January 2008

A warm welcome to the EPC for the brothers and sisters of Lighthouse Presbyterian Church, Paola, Kansas (via KC Community News):

It’s a good thing organizers of the Lighthouse Presbyterian Church in Paola weren’t serving lunch Sunday because, unless loaves and fishes were on the menu, they’d have been in big trouble.

Person after person after person walked through the doors of Evergreen Events on the south side of Paola’s Park Square shortly before the 10:30 a.m. service in which the congregation would become official members of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church.

Church leader Mike Gibson said a special-use permit had to be obtained from the city for the event, and it was needed when it was all said and done. By the time everyone was settled, the large ballroom was filled with 370 people, far exceeding the maximum occupancy of 294.

The majority of that group was made up of about 315 people who became official members of the new church and the EPC on Sunday, Gibson said. Others were friends, family and members of the Hillsdale Presbyterian Church, who were invited to attend.

I’ll be looking forward to meeting Rev. Johnston and his elders at the General Assembly in Bethesda in June. Greetings!

(Via Layman Online.)

The liberal PCUSA caucus the Witherspoon Society has posted on its Web site the statement Paul Capetz made at the Twin Cities presbytery meeting on Saturday. Check there to read the whole thing. I’ve already dealt with some of this, but given his position as a professor of historical theology, this part of it jumped out at me:

It was during that time in graduate school that I began in earnest to study the Protestant Reformation. I vividly recall reading Martin Luther’s depiction of his own despair as he struggled to live a celibate lifestyle in the monastery. I saw my situation and my own despair mirrored in his words.

Except that Luther would have considered Capetz’ same-sex attraction to be a crucial distinction between the two of them.

Once I understood why Luther, Calvin, and the other Protestant Reformers categorically rejected vows of celibacy as incompatible with what they believed was the essential tenet of Reformed faith, namely justification by faith alone, I found the key to making sense of my own plight as a gay Protestant.

The Reformers rejected life-long vows of celibacy that stood in the way of marriage, not celibacy for unmarried people. They also rejected those vows within the context of what they saw as the works-righteousness doctrine of salvation taught by Rome, which maintained that living a life of celibacy would garner one merit before God. The notion that they rejected living chastely outside of marriage is simply nonsense.

I realized that by requiring of gay persons like me a vow of celibacy as a condition of our moral acceptability as Christians, the contemporary Protestant church had fallen back on its own sword that had originally been used to attack what they identified as distorted in the Roman Catholic doctrine and practice of their day.

A vow of celibacy doesn’t make one morally acceptable. A holy life, which includes a life in which sexual expression is confined to marriage, also doesn’t make one “morally acceptable,” at least not to God. It is, instead, expressive of one’s faithful devotion to the One who has saved us, and in the process transformed us, and continues to transform us, into the image of Christ. The fact that a holy life is supposed to spring from the work of grace that we embrace by faith, rather than the other way around, doesn’t make that life unimportant, or any less incumbent on Christians. What Capetz is doing here would have been unequivocally rejected by all of the Reformers (check out Luther’s Treatise Against the Antinomians for one repudiation).

Not only did I see my despair around sexuality reflected in Luther’s account of his despair about sexuality, but I found my answer in the answer Luther first propounded and which gave the Reformation its start.

For the first time in the history of Protestantism, a vow of celibacy is being required of an entire caste of persons as a condition of their suitability for leadership in the church though the original platform of the Reformation was unambiguously opposed to vows of celibacy as contrary to the nature of the gospel.

His use of the expression “vow of celibacy” is patently dishonest. Clergy in the PCUSA are being asked to live lives that conform to the moral law of God revealed in Scripture, and given that we are talking about a Reformed denomination (one that supposedly believes in the “third use of the law” (as a pattern for life and a guide for sanctification), it shouldn’t be hard to see a requirement of sexual fidelity/chastity as conforming completely with a Reformation approach to vocation. Capetz is clearly an antinomian, and as such way outside the Reformation norm, however much he’s like to claim its authority for himself.

In its categorical opposition to all expressions of homosexuality, the Protestant church has unintentionally found itself having to deny one of its own essential tenets, namely that vows of celibacy are wrong because they imply works-righteousness before God.

To see how wrong this is, ignore the word “vow” as a red herring, and imagine this version: “In its categorical opposition to polyamory, the Protestant church has unintentionally found itself having to deny one of its own essential tenets, namely that monogamous sexual behavior is wrong because it implies works-righteousness before God.” The Reformers, of course, didn’t object to the requirement, laid upon all Christians in the New Testament, for all sexual behavior to be monogamous, even to the point of making vows of monogamy in the wedding ceremony, and never hinted that either the requirement or the vow meant compromising with “work-righteousness.” The stricture against homosexual behavior is no different–it is wrong because God in His Word has declared it wrong, and avoiding it isn’t a matter of a vow, or of “works-righteousness,” but of being faithfully obedient to the commands of God. It’s a pity that the Twin Cities presbytery didn’t see it that way, for it is they, as well as Capetz, who have abandoned the Reformation in the process.

The Archbishop of Canterbury is against “thoughtless and cruel” speech. So am I. The difference is that he wants to criminalize it, according to the Times of London:

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, has called for new laws to protect religious sensibilities that would punish “thoughtless and cruel” styles of speaking.

