The Importance of Being Earnest

April 25, 2012


The last of the PCUSA’s “historic principles of church order” points to the importance of discipline within the church:

F-3.0108 The Value of Ecclesiastical Discipline
Lastly, that if the preceding scriptural and rational principles be steadfastly adhered to, the vigor and strictness of its discipline will contribute to the glory and happiness of any church. Since ecclesiastical discipline must be purely moral or spiritual in its object, and not attended with any civil effects, it can derive no force whatever but from its own justice, the approbation of an impartial public, and the countenance and blessing of the great Head of the Church universal.

This week I and my lawyering colleague Bruce McIntosh are living into the glory and happiness of the church by participating one last time in the judicial process to settle a matter within the church. We are flying to Indianapolis to appear before the General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission on Friday afternoon.  The case is Parnell et al v. Presbytery of San Francisco, and this current round is an appeal of a decision on remand of the Synod of the Pacific PJC. Though laborious and drawn out, this is the process Presbyterians follow when there is sufficient controversy in the church that a higher council must decide.

And decide they must. The choice before them this time is whether they will
1. own their responsibility for sound doctrine in belief and practice within the church, particularly as it relates to the conduct of ordination decisions in lower councils.

2. declare that Scripture is our only rule of faith and practice (F-3.0107) and that its teaching is binding upon the lives of all ordained officers of the church.

3. declare in this case that Scripture is clear as to the meaning of biblical texts and the intent of God’s will regarding homosexual practice, namely, that it is proscribed in all cases.

4. declare that approving a committed homosexual person for ordained office is a violation of this scriptural teaching, insofar as such a person by teaching and example leads the flock astray biblically, doctrinally, pastorally, and morally.

We hope to overcome the reticence of the Commission to interpret the Scriptures rightly and to make theological decisions. In previous dialogue with this panel, commissioners have said they are not theologians and the task is above their pay grade. It is our hope that in the ensuing months these commissioners have embraced their proper role, which includes determining whether acts or delinquencies are “contrary to the Scriptures or the Constitution of the PCUSA” (D-2.0202, D-2.0203).

Our task as counsel for the Complainants/Appellants is once again to present our case as clearly, passionately, and earnestly as we can. We desire to stand on the ground packed down by many “standers” before us, who have established the foundations of right living, biblical integrity, and Presbyterian polity that have given us the right to question the ordination decision of a presbytery. Your prayers that we would “speak the truth in love” are much appreciated, whether you agree with us or not. We are trying to be faithful to our ordination vows and to work soberly and earnestly through the patience-testing judicial process to get a fundamental question answered. By early next week, the case will be decided and the church will have one more data point to indicate where the PCUSA is headed. Regardless of the outcome, we honor the process of discipline, which is a gift to the church as well as one of its “marks,” and trust that in this case “the process will work” to right what has been done badly and to set us on a corrective course.


5 Responses to “The Importance of Being Earnest”

  1. Kathleen Fox Says:

    Dear Ms. Naegeli, Thank you for your faithful service to the Church of Jesus Christ and our PC(USA). You, Mr. McIntosh and all involved will be named as I pray, and especially on Friday.

  2. LaVonne D. Niccolls Says:

    May God be with you this Friday as you speak for so many of us!
    LaVonne Niccolls, Eagle, ID

  3. Paul Clairville Says:

    You are in my prayers Mary

  4. laurasmit Says:

    Bruce & Mary,
    Praying for you both.
    Grace & peace,
    Laura Smit

  5. Jim Tilley Says:

    Dear Mary, Thrilled about your outstanding leadership; praying that the Holy Spirit will make your words irresistible!! Much gratitude in Christ, Jim Tilley

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