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April 28, 2004


Dr. Craig Tenke's letter of April 17 again offers an opportunity to engage us all in an exploration of the exceptional merits of the Authoritative Interpretation and of G-6.0106b ("fidelity and chastity"). I would again encourage everyone to re-read the final six pages of that 1978 report on homosexuality, because they continue to provide a remarkably timely and well-spoken set of compassionate regulations for our life together.

Dr. Tenke, in this most recent letter, appears to have decided that mere declaration on his part – apart from substantiating argument – is not sufficient to make a point. I thank him for providing more substance and greater clarity in this last letter. We, as a reading audience, do deserve more than off-the-cuff decrees, if we are to make up our minds.

However, what Dr. Tenke writes continues to lack reason, or even perpetuate errors, such as:

His statement: "G-6.0106B is sufficient to establish our ordination standards without the Authoritative Interpretations." That would be the case if: (a) Presbyterians were satisfied only with final decrees, without any of the history, reasoning, and theology that backs them up. The Authoritative Interpretation (AI) fills out the meaning of G-6.0106b in ways no bare law or rule is meant to do. (b) Other writers weren't working overtime to subvert the meaning of G-6.0106b through playing fast and loose with the meaning of words (such as "chastity") and even Permanent Judicial Commission rulings. See a Covenant Network paper as an example of such sophistry, and a series of critiques that carefully document the paper's manifold errors. The Authoritative Interpretation provides the "color commentary" on the law that G-6.0106b embodies in our Constitution.
His outlandish claim that "The existence of the AIs exacerbates the discord within our membership by emphasizing our points of major disagreement when it is no longer necessary or useful to belabor them." That is an amazing statement by a person representing a small portion of Presbyterian opinion. He holds his opinion, contrary to all of Presbyterian history, polity, and theology, and has the audacity to blame the AI for the discord HE keeps causing. We have a major disagreement NOT because of the AI but because of people like Dr. Tenke who refuse to believe what Christians through all the centuries, across the other continents, and throughout most of the PC(USA) believe. If he wants to resolve the discord, he could simply obey our Constitution. But he decides everyone else needs to give up what they believe.
In his point #3, Dr. Tenke fails to refute the reality that a decision to REMOVE a regulation actually repudiates the regulation. Removing the AI WOULD definitely remove a number of safeguards and attenuating factors, so that what we once had as rules would be repudiated by removal. His presbytery may have considered this, but they must have missed the large number of items they LIKE that would be repudiated as Presbyterian law if the AI were stricken.
Point #4: "The 'grandparent' provision has not been sufficient to accomplish its intended purpose (e.g., Janie Spahr)." That is incorrect. Indeed it HAS allowed Janie Spahr to continue as an ordained pastor even though she is having sex with a person not her husband, which would surely cause her to be removed from ministry if she were heterosexual. The grandfather clause has saved Janie from prosecution.
Point #5: " Presbyterians for Renewal and Presbyterian Coalition websites would NOT be my first choice for information intended to protect sexual minorities." Is Dr. Tenke saying that these websites do not contain any truth? Rather than deal with the SUBSTANCE of what is written, Dr. Tenke merely points to the SOURCE, with a "nothing good can come out of Nazareth" way of arguing. And is "protecting sexual minorities" what any of us should be about, rather than finding and following God's truth, even when it exposes our sin rather than protects our proclivities?
Point #6: Huh? What does being a "multigenerational Presbyterian" from an "old church" have to do with anything? If Dr. Tenke indeed has "great pride in the history and polity of our unique denomination," I would expect him to actually FOLLOW it, rather than treat it as an interesting artifact without weight.
About being "less rigorous." Of course a letter is less rigorous, but that doesn't mean that mere personal decree in the face of facts can suffice as argument.
He contends: "The AIs are ONLY responsible for prolonging ONE source of continued discord." Again, Dr. Tenke's premise is that our discord comes about because of the AI, and without it, all would be better. Well... and without The Law, there would also be no sin. Without conscience, there would be no guilt. Without calories there would be no fat. Dr. Tenke doesn't like what the AI says so superbly about Christian faith and doctrine. He disagrees. He causes discord by that disagreement. And then he has the audacity to say that discord over this matter will be removed if only the vast majority and even God give in to what he wants. Yes, and the rest of the baseball stadium can just learn to live with his decision to play with napalm in the bleachers, I suppose. "Just get over it!" he seems to be telling us. "Just live within God's law," is my reply to that.

Now, let me thank Dr. Tenke for his apology. It's accepted. However, it's obvious the papers Dooling and I wrote (see Part I and Part II) were not intended only as "an 'in-house' dialog for members of Presbyterians for Renewal or the Presbyterian Coalition." They face head-on the same kind of baseless, unsupported opinion that this set of letters have been written to refute as well. They were intended for information and discussion by ALL parties. However, when the "discussion" becomes ridiculous (such as Tenke comparing an Authoritative Interpretation to papers actually discredited by General Assembly), such folly needs to be pointed out. Let the ideas stand or fall on their merit. That's what an open forum is for. If Dr. Tenke assumed he could simply raise a tattered and senseless flag and we'd all just salute, well, he's nave on that, as well. He can expect rigorous refutation, such as this. That's part of the process for thinking people, which Presbyterians tend to be.

Finally, I'll join Dr. Tenke in encouraging everyone to look deeply into the matter. Weigh arguments. Read different sides of issues and compare the theological basis. "Test the spirits," as we're told in Scripture. This is something we all need the discipline to do regularly. Even when we disagree. Especially when we disagree.


James D. Berkley
Issues Ministry Director
Presbyterians For Renewal
Bellevue, Washington

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