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Jul 02, 2008


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Thanks, Michael, for your analysis of GA218. Although our congregation is now safely within the EPC (with our property, thank you), we grieve for our good friends in the Presbytery of Great Rivers. But, yes, our hope is in Christ alone.

robert austell

Michael - it was great to meet you and share a meal. I appreciate your post above - I think you are right on it... some will leave, some will fight, but most will disengage further, and the GAMC will feel the brunt of that along with the ministries flowing from there. It's not a happy picture at all.

Even worse, I think the pull back will be so strong that even presbyteries will have their work cut out for them to not be lumped in with "Louisville" and to remain connected to their local churches. That has been my experience in my own presbytery... how very non-existent or thread-bare is the trust even locally... I've been working for two years since the last Assembly to encourage re-engagement at the presbytery level. My fear (really an expectation now) is that after that one step forward, locally we will take three steps back.

I appreciate your blogs - will hunt down the roller coaster graph I mentioned - and look forward to ongoing conversation.


"Multiple times arguments for gay ordination and same-sex marriage in the church were based on the right to pursue happiness under the U.S. Constitution."

A commissioner I spoke to mentioned the same thing. I don't know if she was more upset that the Constitution was being used as a theological resource, or that the people using it apparently have no idea what it actually says.

Concerning the whole scrupling business, I'm trying to convince my wife to let me take a concubine. I think I can convince my presbytery that it's all right. Anyway, Solomon did it, right?

Michael W. Kruse


I enjoyed our brief time together as well. It appears that we are becoming the disconnectional church. :)


LOL. Scruple away my friend. Let me know how that works out. :)

Dan Anderson-Little

Thanks for the thorough and thoughtful reflection on GA. I would offer a couple of insights.

You state "we have a past General Assembly who inserted G-0.0106b in the Book of Order (in 1996) followed by two subsequent assemblies who rejected its removal by 2/3 and 3/4 margins." Actually, we have two subsequent assemblies which endorsed the removal of G-6.0106b and was then rejected by votes of the presbyteries by 2/3 and 3/4 margins. This is a really important distinction. What we seem to have (and may again this year) is an assembly that is discerning God's will one way and the presbyteries discerning differently. This happens in large part because the General Assembly is proportional (bigger presbyteries send more commissioners than smaller presbyteries) but when the presbyteries vote, they each get one vote regardless of their size--this would lead me to believe that the bigger presbyteries tend to be more "liberal" (I hate these labels) and small presbyteries tend to be more "conservative". But while the votes of the presbyteries have been by large majorities, the cumulative "popular" vote in the presbyteries in the years that an overturn of G-6.0106b was rejected was much closer than the 2/3 and 3/4 votes you refer to. I do think this is significant because the votes aren't nearly as skewed as the statistics you present suggest.

I am not sure how to get around this dynamic of a more "liberal" GA and more "conservative" presbyteries, except that we will continue to struggle with these issues. To imply that sending the recommendation to overturn G-6.0106b to the presbyteries for a third time(!) is beating a dead horse is to ignore how the church works. The ordination of women, the abolition of slavery, the support of civil rights didn't happen on the first vote--but happened because individuals, presbyteries, and General Assemblies wouldn't take "no" for an answer--but kept hammering away at it because they believed so passionately in that cause. Eventually the church changed its policies and even its theology. Will this happen with the ordination of gay and lesbian persons? Only time will tell.

You also state: "You would think that if the overwhelming majority of the church is opposed to actions that the Assembly is taking the first thing you would do is persuade the rest of the body of the validity of your position. Apparently not so. Rather than doing the hard work of persuasion, what we see is imperialism. We see "prophetic" power politics invading the assembly as a well organized minority attempts to impose its will on the majority." I am not sure where this is happening. I have never been to a General Assembly, but I am under the impression that it is a pretty freewheeling exercise in advocacy, debate and discernment. It almost sounds like you think that the commissioners were duped by a conspiracy--and an imperialistic conspiracy at that. If you do think that, it would be helpful if you would document that--for that is a serious charge--both against the conspirators and against the naive and simpleminded commissioners who were so easily led astray. From my faraway perch in St. Louis, this Assembly, in its enthusiastic vote of Bruce Reyes-Chow (who was completely open on his position on the ordination of gay and lesbian persons), was inclined to go further and take greater risks from the outset. Some assemblies are like that and some are not. Is it the zeitgeist? The Holy Spirit? Probably yes to the first and if we are true to our theology, certainly yes for the second.

