1. As worded, Amendment A sets up a fatal separation between Jesus Christ and the Bible. We are to submit to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, it says (1st line), but use the Bible only as a guide in assessing candidates for ordination (last line). Separating the two this way assumes a hierarchy of authorities—Jesus Christ, the Bible, the confessions+—giving preference to the first. The separation (a) puts US in the impossible situation of discerning when and where one authority (Christ) may overrule or be at odds with the other (the Bible). But also (b), it seriously misstates how the Bible and Christ are related to one another as the Word of God within the Reformed tradition. Going back to the prophets, the Word of God signals God’s entering into human history as both act and speech. When God acts, God speaks, and vice versa. Jesus Christ, the Word become flesh, is both God’s supreme act for our redemption and God’s definitive speech or self-revelation. The Bible is the Word of God not independently, but precisely because it bears the unique and decisive witness to God’s Word, supremely as the Word incarnate. Christ is thus as essential to the Bible as the Bible is to Christ. Christ gathers up, focuses, and makes sense of every word of Scripture, even the tough ones. As such—inseparably connected with Jesus Christ and empowered by the Spirit—the Bible is the Word of God written and more than simply the sum of its parts. Amendment A distorts all the vital connections and effectively puts the Church at sea without a sail or a paddle precisely when and where we need it most, in making concrete decisions about life and Church.
2. The “local option” espoused by Amendment A is the wrong solution for a connectional church. Other matters of polity clearly call for greater flexibility in how the PCUSA operates in different localities, situations, and conditions. On this issue, however, we are dealing with a standard for the whole PCUSA. Passing Amendment A will simply “balkanize” the PCUSA, setting up zones where some do and some don’t, putting presbyteries, congregations, and regions of the Church at odds with one another, and greatly hindering their interactions. If the “permission” to ordain gays and lesbians is ever perceived or treated as a mandate, we can only expect a total breakdown of both governance and community within the PCUSA.
3. Even if Amendment A passes, it will fail to achieve what its advocates want most dearly. Changing the rules will not resolve the underlying debate, only push it into more and more local settings (as in # 2). Nor will passing Amendment A bring greater acceptance for practicing gays and lesbians, or endorsement for same-sex marriage. The two-sides will continue to bludgeon each other at close quarters, until one side loses and the other side wins, meanwhile destroying the whole fabric of the PCUSA. An intentional lose-win or lose-lose outcome is simply unacceptable behavior for a Christian Church, especially one which claims reconciliation as a core value. In fact, Amendment A cannot demand ordination for practicing gays and lesbians, mutually committed or otherwise, any more than the present G-6.0106b can block people with a homosexual orientation from full participation in the life of the PCUSA. Passing this amendment now may actually keep us from finding a real solution to the pressing issue before us.
The best outcome of the current vote, in my estimation, would be an impasse. Then Presbyterians would have to engage in the hard work of finding an authentic solution to this vexing issue. Presbyterians tout reconciliation loudly enough. Where’s the proof of it? An impasse would put us where the Peace-Unity-Purity Task Force took us at the 2006 General Assembly, roundly opposed at the time by both far right and far left. Now that step doesn’t look so far off the path forward. For those who have already voted on Amendment A: you can still call for reconsideration if you voted with the majority in your presbytery.
Yours together, and respectfully, in Christ,
Dr. Merwyn S. Johnson,
Charlotte, North Carolina