Presbyterians Close Meeting on Purity and Unity without Magic Pill

Task Force urges individual churches to discuss ordination standards and sexual ethics amongst themselves until a final report is presented next year
( [email protected] ) Aug 10, 2004 03:16 PM EDT

The Theological Task Force on Peace, Unity and Purity of the Presbyterian Church (USA) ended their first official meeting on homosexuality and homosexual ordinations in the church since the denomination’s annual meeting, on August 6, 2004. However, despite three long days of presentations and closed door deliberations, the task force left with the same belief they entered with: there is no “magic pill” to resolve the issue.

Since the main course of the conference was the two long sessions held behind closed doors, there were only a few things deduced from the long-anticipated meeting.

First, the task force announced that it is preparing a pastoral letter that would remind Presbyterians not to expect a ‘pill’ to simply resolve the denomination’s problems on the issue.

“The task force is not going to have a magic pill,” said Milton “Joe” Coalter, librarian and professor of bibliography at Union Presbyterian Theological Seminary and Presbyterian School of Christian Education in Richmond.

“We do ourselves and our church no favors by simplifying what is not a simple story,” Coalter continued.

According to Coalter, the task force will more likely establish a church process that will think and discuss through the issue; the discussions will most likely continue on even after the Task Force presents its report next year.

The task force also challenged the presbyteries and congregations to set up individual discussion groups following the task force model – a model based on open discussions and explanations of personal views and emotions. The Task force co-moderator Gary Demarest of California said he wanted to assess how many churches are using the resources provided by the task force.

Otherwise, “we could end up going the whole way basically talking to ourselves,” said Demarest.

The task force members also said they would try to engage in a “process of structured communal spiritual discernment” where the members will listen to “hear where God may be leading the PC(USA).” By the end of the second closed-door session, the task members said they reaffirmed the questions that guided the conversations, but found no answers.

According to the Presbyterian Layman, the independent newsletter for more conservative Presbyterians, the “full weight” of the task force’s comments “seemed to suggest that, as a body, they are leaning away from endorsing the standards outlined in the denomination's Definitive Guidance, now considered the Authoritative Interpretation of the constitution, and the constitutional law that prohibits the ordination of self-affirming, practicing homosexuals.”

Meanwhile, during the public discussion session of the early august meeting, several members explained their hopes that the task force will hold onto at least one standard that is not ‘buffeted’ by the constant personal and cultural changes.

“We need to hold on to something,” said José Luis Torres-Milán, a pastor from Puerto Rico. “We need to say this is good, this is bad,” to say, “The Bible says so, that’s it.”

The next meeting of the task force has been slated for Chicago on October 13-15. During this meeting, the members will discuss the “theology of the Holy Spirit” and strive to find a consensus on the matters of sexual ethics and ordination standards. A follow up meeting has also been tentatively scheduled for March, where the commissioners are expected to draft its final report; the final report will be presented to the church in September 2005, then to the General Assembly in 2006.