I do agree that there is much thin soup that passes for theological and Biblical discourse--especially quoting the Declaration of Independence ("pursuit of happiness") as a reason to do anything in the church. I have not read all of the press from the Assembly, but the only reference I saw to that that quotation was by a YAD, so I am inclined to cut some slack there. But I agree, most debate in my presbytery is abysmal--from all parts of the theological spectrum.

I also need to make one comment about scruples (in response to one of the comments): declaring a scruple is not like a "get out of jail free" card. It does not mean a presbytery or session **must** ordain you. It means that the governing body must decide if that scruple is an impediment to ordination. I am tired of folks suggesting that scrupling will lead to anything goes. If anything, it will lead to better floor examinations for we will have to explore what this person means and what we hold to be essential to our faith.

With you, I hope that the good work of the GAMC will not grind to a halt. To those who feel that this decision will cause greater distrust, I would say keep fighting for what you believe; keep making your case; argue and advocate with your best theological and Biblical insight. And while we are doing that, let's work together to share the love of Jesus Christ with the world--after all John 3:16 reminds us that God sent the only begotten son because God so loved the world, not the church. The church will always be a tangled confused mess (it always has been as well--there is some hubris to think that we are more unfaithful now than some magical time in the past), but in spite of and because of that mess, God keeps calling us to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with our God.

Thanks for your tireless blogging and your willingness to put yourself out there.

Your brother in Christ,


Michael W. Kruse

Hi Dan,

Long time no see.

Thanks for the correction about Presbyteries vs. GAs. I corrected that.

My “well organized minority” refers to the attempts by a network of groups to influence selection of commissioners at the presbytery level and then organize floor debate once at the assembly.

As to using the US Constitution, I counted no less than three times where the “pursuit of happiness” was mentioned in debate across two separate issues. I also heard more generic references to “Constitutional rights” on at least a couple more occasions. The bottom line is that there was indeed much “thin soup.” :)

I don’t your optimism about the use of scrupling. I think it will just shift the divisions to another venue.

Thanks for your thoughtful comments here, Dan. I’m thinking of doing a series later in the summer on marriage, family and public policy. Maybe that will provide some opportunity for readers here to have some thoughtful dialog.

Peace to you!

Michael W. Kruse

Just wanted to let readers know that I'm traveling late this afternoon so if my comments drop off for a while, know that I'll be back later in the evening.


Actually, all jokes about concubinage aside, I agree with Dan: scrupling (as the GA defined it) doesn't mean that "anything goes." It does mean that anything you can convince 51 percent of a single presbytery to overlook goes. Which rather makes a mockery of the concept of ordination for the whole church, no?

I would further suggest - humbly - that nowhere does Calvin or any other major Reformed thinker suggest that because an assembly decides something, it must be, ipso facto, the work of the Holy Spirit. Quite the opposite: councils can and do err.

This one erred. Badly. And the 99.9 percent of Presbyterians who weren't there will have to deal with the fallout.

Clay Allard

As a commissioner, my only defense on the substance issue is: how much theological substance can you pack into 1-2 minutes? The time restraints force a "bumper sticker" approach which dumbs down the discourse.

Dan Anderson-Little

I do feel like I need to jump in here one more time. I am still uncomfortable, Mike, with some of your choice of words. I am sure that various interest groups were well-organized at GA--I HOPE various interest groups were well-organized. This does not equal imperialism. In fact, it sounds to me as if they were doing the very thing that you suggest: persuading the rest of the body of the validity of their position. I realize that you were speaking of all Presbyterians, not commissioners, but our polity is not congregational--it is presbyterian--and the votes that count are the commissioners. So I am not sure how this is imperialistic. I would also be interested to know what evidence there is that interest groups were stacking the deck with the nomination of commissioners. I have never been in a presbytery that where interest groups have that kind of sway. So if that is happening, could you let us know where and by whom--if that is happening, we should know about it and our rules on representation should be applied.

In his follow-up comment, Andy uses language that diminishes the role of governing bodies and the seriousness and wisdom that elders and pastors bring to that office when he says, "anything you can convince 51 percent of a single presbytery to overlook goes." Andy seems to be suggesting that the point of scrupling is getting a razor thin majority to overlook something. I think there is a much deeper and profound dynamic at work: scrupling is a way for the body to discern and articulate what is essential--and yes, sometimes that will pass by one percent. I would hope that if I were at a presbytery meeting when a candidate for ministry scrupled something that even if I initially thought that what that person was scrupling was an essential, that I would at least bother to explore that issue with him or her--for there are no pure words, no pure doctrines, no pure truth that we can express in our own human limitation--and so I do believe that if we engage honestly and fully in these examinations we will be a healthier church.

