But the organization the former moderator of the GA founded 11 years ago with Robert Bohl, another former moderator, refuses to give up either goal. As its motto says, the Network is committed to build a church “as generous and just as God’s grace.”
Buchanan recounted for the attendees his experience of serving as moderator of the 1996 GA, which adopted (for presbytery ratification) the paragraph in the church’s constitution that the organization thereafter has worked to eliminate.
While preparing for his possible election at that assembly he met with leaders of the Presbyterian Coalition in Atlanta and came away amazed at their organizational skill. He was struck by the newsprint hanging all over the walls, listing presbyteries, local leaders, and plans for promoting their agenda. “They were a bit embarrassed for me to see all that, and I was, too.”
Then, once elected, he moderated the decision he would soon spend great effort to overturn. “As I watched that happen, I realized that I was watching the conclusion of a strategy that had been carefully engineered over several years.”
“I realized that we need to create an organization to challenge them,” he said. The Assembly’s action did get ratified by a majority of presbyteries, thereby adding to the Book of Order:
Those who are called to office in the church are to lead a life in obedience to Scripture and in conformity to the historic confessional standards of the church. Among these standards is the requirement to live either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman (W-4.9001), or chastity in singleness. Persons refusing to repent of any self-acknowledged practice which the confessions call sins shall not be ordained and/or installed as deacons, elders, or ministers of the Word and Sacrament. (G-6.0106b)
Through the subsequent years the Covenant Network has promoted alternative amendments, replacement of authoritative interpretations of the Constitution, supporting court cases for gay and lesbian individuals, publishing a newsletter and video, and presenting annual conferences.
“We’re going to get there,” said Buchanan. “We’re going to get there because our children are already there. We’re going to get there because business is already there. Education is already there. California is already there. For crying out loud, the military is almost there.”
“The heart of the gospel is inclusion,” he assured. “Change will come because this is not our church but his. It is not the Presbyterian Coalition’s church or the Covenant Network’s church but Christ’s.”
“We’ll get there. We will be a church as generous and just as God’s grace.”
After Buchanan completed his address, David Colby summarized for the attendees the hopes for this Assembly that have been formulated by the Covenant Network’s board.
First, they aim to see the GA take the first steps toward the elimination of G-6.0106b.
Second, they hope the commissioners will approve the “John Knox overture.” That proposal would reaffirm that candidates for ordination and/or installation who depart from any constitutional standards of belief or practice can declare a scruple, i.e., a personal departure, with the ordaining body to then determine whether or not to extend forbearance in non-essential matter. And the overture would specify that the scrupling option would apply to the G-6.0106b rule. If adopted, this would overturn an authoritative interpretation handed down by the church’s highest court, the General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission, this past February.
The Covenant Network is promoting at this assembly proposals for greater support for equal civil rights for gays and lesbians as well as the formation of a special committee to engage in study and propose new standards regarding same-sex unions (which already are allowed) and marriages (which are not allowed) in the church.