The Synod PJC Said What . . .?

September 24, 2011

The occasion for beginning this blog was the completion of the Appeal Hearing before the General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission (GAPJC) in the matter of Parnell et al v. San Francisco Presbytery. The GAPJC rendered its Decision and Order on August 2, 2011, and the response of the Complainants’ legal team followed.

By way of review, what the GAPJC did was to dismiss all allegations of error that applied the previously encoded standard for church officers, the requirement “to live either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman, or chastity in singleness” (the former G-6.0106b). Since this provision was replaced in the Book of Order by “Amendment 10-A” which contains no ordination standard at all, the Commission declined to interpret the constitutional provision “that no longer exists.” It returned the case to the Synod PJC, though, to rule specifically on the question of whether the Presbytery’s approval of the Candidate constituted an abuse of discretion or doctrinal error. By declining to take up the doctrinal question itself, the GAPJC seemed to avoid any direct judgment in the matter. One would have been left to wonder if indeed ordination standards had changed, as the Presbytery was claiming, or continued to stand on the basis of scriptural and confessional evidence. And if Parnell had been the only case that day, the church would still be wondering what the GAPJC’s mind was on the matter.

However, on the same day, the Commission did interpret the Scriptures and the polity of the church by declaring the case Caledonia v. Twin Cities Area Presbytery moot, thus removing all impediments to the ordination of open gay candidate Scott Anderson. If the GAPJC were awaiting a ruling from the Synod PJC on the doctrinal integrity of such a decision, it would have put Anderson’s ordination on hold. Instead, the Commission declared by its action—not in a written opinion— that a “fidelity-chastity” standard is no longer binding in the church. This action communicated that scriptural and confessional provisions forbidding homosexual practice and presuming a male-female requirement for marriage are irrelevant, unclear, or non-binding.

In the last week, the Synod PJC reviewed the record and re-read the trial testimony. Its Decision and Order can be found at the link to the right, under Pages. The Commission came to this astonishing conclusion: because Presbyterian scholars disagree on the interpretation of biblical texts referencing homosexuality, one particular interpretation cannot be lifted up as an essential of Reformed faith and polity. In the Commission’s own words:

Presbytery did not commit doctrinal error in its decision to accept the departure and to ordain the candidate. The record and trial testimony make clear that interpretations of scripture and the confessions, and the conclusions that result from those interpretations, have not been uniform in the history and practice of the Church. . . .This range of interpretations reached through thoughtful and prayerful discernment is, in itself, evidence that the candidate’s departure cannot be from an essential of Reformed faith and polity. . . .This Commission holds that in the case of this particular candidate and her particular departure, the Presbytery of San Francisco’s ordination decision did not constitute a doctrinal error, nor was it an abuse of discretion. . . . Having determined that Presbytery’s decision to ordain the candidate was neither doctrinal error nor an abuse of its discretion, this Commission finds the decision to ordain the candidateis constitutionally valid in both its process and its content.

Did we read correctly? The existence of diverse opinions about what the Scriptures mean in a doctrinal area precludes the GAPJC from enforcing its designation as an essential of Reformed faith and practice?

We are doomed as a Presbyterian people, if it takes only two scholars to disagree on a doctrinal point to disqualify an orthodox doctrine as non-essential. For all practical purposes, this negates the concept of  theological essentials at all. Since many of the elements of our faith are under discussion—the person and work of Jesus Christ, the meaning of the atonement, the resurrection, for starters—can we be sure of nothing at this point? If we have no essentials, our Confessions are meaningless. If we have no confessional orthodoxy, there is no basis for discipline. In one fell swoop, the Synod PJC wipes out the hallmarks of the Presbyterian faith in San Francisco Presbytery.

So what would the GAPJC say to that?



15 Responses to “The Synod PJC Said What . . .?”

  1. Derek Simmons Says:

    You said it all: “We are doomed as a Presbyterian people…”and, as you know, in my “diverse” opinion, should have left it there. The denomination I knew between nFog and the loss of ordination standards is, if nothing else, a “congregational” not a “presbyterian” church.
    Your Brother in Christ,
    Derek Simmons

  2. Jitegemea Says:

    Theologians and interpretations have always varied – on slavery, women’s ordination, the trust clause, the confessions themselves, and even the Lordship of Jesus Christ… So it seems that there is virtually no chance to depart from essentials because essentials don’t exist… Wow, welcome libertarian Christianity!

    I think drunkeness, gambling and praying for more Caterpillar tractors for Israel must all be good things, now?!

