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March 29, 2004


Dear editor,

I'd like to reply to comments made by Revs. Berkley and Gray about my recent letter. Both reacted immediately and strongly to the implication that the Authoritative Interpretations have ANYTHING in common with the 1991 Sexuality Report. I'm sorry that I chose to express my point in a way that provoked such an extreme reaction in them (for the record, I DIDN'T refer to the 1991 report as a "guidance piece"). My intention was simply to note that GA-originated position pieces are ALL distinct from Book of Order amendments. None of them were crafted to survive a vote by the presbyteries – as G-6.0106B was.

While rushing to defend the AIs, Rev. Berkley appears to have completely missed the reason for my letter. My reply addressed those "Unintended Consequences" of removing them that he and Rev. Dooling referred to in their article. My contention was, and is, simply that there no longer ARE any.

Rev. Berkley is correct – Presbyterian polity IS the issue. As Rev. Gray aptly noted, "the same two positions" are still present in our denomination. The fact is that faithful, Bible-reading, God-fearing multigenerational Presbyterians from 250+ year old conservative congregations (I count myself as one of these) do NOT all agree on many issues. Dissent, conscience and controversy have been a part of our history from the very beginning, and mutual forbearance for almost as long. It's worth pointing out that the AIs THEMSELVES acknowledge BOTH positions, and ACTIVELY SOLICIT the continued dialog that many consider to be a deadlock!

Rev. Gray continues, "Certainly, "B" has not reduced the controversy..." I never claimed that it did, yet it HAS made another critical difference. After decades of debate, G-6.0106B is now an entrenched part of the BOO, and quite sufficient to accomplish its goals. "B" was crafted to deal with the controversy without expecting all parties to agree. However, the reason that "B" survives in our political arena is precisely because it DOESN'T directly mention sexual orientation. Despite its history of selective enforcement, it COULD be equally used to exclude from all ordained positions any unmarried heterosexuals who "didn't wait" until they were married. Since we have "B," the AIs are now completely redundant, as well as unnecessarily inflammatory.

I understand Rev. Berkley's respect for and appreciation of the AIs. I appreciate them as well, as historic pieces that show how our denomination struggled with these issues of faith, conscience and humanity during the previous century. I likewise agree that there are well-considered, well-written portions that are "biblically faithful, pastorally sensitive, and deeply dedicated to God's glory." Yet Rev. Berkley knows as well as I do that this guidance piece has never been and never will be a part of our constitution!

I respectfully disagree with Rev. Berkley's statement, "Over and over again, Presbyterians as a whole have AFFIRMED [the AIs] as what we believe..." Although the AIs have been used quite often as guidance pieces, even in judicial cases, they have NEVER been affirmed as "B" was. In fact, many would insist that what was left OUT of "B" is precisely what has kept it in the BOO. It says no more and no less than what the "great middle" of our denomination wanted to say.

I thoroughly agree that "... when we get right down to it, we really ought not regard ourselves as brighter than God these days, with a better idea than the one he gave us in Scripture." If you reread my letter, you can see that I said precisely this.

Berkley and Dooling began their article with this warning: "If you are thinking about voting to remove the 1978 Authoritative Interpretation (AI) of the Constitution, please consider some of unintended consequences that would attend such a decision." As one who is honestly concerned about the issues they list, I can assure the same voters that the putative "Unintended Consequences" are just a divisive fallacy.

Yours in Christ,

Craig E. Tenke, Ph.D.
elder, Center Moriches, NY
neuroscientist, NYS Psychiatric Institute,
Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center, NYC, NY

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