Opening Argument for Appellants in Parnell Case

April 28, 2012

Opening Arguments before
the General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
Meeting in Indianapolis on April 27, 2012

First Presentation: Bruce McIntosh for the Appellants

May it please the Lord:

I will take a few moments to address why it is this Commission’s obligation to correct the errors of the lower councils.  Later, Dr. Naegeli will discuss how we as a church live into being obedient to God’s commands in the area of human sexuality.

Let me remind us where we are in this process. Recall that this commission remanded the case to the Synod because it failed in two respects: first, to consider whether the Scriptures and the Confessions prohibit the sexual conduct embraced in the candidate’s statement of departure; and second, to determine, in light of scriptural and confessional mandates, whether the presbytery’s decision was constitutional.  

First, we applaud this Commission’s implicit acknowledgment that the Scriptures matter; that the Synod needed to consider whether the Presbytery had been guided by Scripture when making its decision.  It is good to know this Commission believes that Scripture remains the only rule of faith and manners.  If we are incorrect in this conclusion, we ask that you tell the church plainly.

We also applaud the implication that it is proper for a reviewing council to insure lower councils comply with scriptural mandates.

So, did the synod do as it was asked?  Unfortunately, not quite.  In response, the Synod again focused on its process and not on the erroneous biblical and doctrinal content of the candidate’s departure.  

Nor did the Synod seriously consider whether Scripture and the Confessions provided guidance. Indeed, the Synod, in essence, threw up its hands and declared that the mandate of Scripture and the Confessions cannot be known because there is such a “vast diversity of interpretation of the meaning of Scripture and the confessions on the issue of human sexuality.” But is this true?  Is there a vast diversity of opinion?  

No.  There are really only two positions:  there is the traditional view and there is rejection of the traditional view.

The traditional view states that Scripture univocally presumes a male-female prerequisite for sexual conduct, and even then only in the context of marriage, and that everywhere in Scripture homosexuality is disapproved. This view is the official position of the church.  We know this, because this is what is expressed in our Confessions as our interpretation of Scripture.  And as the record in this case demonstrates, through the testimony of Drs Thompson and Gagnon, the traditional view was not reached by happenstance or shallow consideration, but through centuries of deliberation, conversation, and discussion. 

How do we process the contemporary view that argues the traditional view is wrong?

First, let me note the mere existence of a view (or even many views) contrary to the church’s classic teaching on the matter does not take away from the authority and binding nature of that traditional view.  The whole point of the Confessions is to reflect the decision of the Body as to which interpretation of Scripture is the correct one.

So you, Commissioners, do not have to decide one among many views, but only to adopt, reaffirm, and be guided by the view the Confessions have already taught. You need not be concerned that you are imposing a doctrine on the church. You need only help the church live into what the Church has already “imposed” upon itself. 

Indeed, to permit the Synod’s decision and the Presbytery’s act to stand would permit those councils to impose a new standard on the church—even if it is a standard of indecision. This is going about the process in unPresbyterian fashion.  A process that perpetuates indecision (or “diversity of views”) yields the argument to the loudest voice.  

No, the remedy for those who disagree with the traditional view is NOT to encourage non-compliance, but to undertake a constitutional process, to revise the Confessions through conversation, discussion, and vote.

The Church took this very approach when it replaced G-6.0106b with Amendment 10A in the Form of Government, but in doing so it did not change the scriptural and confessional mandate that G-6 had summarized.

So we come back to the question: why is this the role of this commission—to correct the doctrinal errors of the lower councils? Stated differently, why is this a constitutional question? If the constitution were silent on the issue of Scripture’s authority and applicability, or silent on the issue of sexuality, then the Synod’s deference to the presbytery would be appropriate and presbyteries would have to figure things out for themselves.

However, the present issue is in fact addressed directly in both Confession and Form of Government, in other words within the Constitution that is directive for all Presbyterians. These include two specific declarations: Scripture is the only rule of faith and practice (F-1.0307), and (in the Confessions), marriage defined as between a man and woman and the prohibition of sexual conduct outside of marriage.

This is in our Constitution.  Since the Synod failed to apply and adhere to both these declarations, it falls to this commission to take “national responsibility” for correcting the errors of the lower councils.

We agree with Mr. Nave [opposing counsel] when he suggests that this commission does not sit as a council of bishops, as theologians imposing doctrines in the church.  And you yourselves, during Q & A the last time we were here, declared you are not theologians.  However, we suggest that theologians are not necessarily called for in this case.  The theological work has already been done by theologians over millennia.  The church’s position on this matter is established.  Your job is to enforce what the church has agreed is its standard.  Yes, the church “Reformed is always in need of reforming” is not “reforming” to an invented new doctrine, but back to God’s unchangeable truth.  That is, conforming to the original form that has become deformed.  This commission is charged with ensuring conformity with the form the church has agreed to.

Our desire for this panel is that its decision will boldly declare that Scripture still has binding authority, that homosexual practice is not God’s desire for his people; and that ordaining a committed homosexual person violates this teaching and must be overturned.

Our desire is that those who agree with us, like those who wrote the dissent in the original Synod D & O, would make their affirmation of Scripture and Confessions boldly and prominently featured in your decision, as a gift to the church and encouragement to those who are simply trying to follow the teaching of Scripture.

Please don’t create a procedural wrinkle to hide behind; declare boldly the church’s position.  Tell the church:  is it still Sola Scriptura?  Is Scripture still our only rule for faith and practice?  Or will it be Nola Scriptura?  For that is your choice:  either Scripture is clear enough to require our compliance, or it is not.

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One Response to “Opening Argument for Appellants in Parnell Case”

  1. Dennis Evans Says:

    This is very sound and solid.

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