Monday, March 06, 2006

Has the PCUSA jumped the shark?

The point which signaled the downfall of “Happy Days” was when Fonzie “jumped the shark” on water skis. Since that time, the phrase “jump the shark” has come to signal an event in a television show which indicates the show has begun to decline and the end is approaching (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jump_the_shark). The phrase now goes beyond the television genre. So I wonder… has the PCUSA jumped the shark?

The Permanent Judicial Commission of Redwoods Presbytery heard a case on March 2, 2006, concerning the Rev. Dr. Jane Adams Spahr. Spahr had openly admitted that she had officiated at the “marriages” of gay couples. The trial was because her actions went against denominational policy. The commission found that she did not do anything wrong because “conscience takes precedence over priority.” (http://www.revjanespahr.org/trial/decision.pdf) Conscience takes precedence over priority? Let’s look deeper at this concept that has been put forward the commission.

Let’s say that the church I serve gets fed up with the PCUSA and wants to leave the denomination. The Book of Order says that the local church property is held in trust for the presbytery. The session and the congregation say that the policy of holding the property in trust for the presbytery goes against the “conscience” of every elder and church member. Well, according to the Permanent Judicial Commission of Redwoods Presbytery, my church could leave the denomination with its property because “conscience takes precedence over priority.”

Let’s look at another possible situation. The pastor of a local church is married with five children. The pastor begins to have romantic feelings toward the church’s Director of Youth Ministries. The two flirt for several months before deciding to have their friendship become sexual. The “affair” goes on for almost a year. The pastor loves his wife and the pastor loves the Director of Youth Ministries. The affair is discovered and charges are about to be filed against the pastor. But wait… the pastor says that the prohibition of sexual intercourse outside the bounds of marriage goes against his conscience. Since “conscience takes precedent over priority” the pastor is in the clear. The “rules” no longer apply due to his conscience.

Here’s another one. A presbytery is required to pay per capita to the General Assembly for all of the members of its local churches. The presbytery and the local churches decide that they do not like the direction the denomination is heading. They decide that the presbytery will not send per capita to the denomination. The denomination gets very angry and frustrated. They want to “bill” the presbytery but their hands are tied; you see, the presbytery and its churches decided that paying the per capita went against their consciences. Since “conscience takes precedent over priority” the presbytery and its churches are in the clear.

If the Spahr ruling isn’t overturned I believe that the PCUSA has jumped the shark. The ruling means that we are no longer connectional and that there are no binding rules on anyone for anything. The PCUSA is already spiraling downward in terms of our membership (the topic of a future posting). Is the Spahr ruling the point from which there is no return? Has the PCUSA jumped the shark?

1 Comments:

At 8:43 AM , Blogger Classical Presbyterian said...

Maybe we 'jumped the shark' (love that phrase and website, btw!) when we adopted a Book of Confessions...

Or when we chose not to define the Essential Tenets.......

 

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