to be the church in the midst of where we are now.”
Gray said she senses this is a “kairos moment” for the PC(USA), when “God is calling us to be and do something different.”
And she warned: “It may not come to us again.”