We Are Not at Liberty . . .

July 4, 2012

On this Fourth of July, while Americans consider the implications of Liberty, Presbyterians were in their plenary session of the General Assembly in Pittsburgh, PA.  The Assembly was surprised by the announcement of the Vice-Moderator Tara McCabe, that she was resigning that office immediately. After a tearful statement infused with anger and defensiveness, she was released from duty and replaced by Tom Trinidad of Faith Presbyterian Church in Colorado Springs.

What Tara learned was that with church office comes a limit to one’s freedom. As office holders in the PCUSA, elders agree to bind their consciences captive to the Word of God and to abide by the polity of the church. This is expected of all people who answer the constitutional questions for ordination and installation, regardless of what position they hold.

When one takes a public elected office in the PCUSA, a standard exists—it’s not even a higher standard—and it is willingly adopted, for the good of the office. We could add that it is good for the peace, unity, and purity of the church for PCUSA leaders to thrive within the limits given us by the Scriptures and our polity.

This is not a heroic obedience required of Moderator and Vice-Moderator. The standard required of Tara McCabe is the same for everybody: teaching and ruling elders are not at liberty to marry same sex couples. This is based on our understanding of marriage defined as between a man and a woman, given forth in Scripture and confirmed in the Confessions, and church law recently upheld by the Spahr v. Redwoods Presbytery remedial decision of the GAPJC.

Tara is mistaken to believe that as a “private citizen” she could marry a same-sex couple or that it was permissible for anyone to do it. Tara’s action did not become a mistake after she was elected. It was a mistake to do it in the first place. That act alone has generated the circumstances that unfolded today, culminating in her resignation. It is unfortunate that her personal error was compounded by its incompatibility with holding the office of Vice-Moderator. But the error was not that she was found out, nor that she had to resign from office; the error was the act itself. We are not at liberty to marry same sex couples.

It was the right thing to do, to resign from office. She should have offered to withdraw from the election weeks ago. Unfortunately, her step-down was not accompanied by regret, confession, repentance, or sorrow for her act of ecclesiastical disobedience. There were no signs of apology for embarrassing the office of Vice-Moderator, defrauding the Moderator, or diminishing the integrity of the Assembly. Instead, her reaction was anger, defensive accusations of bullying and “pernicious poison,” in other words, a victim mentality. She is being set up as the 220th GA Martyr, but she is no martyr. No one here at the Assembly hates her; this fall is of her own doing, and it happened when she took a liberty that had not been granted her. As a consequence of a series of missteps—her lapse of good judgment, her implicit deception, her assumption that she as a candidate for Vice-Moderator was above this law, and her disrespect for the Assembly—all of these things revealed a person who is not ready for a national role in PCUSA leadership. It was the right thing to do, to resign from office. We should all embrace her with gratitude for taking the right step, even now and even if for the wrong reasons. And then we should move on. She needs to heal, and so do we.

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9 Responses to “We Are Not at Liberty . . .”


  1. Sad that no one stopped her from being a candidate in the first place…

  2. Linda Lee, mukilteo Says:

    The 50% by 50% plus one vote against further discussion was
    God’s voice in the midst of a difficult situation. The emotions were running high, but wisdom prevailed. I pray God will heal this assembly as they move into the final days and into the
    agenda that could further the emotional divisions.

  3. Gene Says:

    There was no repentence on her part because none was called for. She appropriately took the moral high ground, and seeing that constant attacks against her would weaken the position she was fairly elected to, she choose to surrender her right for the higher good.

    She did not embarass the office. But, she did decide to step aside so that the work of the assembly and church could be done in the best manner without the vice moderator being under constant attack and villification. It was, under the circumstances, a selfless thing to go, and she should be praised for it.

    She needs to heal.
    Those who villified her integrity need to apologize

    • Paul Thwaite Says:

      Tara compromised her own integrity by disobeying the polity of the PC(USA) in her chosen actions and then standing for an office where compliance with that polity is expected. Others were simply holding her accountable to that fact.


  4. Whether she dropped the office for the greater good of the denomination or just for her own health is impossible to say, but her resignation seems exemplary in that she self-sacrificed her right to hold office for the greater good of the larger church. She didn’t make her need to lead the center of the universe. The denomination is honored by such a move, as is the office of vice moderator.
    Now if only certain sexuality activists could conscientiously follow her lead, we’d be making some progress.

  5. Joe Duffus Says:

    Tara McCabe made a good choice to resign. But she made three poor choices to 1) officiate at a same-sex wedding; 2) accept Neal Presa’s offer to be his Vice Moderator candidate, knowing the illegality of what she had done and apparently not even sharing that with him; 3) turn her resignation into a campaign for her own victimhood.

    The howling, whopping inconsistency of having a vice-Moderator who has openly and unrepentantly violated the Book of Order cannot be denied. Whether she needs to “heal” from this is of no special concern to the denomination, either. Why, because her feelings were hurt? Seriously?

  6. Jim Tilley Says:

    Mary, wonderful response as always: a perfect integration of speaking the truth in love. As always I am grateful for your leadership and wisdom. I identify support for same-sex marriage as one of the purest — and most literal — examples of paganism that can be found. I refer your readers to the historical examples of paganism in ancient Rome and Greece, where is was accepted (most prominently among political leaders, the upper class, even emperors) to marry another man (who would often dress up as the bride). This was (as is) pagan worldview sexuality at its core: “I create my own reality out of whatever I wish”. The problems of our day are nothing new: the evil one’s central strategy has always been to tempt leaders to create a hybrid of Christianity (and Judaism) out of Biblical materials and pagan passions. The characters have changed over the millennia, the basic script has not. What we are seeing in the PCUSA is a wholesale sellout to hybrid/psuedo Christianity: and it is neither loving nor truthful to, as they say, call “a spade a spade”. There is no legitimate debate within Christendom about same sex marriage; as soon as the church agrees to debate it, it has agreed to include materials in the discussion that are not only not part of Biblical Christianity, but antithetical and hostile to it.

  7. Jim Tilley Says:

    excuse me: I meant to say, FAIL to call a spade a spade!

  8. Jitegemea Says:

    Well, stated, Mary. The action of the Vice Moderator to resign was appropriate. She clearly violated her ordination vows and while the rhetoric may clearly have been, in some cases, inappropriate, it comes with the territory.

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