I also need to take issue with Andy with his last comment about the error of this last Assembly. I agree fully that councils can and do err--we could point out countless places where they have--much to our shame. However, I am uncomfortable with Andy's categorical assurance that this Assembly erred--and badly at that. The Assembly may have erred--Andy may believe with every theological bone in his body that the Assembly erred (clearly he does), but neither of us can be sure--because if we were, we wouldn't need to meet in assembly--Andy (or I or anyone else with a deeply grounded theological conviction) could just tell the church what is right. I guess I would ask Andy, Is it possible that this Assembly did correctly discern the will of God? Not is it likely, but is it possible? And if not, why not? Because a lot of commissioners who prayed and tried mightily to hear God's will came to a different conclusion. They could certainly be wrong--but we cannot be church together if we admit no possibility that another is right over against our own strongly held (but possibly wrong--individuals can and do err as well) convictions.

As you can tell, I come down on these issues differently from many of you--and I arrive at my convictions like the rest of you: broken, limited, sinful and trying like crazy to be faithful to Jesus Christ. Thanks to all of you for your willingness to argue, debate, express yourselves, listen, and be church together.





God knows I'm wrong all the time about a lot of things. I freely admit my own all-too-frequent foolishness, and if what I wrote came off as arrogance... it probably was. Forgive me.

That said, I believe the substance of what I wrote to be true.

1. "Andy seems to be suggesting that the point of scrupling is getting a razor thin majority to overlook something..."

Actually, I was talking about the practical effect of scrupling, not its purpose. But I'll take the bait: I also think that this was the point, not of the historic practice, but of the actions of the last two general assemblies.

It's no secret what the PUP Task Force set out to do: end the ordination wars by creating a "back door", allowing presbyteries that disagree with the current standards to bypass them. I know the counter-argument: that it gives them the freedom to follow God's lead, in cases where other gifts may outweigh a deviation from the standards that's deemed "non-essential." But I would suggest that the only presbyteries which would affirm a departure from G-6.0106b (which the 2008 GA admitted was the sticking point) are those in which a majority of members already believe that unrepentant homosexual or extramarital sexual behavior are not, in and of themselves, a necessary bar to ordination. In other words, those in which a majority - even a "razor-thin" majority - can be persuaded to go along with it.

How this doesn't amount to "local option," and a rather stunning blow to our connectionalism, is beyond me.

2. "Andy may believe with every theological bone in his body that the Assembly erred (clearly he does), but neither of us can be sure--because if we were, we wouldn't need to meet in assembly--Andy (or I or anyone else with a deeply grounded theological conviction) could just tell the church what is right..."

Isn't that what we're doing? ;)

Seriously, I'll admit that it might be possible "that this Assembly did correctly discern the will of God." If, that is, I can be persuaded that the plain meaning of Scripture and the witness of the church catholic for 1,970 years are somehow desperately wrong on this. In which case (if I may say so) I would be a pretty lousy Presbyterian.

Rodger Sellers

Dan, Andy, Mike: I'll say this much: The "tone" of these comments should be in the RSS feed to over 50 blogs. Go figure - people who seem to disagree still can dialog with a sense of respect for one another.

If we can somehow export this to many others, we might have a chance to actually seek God's will for our future. (Something clearly not possible in the discussions I've read in many places.)

Thanks for not only WHAT you are sharing... but the WAY you are sharing it.

Thanks Mike, for somehow making this possible in one of the few places I've seen it! (But then, that's you, no? :))

Dan Anderson-Little

Okay, one more time to jump in--this time to endorse what Rodger said and to express my deep thanks to Mike: the tone of this blog is different--and I think it has a lot to with Mike's approach to life and faith and to his generous spirit. In almost every area--I'm still not convinced about Mike's approach to global warming ;-)--Mike has a gracious ability to keep conversation open and respectful. I think it has to do in part with Mike's love of understanding--he insists that if we are going to posit something--anything!--that we back it up with coherent reasoning and actual evidence (oh those sociology majors!). I am especially grateful for his posts on economics--he is right, those of us on the left-leaning side of the spectrum will cling to "truths" that may be born out of a deep theology, but pathetic or non-existent economics--ouch. When I lived and served in Kansas City, Mike and I one more than one occasion found ourselves on opposite sides of a vote--and in every case, those were instances for us to hear each other and grow in our own faith--and I don't think we changed each others' minds, but we were both changed in the exchange.

So on this Independence Day, I salute you Mike Kruse for your independent spirit that refuses to let you be disconnected from your brothers and sisters in Christ. I am blessed to count you as one of my companions in discipleship.

