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Letters
April 13, 2002

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Dear Editor:

I'd like to thank John Bethard for his considered evaluation of my Viewpoint piece on G-6.0106b. Acknowledging that faithful Presbyterians on BOTH sides of the discussion truly believe that they are discerning God's will, as mandated by Christ and revealed in scripture, it was my intention to look at the costs of accepting or removing it IF BOTH SIDES WERE WRONG. My own perception is that the costs of erroneously RETAINING G-6.0106b are much worse than those of erroneously REMOVING it. However, my list of outcomes was restricted to only one side; I had hoped that Dr. Rosik would continue the dialog by contributing an analogous, yet complementary appraisal of the costs of erroneously REMOVING G-6.0106b. In my conclusion, I also indicated the possibility that our continued discontent may be due to the fact that we ARE dealing with the problem appropriately and faithfully, yet we lack the insight required to see how we must integrate the pieces that each side brings to the table. The pieces do appear to be incompatible and contradictory.

PASTOR BETHARD'S CRITIQUE
Pastor Bethard voiced concern over what appeared to him to be faulty reasoning on my part. He stated, ". . . if we are truly Presbyterian and hold to the doctrine of election, can G-6.0106b really push someone away from Christ?" He also asked, "Where are people ever saved at our invitation? . . . even if by some gross misjudgment we are wrong in keeping G-6.0106b, isn't God big enough to overcome our error when it comes to calling people to faith?"

From these statements, I now recognize the need to clearly spell out the mechanism by which some of these consequences are produced. The effects that I refer to are not all direct ones. They include the "collateral damage" of a campaign to maintain and secure Traditional standards for human sexuality. The result extends far beyond the original target group, affecting our very mission and ministry to the world, and compromising our efforts toward the great ends of the church.

THE TARGET GROUP
The target group for G-6.0106b consists of faithful Presbyterians whose call to service has been recognized and acted upon at all levels, including their sessions or presbyteries, yet who are denied permission to be ordained as deacons, elders or ministers. It is, indeed, unlikely that these individuals will leave Christ based on an error in the Book of Order. Some will continue to serve in other capacities, as John Bethard aptly points out. Some of them may leave us, but not Christ. Some may make a stand, risking what they may view as martyrdom in a worthy struggle. Many others, however, will certainly continue to act Traditionally, doing whatever is required to stay in the church of their forefathers: they'll "pass" as heterosexual. Some will go as far as to even deny their sexuality to themselves in order to avoid ridicule and mistreatment from those they love and serve, those who can't or won't understand them.

THE COLLATERAL DAMAGE
Considering the representational nature of our church's government, we don't expect any minority to guide the majority, regardless of how poorly they're treated. Women were subjugated for centuries, and they're not even a minority! So what's the big problem then? The problem is that it's overly simplistic to view G-6.0106b as having only a housekeeping and/or rule-making function internal to the PC(USA). This clause is a PUBLIC STATEMENT that goes well beyond it's putative function as a description of the call and requirements of deacons, elders and ministers. The words and the tone directly reflect the heated political debate on which it was forged. As such, it isn't clear why it even "belongs" where it is at all, at least to my sensibilities. The statement is stark and devoid of nurture or guidance, using only judgmental words on a subject for which we are (according to one of the complementary scenarios) socially, morally, and theologically wrong (i.e., against God, against scripture and against our neighbor). G-6.0106b DOES makes a very clear statement to the secular world. Unfortunately, the statement ISN'T, as proponents would like to believe, that we have returned to moral and ethical standards that are anchored in scripture and Tradition.