  3. John E Says:

    My expectations have sunk so low that I am actually pleased that three SPJC members managed not to drink the post-modern, relativistic Kool-Aid.

  4. Steve Niccolls Says:

    The sad thing about the Synod PJC ruling is the slippery slope will not end with this issue. I could see, using their argument, someone trying to argue that they should be given a waiver from all sorts of standards. e.g. Since there is a number of different views regarding 1 Tim 3, that a bigamist could claim a waiver. (At least that person could point to any number of OT examples to support his/her claim of it being appropriate.) I don’t even want to think how much further that slippery slide would go.

  5. paul dickey Says:

    “How Does Christ Continue To Give Ministers Unto The Church?”

    He does it by his law constituting the office,—the law in the gospel, which is an everlasting ordinance;—he does it by his Spirit, communicating gifts unto persons;—he does it by his church calling of them, and by a submission to them according to the will of God, and testifying that submission by then suffrage;—he does it by his ordinance of solemnly setting them apart with fasting and prayer. And these, my brethren, are things that we are come together about this day.

    This is our faith, this is our warrant; wherein we do not pursue our own imaginations, nor the inventions of other men, nor follow cunningly-devised fables, but, from first to last, have our warrant from Christ. The good Lord pardon us wherein we come short of the preparation of the sanctuary, and accept us according to the desire of our hearts, to do the service of his house and tabernacle!

    ~John Owen

    from a sermon entitled The Ministry, The Gift of Christ; volume 9 of Works, page 435

  6. Do you *really* want our courts overruling our presbyteries on Scripture? Of course not. You want somebody, anybody, to enforce your view whether they have any business doing so or not.

    It’s not just two scholars. Most recent theological advisory committees appointed to look at this have come to the same conclusion, from before G-6.0106b was added. There is genuine disagreement in the Church on this topic. Otherwise G-6.0106b wouldn’t have been removed. I certainly don’t want a PJC to substitute its own reading of Scripture for the presbyteries’.

    I realize you disagree with the current view of the PCUSA, but what you’re asking for here isn’t reasonable. And if you got it, it’s much more likely that it would be used to overrule conservative presbyteries.

    • Jake Horner Says:


      I couldn’t care less about the opinions of theological advisory committees. I’m much more interested in discovering God’s opinion. We have the Scriptures and Confessions interpreting the Scriptures as the basis for discovering God’s opinion. The job of the PJC’s is to apply those standards in cases coming before them. In this case it was an epic fail. Not only did the PJC fail to apply the standards of the church, but they went beyond that and stated that “This range of interpretations reached through thoughtful and prayerful discernment is, in itself, evidence that the candidate’s departure cannot be from an essential of Reformed faith and polity.” Their conclusion that the candidates departure cannot be from an essential is predicated upon the mere existence of a diversity of interpretation.

      Is there anything in Christianity upon which there is NOT a diversity of interpretation? I could cite Scripture and commentators and theologians and use that argument to make the case that women shouldn’t be ordained. I could use a Mormon interpretation to make the case for plural marriage. The net effect of that statement is to make it impossible to state any standard unless there is 100% agreement on interpretation, I don’t think such a critter exists anywhere.

  7. John E Says:

    A conservative Presbytery WAS overruled in the Kenyon case.

    • Peajay Says:

      When I first read the PUP report, I rather wondered why they didn’t go ahead and say Maxwell v. Pittsburgh was wrongly decided. But then, that would have swept away a lot of the social action structure of the church. How much GA staff time depended on resourcing the various Committees on Representation and ensuring protected groups got access to search committees and instructing search committees on broadening their horizons? I remember lots of that material pushed conservative committees to cast their searching nets in more liberal directions. I don’t recall seeing much pushing in the opposite direction…

    • Yes, I am hoping we have enough good will here to avoid a replay of Kenyon. I understand the argument, and it has theoretical merit, but from a pastoral point of view I believe it was a mistake.

  8. Joe Smith Says:

    Maybe you have not noticed this, but the fact that you are a teaching elder in the church is a departure from Scriptures just as serious as the homosexual ordinations. Your denomination departed from the Scriptures years ago and now you are all witnessing the fruits of that.

  9. […] an orthodox doctrine as non-essential,” lead Parnell lead attorney Mary Naegeli said in a blog posting immediately after the decision was […]

  10. Brenda Claflin Says:

    Valuable analysis ! I Appreciate the info , Does anyone know where I might locate a blank a form version to fill in ?

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