Rodger Sellers

I'll add to what Dan just said - except the economics stuff! (But that's just because I can't understand a bit of it! :)

"Two plus two equals... a nice shade of blue, right?"


Amen and amen.

Michael W. Kruse

You all are too kind. I'm not purposely ignoring comments but we're on vacation with family I'll be back the blog soon.

Robert F.

As an elder who goes to our local presbytery, and sees manipulation by liberals to control, sees evangelicals, (a majority of presbytery members), who don't care about presbytery, simply doing God's work in the local church. This seems the pattern in the entire denomination. It is what has caused the death of the denomination. The only question: How bloody the process of leaving? No one has left from "my" presbytery yet. After what has happened in the GA, it seems impossible some will not try.

If you have given up, and don't want to fight liberals playing games that have nothing to do with evangelism, or Christianity; you pay per-capita ransom, never raise your head, never see anything, never say anything, don't show up at Presbytery unless you are getting a loan, don't send any elders, because they might find out what is going on, and want to do something. You just pretend. "See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil." I suspect what has kept us going is simply that most sheep still don't know what happens at "higher" levels of the denomination. There is an attitude of not wanting members to know, because then they would want something done. Or they leave.

Just finished reading "Odd Hours", Dean Koontz's newest novel. A major theme: "All evil needs is for good men to do nothing", (Some interesting thoughts about that on pages 243-244). In the novel the hero acts, and saves the world. In the PCUSA, the "hero" does nothing. The world ends, (or at least the denomination).

Frank McGowan

I have been a PCUSA member for around 10 years. During that time, it has always frustrated me whenever I attended discussions about the church, homosexuality and ordination, that the main issue was always skirted around: Does the PCUSA believe that homosexual behavior is a sin?

If the answer is 'No - it is not a sin', then of course when it comes to argument for the ordination of homosexuals, no resistance - on this account alone - is in any way appropriate.

If the answer is 'Yes', then it should be treated as any other sin, in my opinion. If I have a problem with lying (assuming lying is a sin), I should not be barred from ordination provided I admit it, decry it and work on it. If my problem is homosexual desire, likewise, if I admit it, decry it and determine to work on it, consideration for ordination should be possible. (Of course repentance would be appropriate, but that's between me and God.)

Isn't a main point of a religious life, to change ourselves to become more like a certain standard? A standard we deem holy and God-centered?

When this certain standard conflicts with our own behavior, should we be trying to change the standard and keep our behavior?

This, I believe, is the crux of the problem. I am very grateful to Michael for starting his piece where this whole discussion should begin and end: the "authoritative interpretations defining homosexual acts as sin, ... were declared to no longer be in force."

I am relatively new to the PCUSA, but it seems to me that the supporters of homosexuality have been building momentum by using all sorts of other arguments: homosexuals can be loving, caring people, homosexuals can make gifted pastors, homosexuals are often born as homosexual, homosexuals have rights, etc. Only after having built this momentum, do they dare tackle the real question: is homosexual behavior a sin?

The PCUSA GA decided that the "authoritative interpretations defining homosexual acts as sin, ... were declared to no longer be in force," What does this mean exactly? Does it mean the church leadership simply is saying, "I don't know if homosexual behavior is a sin?"

Whether the leadership knows or not, individual Presbyterians will answer this question for themselves. They will decide whether they believe homosexual behavior is a sin, and if so, a sin small enough to come under the heading of scruple, or large enough to be a serious personal obstacle to church membership, and will vote with their feet. (Note. I must say it is hard to see how anything declared 'sinful' could be just a scruple. It is often difficult enough to decide if something is a sin, but then to go further and grade some sins above or below a certain line? A line, about the very placement of which there is considerable disagreement?)

Michael W. Kruse

Thanks for your thoughts Frank.

I think what it comes down is differing ways of understanding scripture. There is one camp that frames this as an issue of social justice for a class of people. Another frames it terms of personal righteousness concerning a particular behavior. The former tends to scripture as authoritative in a more abstract of teaching very general ethics while the later group believes there is more authoritative direction for specific issues.

How well all this play out? I haven't a clue. IMO, there is most definitely a top-down imposition feel coming from this assembly. But keep in mind that commissioner to the General Assembly come on proportional basis from the presbyteries, meet for several days, and then disband. Overtures come from the presbyteries that frame the business.

So the leadership of the General Assembly Council or the Office of the General Assembly really has no direct control over these actions. So the real question is not so much the leadership. I think the bigger issue is how is that end up with commissioners that discern a different path than 75% of the rest of the church?

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