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Letters
April 7, 2004

 

Editor,

I must apologize for a late response to Dr. Tenke's letter of March 29. I was without a computer for nine days, and today I pay the catch-up penalty.

Dr. Tenke appears again to misunderstand and misrepresent Presbyterian polity, even as he overstates his case by calling my letter an "extreme reaction." No, I simply pointed out where and how Dr. Tenke was wrong. When it is called "extreme" to use logic to present facts and correct error, the exchange of ideas becomes difficult.

His attempted rebuttal introduces a number of further errors, such as:

1) He writes: "GA-originated position pieces are ALL distinct from Book of Order amendments." That is true in one sense, but one is foolish to take two failed items that were NOT approved by General Assembly and compare them with an official Authoritative Interpretation that HAS been approved by at least THREE General Assemblies and easily survived other attempts to remove it.

2) What's more, an AUTHORITATIVE INTERPRETATION is of a far different order constitutionally than some background paper (especially ones trashed by a G.A. rather than approved). Tenke needs to look at G-13.0104r to find that the General Assembly is expressly granted "the responsibility and power ... to provide authoritative interpretation of the Book of Order which SHALL BE BINDING ON THE GOVERNING BODIES OF THE CHURCH..." [emphasis added]. If you've got a Constitution and an argument about what it means, General Assembly can decide that meaning through an Authoritative Interpretation. General Assembly did exactly that in 1978 (and again in 1979 and again in 1993). Thus it remains highly misleading and even demeaning to compare an official Authoritative Interpretation to two FAILED policy papers.

3) Tenke writes: "My contention was, and is, simply that there no longer ARE any [unintended consequences of removing the A.I.]." Later he accuses Bob Dooling and me of creating a divisive fallacy: "I can assure the same voters that the putative 'Unintended Consequences' are just a divisive fallacy." Tenke still completely understates the impact of removing an Authoritative Interpretation. While an A.I. is not part of the Constitution, the apparatus for an Authoritative Interpretation is set up BY the Constitution to seriously interpret constitutional law. Sweep away that interpretation (brought about by several General Assemblies), and we are left with an interpretive muddle--which plays exactly into the hands of those trying after the fact to confuse the meaning of "fidelity and chastity." Remove the A.I., and many things that ARE Presbyterian law now will have been REMOVED. And remember: When you remove a law, it is not the same as if the law had never been in place. You remove a law, and you REVERSE the precedent. A law removed is a law repudiated. Here's the logical conclusion if the A.I. were to be removed: "We no longer believe by Presbyterian law that homophobia (for example) is a sin. We once believed and enforced it, but not anymore. We got rid of that law when we removed the A.I. in 2004." Such would be legally inferred!

4) An A.I. is no trifling thing that grows old and unfashionable merely because a few years have passed. Notice Tenke's use of "during the previous century" in an attempt to discount the A.I.'s current applicability and authority. There's a great coined term for this kind of thinking: chronological snobbery. If being from "the previous century" were a grave flaw, we'd probably have to reject the Civil Rights Act, too. Ridiculous!

5) Tenke seems fatally hung up on the fact that the A.I. is not part of the Constitution. I made no claim that it was. It IS, however, rightfully at the heart of official constitutional interpretation. It HAS been affirmed multiple times by General Assemblies, despite Tenke's groundless disagreement on the fact.

6) Tenke tries to drive a wedge between the Authoritative Interpretation and G-6.0106b ("fidelity and chastity"), saying that the A.I. would never be approved as a constitutional amendment. Of course it wouldn't. It's long and involved. It runs 60 pages. You don't put THAT into the Constitution. But we did very successfully put a descendant of the A.I. into the Constitution. G-6.0106b is a brilliant condensation of what the A.I. holds as God's will for our sexual expression. What's more, it is clear about heterosexual as well as homosexual sin, proscribing both equally for officers. And it's simply untrue that G-6.0106b is used ONLY against homosexual persons. If you count up the heterosexual offenders disciplined for sexual offenses, the number would far overshadow the tiny number of homosexual offenders who rightly have been disciplined. One cannot in honesty contend that G-6.0106b has had only "selective enforcement" for homosexual persons!

Dr. Tenke obviously does not like what the Authoritative Interpretation so faithfully spells out about biblical and constitutional sexual morality. He is entitled to his opinion. But he is not entitled to diminish the role of Authoritative Interpretations in Presbyterian polity, nor to make false blanket decrees about what the effect of the removal of the A.I. would be. Nor should he be able blithely to rewrite the history of legislative intent in the enactment of the Authoritative Interpretation and the subsequent placement of that understanding into the Constitution through the wording of G-6.0106b. Nor should he reinterpret the will of Presbyterians who just keep on reaffirming our enduring moral standards by first voting in the Authoritative Interpretation, then reaffirming it more than once, and then giving it even more authority by setting it into the Constitution and twice defending it by large majorities.

I would direct Dr. Tenke's attention toward the series of articles accumulating on the Presbyterian Coalition website, which amply argues against his line of reasoning. Dr. Tenke can certainly hold his opinions if he wants, but the opinions themselves certainly cannot hold water. But I will concede: If he wants to talk neuroscience, he has me over a barrel.

James D. Berkley
Bellevue, Washington

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