What Do the Anderson/Larges Decisions Mean for the Church?
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.
Reverend Janet Edwards