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What Do the Anderson/Larges Decisions Mean for the Church?

8/5

This past Tuesday, the highest ranking court in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission, rendered decisions in cases concerning the long-awaited ordinations of two devout Presbyterians; Scott Anderson who is gay and Lisa Larges who is lesbian.

We can all rejoice with Scott Anderson that the way is now clear for him to proceed to ordination as Teaching Elder (the traditional Presbyterian term for minister).  In his case, the GAPJC found that the opponent’s argument was now moot because the rule barring participation in leadership by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender members no longer exists in the Book of Order.

Though the GAPJC did not take this as an opportunity to strongly affirm G-2.0104 or to lead the church by issuing a clear statement of inclusion for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the church, their decision is something to celebrate nonetheless.

The decision in Lisa’s case is heart wrenching and calls for our continued prayer and attention.  Here, the GAPJC referred the case back to the Synod court level, with specific encouragement for them to direct Lisa’s Presbytery to reexamine her yet again.  The GAPJC wants the parties to lay out their arguments over interpretation of both Scripture and church tradition regarding the rightful place of LGBT people in the eyes of God and the church.  Then, once the Synod PJC rules on them, presumably the GAPJC, on appeal, looks to rule on them as well.

All this could push a decision on ordination for Lisa Larges down the road for another year and possibly longer.  While hope is not lost, as I said before it is truly disheartening.  If you’d like to read more about Scott and Lisa, I’ve had great conversations with both of them, here on Time to Embrace.  You can click here to read Scott’s and here for Lisa’s.

So, what does all this mean for the PCUSA and the larger church?  As I have pondered upon these decisions this week, my answer has come in the form of another essential question: “What is the range of interpretations of Scripture and tradition that is possible within the body of Christ?”

After all, reaching back to the start of the Reformation that ended the Roman Catholic hegemony over Biblical interpretation, the question has never been whether one interpretation of Scripture is true and the other false.  Whenever the church has engaged in that struggle everyone has lost.

If the highest court, in these rulings, is anticipating choosing a right and wrong between interpretations, it seems to me that we are in terrible trouble.  The very fact that both these decisions prompted multiple jurors to weigh in with varied explanations of concurrence and dissent indicate that we have within the PCUSA different interpretations and points of view. We are not of one mind on this.  It simply is the nature of the church to be of one mind only in Christ Jesus.  Beyond our faith in Christ our many minds on many things enrich our lives together.

As Lisa says in a lovely video from 2003 (embedded below), “No one has a claim on interpretation of the Bible except the Holy Spirit.  And the way we understand what the Holy Spirit has to say about Scripture is by talking to each other and listening to each other.”

The whole point of G-2.0104 is to leave the decisions on these matters to the congregations and the presbyteries – the communities where people know one another best and have the best opportunity for gracious resolution within the faithful range of interpretations of Scripture and their applications to our church life together.

My fervent prayer is that decisions like these regarding Lisa and Scott never come to the GAPJC ever again.  I am very interested in hearing your thoughts on this and what you think these decisions mean for the church.

Peace,

Reverend Janet Edwards


10 Responses
  • Donna on August 5, 2011

    Dear Janet,

    A whole lot can be said about these decisions, but I’ve not been online and likely won’t be in the coming weeks to read the decisions (if you have them, could you post link?). While the hope, I’m certain, is for all GLBT candidates to obtain ordination, the recent ruling on policy, sadly, allows this.

    From the very little I know, Lisa has struggled many, many years to be turned back yet again. I agree it is heartwrenching. Not to take anything away from Scott, nor does this make the decision in Lisa’s case any more palatable, but I think in a way this shows that women are still 2nd class citizens.

    May our Lord Jesus Christ bring her comfort.

    Donna

  • Janet Edwards on August 5, 2011

    Dear Donna,

    Good to hear from you, Donna. If you click on Lisa and Scott’s full names near the top of this post you connect to the pdf versions of the GAPJC decisions in each of their cases.

    One of the wrinkles that differentiated their cases is that the Appellants in Scott’s case spoke only of a clause in the Book of Order to make their appeal, not Scripture or tradition. In Lisa’s case, apparently, there was a lot of testimony related to them in the trial before the Synod that was mentioned in the appeal, but not in the Synod PJC decision. This gave the GAPJC the opportunity to ask for reconsideration that would include judgment on the Bible and Book of Confessions. This is what suggests to me that they want a chance to rule on what I see G-2.0104 specifically leaving to the churches in the case of deacons and ruling elders and presbyteries in the case of pastors, now called again, teaching elders.

    But I hope you read the decisions and come back with your thoughts on them. And I am interested in whether anyone else shares our sense that there was, perhaps unconsciously, different standards for the woman and the man here.