In the secular world in which many of us live, there is widespread ignorance of, if not disdain for, Traditional religions. With no understanding of faith or worship, the faithful are all viewed as failed humanists with the additional baggage of ungrounded superstition. How does G-6.0106b help us to speak to these people? Should we even be concerned? What does G-6.0106b say to the members of nontraditional families (most of which happen be heterosexual)? Does it present us as a beacon of hope, salvation, and love within our Traditions, or merely as legalists who have stubbornly fixated on an arbitrary accident of our history, and a sinful one at that (at least according to the scenario). If outsiders see only condemnation, why should we expect them to come to us to learn about God's love? Our statements of salvation and love seem shallow when linked to the disclaimer that we do not find them, their friends or their loved ones to be worthy of "full membership," regardless of their talents and calling. Our Book of Order IS at fault for promoting these losses. WE are at fault for ignoring the world during our private argument. This isn't high level theology. It's the nuts-and-bolts Christianity that Christ Himself taught us, over and over again.

THE LAW, RIGHT OR WRONG
Pastor Bethard concurs with my contention that keeping an erroneous G-6.0106b makes us like the Pharisees. However, he feels that Law may be the more important issue in this case. I can only hope that he somehow misses my point when he says, "...if I have to choose between the Word of God or being popular, I will choose the Word of God." What I said was that our interpretation of the law may NOT be of God, that we may be WRONG! In this case, the "law" is actually AGAINST the Word of God! For the same reason, it doesn't matter whether people think that Paul was being judgmental or not. What matters is that OUR understanding and application of scripture, even if Traditional, may be WRONG and AGAINST God!

APOLOGY
Pastor Bethard found my characterization of some of the opinions expressed here as "venomous" to be disingenuous, since my list suggested that we might be as hostile to strangers as the Sodomites. My rationale for using such a strong image was that we are expected to magnify our OWN complicity, even in "minor" abuses, yet we must still forgive the transgressions of others. Although I do believe that G-6.0106b is a grievous sin against our neighbors, I now realize the strength of the image portrayed by this passage of scripture. I therefore accept his admonishment, recant my use of it, and offer a sincere apology to anyone who was personally offended by it. I assure you that my intention was only to promote a controlled dialog with a peer, rather than to fuel the fires of discord.

SEX AND PRESBYTERIAN TRADITION
I'm a married heterosexual with two children, our fourth generation in the same "ancient" rural (more suburban by now) congregation. My personal preferences regarding my faith and heritage are overwhelmingly Traditional, possibly to the point of idolatry. Through most of my life, I was generally oblivious to the controversy over the ordination of sexual minorities. For the "older generation" of my congregation, all good and faithful Presbyterians in their own right, the subject just never came up. In fact, nobody would ever even think of raising the subject of sexual behavior in a church meeting. Likewise, if homosexuals were lost to us, they left quietly and unannounced. Despite my occasional unease at being a bit hypocritical, I never felt obliged to get involved. Quite frankly, I didn't think that we were ready to deal with this issue as a denomination. Luckily, we never really had to. At a national level, it seemed to be chronically undecided and/or in committee. This seemed to me to be a particularly Presbyterian "solution" to the problem, and a rather innocuous one at that.

The approval of G-6.0106b changed all of this. My pride in my denomination and my conservative, Traditional background both recoiled in horror at the abrupt change, placing words like "blasphemy" and "betrayal" on my lips. I pondered the new mandate. Would it coerce sessions into prurient sexual interrogations of people who we already knew, respected and loved, people who had been called to be servants of God and the church? As a parent, how can I justify exposing my children to this? Why do we bring them to Sunday School? What are we trying to instill in them? Even more, how can I continue to be apathetic and silent? My reaction forced me to dig deeper into my faith, to more closely examine the theology, as well as the cultural, psychological and biological aspects of the issue. I also began to listen to those with whom I strongly disagreed. I questioned - myself, as well as others. I prayed. Then I went over it all again. Many of you have done the same. Many others have not.

I honestly don't know where this will take us, but so far I have to agree with my mother on this one: it never should have gotten out of committee.

Yours in Christ,

Craig E. Tenke, Ph.D.
elder, neuroscientist
Center Moriches, NY

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