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Ordination exam controversy to be publicly discussed in March meeting

The Presbyteries’ Cooperative Committee on Examinations for Candidates announced details for their March meeting, including a livestream link and proposed statement for candidates to sign before taking their exegesis exam.

The Presbyteries’ Cooperative Committee on Examinations for Candidates (PCC) has announced details regarding its first annual meeting since the public outcry following their assignment of Judges 19:1-30 for the winter 2023 bible exegesis exam. The PCC will meet the week of March 13 and will livestream their plenary business session on Tuesday, March 14, beginning at 10 a.m. EST where they will discuss the recent exegesis exam as an “order of the day.”

During the annual meeting, the PCC executive committee will propose that a new statement be included in the exam registration process. The proposed statement encourages candidates, Committees on Preparation for Ministry (CPM), pastors and presbyteries to “ensure that systems of support and care are available to candidates who are taking exams and those called to be pastors.”

The proposed statement also clarifies that exam questions come from situations and topics encountered in the practice of ministry, and teaching elders “may encounter situations and topics that may be painful to them or surface past harm or trauma experienced by them.”

For the winter exegesis exam, the PCC asked candidates to prepare an outline for a Bible study of the Levite’s concubine – a passage known for its sexual violence and murder – for a “college-age ministry exploring unsettling passages in the scriptures.”

Outcries against using Judges 19 for the exegesis exam include arguments that the passage does not show concern for the well-being of the candidates, especially those who are survivors of sexual assault; that Judges 19 is often not used in the practice of ministry; that the passage does not appear in the Revised Common Lectionary; and that it has been considered by feminist Bible scholars as a “text of terror.” (For a sample of the arguments surrounding the use of Judges 19, read here.)

The PCC executive committee’s proposed statement offers guidance if an exam question elicits a trauma response from a candidate. The candidate is not prohibited from seeking pastoral or mental health support provided that “no material assistance is given in answering the exam questions themselves.” The candidate is encouraged to consult with their CPM to discuss future exams or alternatives.

If the proposal is approved, the PCC will ask for the following attestation during exam registration: “By registering for the Standard Ordination Exams, I acknowledge receipt of this caution and affirm that I have consulted with the CPM to ensure systems of support are available if needed and I understand that I can consult and am entitled to consult with those systems of support during Exams should I need them.”

The executive committee has approved a forum for testimony during their March meeting. Ten statements can be made in favor and 10 statements in opposition of the proposal. Statements are limited to two minutes each. Those wishing to testify can apply at the PCUSA Equip by March 3. The comments will be randomly selected if more than 10 people apply to speak for or against the proposed statement.

Video statements can be submitted as a public comment by the evening of March 8 at the PC(USA) Equip website. The recorded statements will be publicly available on March 9.

The PCC executive committee’s initial statement (read here) agreed to review and discuss all communications to the committee at their annual March meeting. In that statement, they also agreed to automatically enroll anyone who could not complete the exam because of the assigned passage for the spring exam at no cost.

Click here to read the full proposed statement.