    Stay well. Peace, Janet

  • John Shuck on August 5, 2011

    Thanks for this Janet. My read on the decisions is that the GAPJC wants to cross every t and dot every i. I cannot imagine them actually ruling on the Bible/Confessions, but they need to make sure they aren’t accused of hiding from the Bible/Confessions question. So when it finally gets back to the GAPJC they will approve the presbytery’s action to ordain Lisa.

  • Never in The Word of God does Jesus commend Homoesexuality – please help us turn our “Swords (a) into Plowshears” so our Beloved Husbands did not suffer and died in vain. John l4:12 “Because you believe in Me (TRUTH) greater works will you do than I for I go to My Father”
    The War Widows
    Mary Murphy, former VA/Prison Chaplain/Marshal Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals
    mmurphy@veteranschamberofcommerce.org
    (a) Hebrews 6:6 “We crucify Christ afresh and put Christ to an open shame.”

  • Janet Edwards on August 8, 2011

    Dear John,

    You are very welcome!! And thanks to you for sharing here your perspective on the Anderson and Larges GAPJC decisions.

    I hope you are right, John. For me, the meaning of G-2.0104 is both clear and very Presbyterian–the ordaining council has the right to examine and choose its members. This would mean that the GAPJC has little role except perhaps to make sure that the council did everything required, including being guided by Scripture and the Book of Confessions. Perhaps this is your point.

    If I have misunderstood, please correct me.

    I see no place for the GAPJC to engage, itself, in interpretation of Scripture or the Book of Confessions. Do you?

    Peace, Janet

  • Janet Edwards on August 8, 2011

    Dear Mary,

    Thank you so much for sharing your reading of Scripture with us!

    More than one Biblical scholar would disagree with you regarding Jesus and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. There is growing understanding that Jesus’ favorable comments on eunuchs in Matthew 19:10-12 are about sexual minorities.

    In a more general approach, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people may fit under the word “abomination” and yet, Jesus clearly ignored that judgment against people over and over (the Samaritan woman, Levi and Zaccheus the tax collectors, the woman with the flow of blood, the Syrophoenician woman, to name a few). As Jesus’ followers, it fits that we would include LGBT people among our neighbors and love them, as Jesus did these outcasts. “Abomination” is not a judgment for the Christian community to make, I would say, because Jesus did not.

    I hope that makes sense to you and I look forward to your further thoughts.

    Peace, Janet

  • Mark R. Patterson, PhD on August 8, 2011

    To expect an accurate and Christian understanding of the Bible from Michael Addee and Janet Edwards is like expecting an accurate understanding of the Passover from the Nazis. Their understanding of Scripture and basic hermeneutics, as evidenced above, would not pass a freshman undergraduate expectations.

  • Janet Edwards on August 9, 2011

    Dear Dr. Patterson,

    Welcome to timetoembrace, Mark. For future reference, the Executive Director of More Light Presbyterians is Michael Adee, Ph.D., not “Addee.”

    Invocation of the Holocaust and the Nazis certainly gives us a good measure of your passion regarding your disapproval of my interpretation of Scripture offered here.

    I am very eager to receive your perspective on Jesus’ embrace of many people deemed to be “abominations” and therefore social outcasts in His times, like lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are now. I hope your zeal carries you beyond insult to sharing here your conclusions and what they are based upon.

    Correct me if I am wrong–I expect that you would like me to read Scripture differently than I do. Then, sharing your convictions would be way more potentially effective than fighting words.

    Thank you for giving this invitation your prayerful consideration.

    The peace of Christ be always with you,

    Rev. Janet Edwards, Ph.D.

  • Joseph Coulter on October 9, 2011

    I was a member of Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area in the early 90’s. As such I had an opportunity to hear Lisa Larges defend her faith and calling, to vote on her first attempts at ordination and to share in that defeat.(It has been so long that I cannot remember the details of that meeting but will never forget how her home church pastor damned her with “love”) That she has maintained a witness for so long in the face of such hatred from God’s people is truly amazing. I was inspired by her vision (if I may use that word) then and absolutely amazed now.

  • Janet Edwards on October 9, 2011

    Dear Joseph,

    Thanks for sharing your memories with us!!

    I would certainly see Lisa Larges as visionary so, please, use “vision” for her both then and now.

    To bring us up to date on Lisa’s situation, the Synod PJC did review the part of their hearing on Scripture and tradition and found firm foundation there for proceeding to ordain. I have heard that the complainants are planning to appeal which will send it back to the GAPJC.

    Lisa’s ordeal continues, inflicted by the PCUSA, not by God. Christ weeps in frustration with us, I am convinced.

    Peace, Janet


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