Dr Williams, who has seen his own Anglican Communion riven by fierce invective over homosexuality, said the current blasphemy law was “unworkable” and he had no objection to its repeal.

But whatever replaces it should “send a signal” about what was acceptable.

This should be done by “stigmatising and punishing extreme behaviours” that have the effect of silencing argument.

The Archbishop is apparently unaware that a law such as he is proposing would have exactly the effect of silencing argument. I mean, if the United States had had such a law in the last couple of weeks, how many presidential candidates and their surrogates would have been arrested for “thoughtless” speech?

The Archbishop, delivering the James Callaghan Memorial Lecture in London this afternoon, said it should not just be a few forms of extreme behaviour that were deemed unacceptable, leaving everything else as fair game.

“The legal provision should keep before our eyes the general risks of debasing public controversy by thoughtless and, even if unintentionally, cruel styles of speaking and acting,” he said.

The Rt. Rev. Williams is, from what I gather, a brilliant theologian. As a legislator, not so much. He really should stick with what he knows, and not worry about protecting thin-skinned people from “thoughtless” speech.

(Via MCJ.)

Presbyterians have historically been thought of as “brainy” Christians, people who take their theology seriously, people who don’t base decisions or teaching on their feelings or their gut but on their minds as led by the Holy Spirit. But to read Craig Kibler’s account of the debate in Minnesota this week, you’d think that that tradition had gone right out the window:

Another man, an elder, questioned something Capetz said that he called “a bit dismissive of the importance of Scripture. I believe Scripture trumps all.”

Capetz replied by saying that, “I certainly didn’t mean to sound dismissive of Scripture. What I’m opposed to is an idolatrous use of the Bible in Protestant usage and ethics as if we didn’t need to reflect in a rigorous method and manner what Scripture teaches … that all we have to do as disciples of Christ is to abide by Scripture. I think that runs dangerously close to idolatry.”

“This is a denomination that prides itself on a very high level of theological education. Theology matters,” he said.

The equation of obeying Scripture with idolatry was old in Harry Emerson Fosdick’s day, and it’s embarrassing, frankly, to hear of straw man like that appear in a setting like this. The fact that one believes what the Bible teaches, and believes that it reveals God’s will to His people, is not idolatry. As for his statement about theological education, I refer you to my comments in the previous post, in which he demonstrates to my satisfaction that what matters for Capetz isn’t theology, but personal desires.

Another commissioner, who supported the motion, said that, “20 years ago I would have voted against restoration. The issue was so uncomfortable for me.” Since then, she said, she’s read, listened and investigated the issue. Now, “my mind has changed and my heart has been changed by the Holy Spirit.”

That she’s changed her mind is obvious. That the Holy Spirit informed her that the Scripture that He inspired got it wrong is doubtful.

Another man, explaining that he’s spent the past year-and-a-half in a “life-changing experience” battling cancer, said that, “when you have cancer, your life does change.”

“Two thousand years ago, I would be an outcast,” he said. “Orthodoxy doesn’t want you around. There are servants that Christ calls to be a part of His Church who are those who the orthodoxy doesn’t want, those who the orthodoxy calls sinners. We can no longer keep people out. We’re all sinners.”

People with cancer in the first century were outcasts? Who knew? As for the orthodox not wanting him around, give me a break. Capetz isn’t asking whether he can join a church, he’s asking for his ordination to be restored, while at the same time loudly proclaiming that he won’t abide by the ordination standards of the denomination. Jesus didn’t hesitate to watch people walk away if they were unwilling to answer the call to discipleship, which is what Capetz is insisting that he has a right to do.

Another commissioner said the vote comes down to “what’s essential and what is not. What is essential,” she said, “has to do with a commitment to preach the Gospel and administer the sacraments.”

She said she based her opinion on Calvin’s The Institutes of the Christian Religion. “That is what is essential and that is what Paul Capetz has committed himself to.

So if a pastor preaches the gospel and administers the sacrament, but runs around on his wife, is repeatedly drunk in public, and cheats on his income taxes, that’s hunky-dory with this commissioner. By the way, if she’s read the Institutes all the way through and actually understood what she was reading I’m a Genoa salami.

Another commissioner said that “what we have to do is go deep down to what is sin. … Homosexuality is not a sin – it is sin to deny calling forth a people, sinful to deny ourselves of who we are in loving relationships.”

“Homosexuality is not a sin”–OK, if you say so. Why I should take your word for it I’m not sure….

Those who vote against restoration, he said, “are saying to someone else that we are choosing to say ‘No.’ If we do that, we will limp into the future. We will not do it as a whole body.”

Sir, I hope you realize that you just lost your ability to vote against anyone who ever asks for ordination in your presbytery ever again. If Fred Phelps decides to go PCUSA and move to Minnesota with his ordination, you’re stuck, because you’ve just surrendered your right to say no.

The comments about Scripture, relationships, personal pride and so on led one commissioner to ask, “Does this departure from essential tenets get a few whiffs of red herring in this room? That’s not unusual at presbytery.”

I have no clue what this means. I guess you had to be there. Of course, when Minnesotans talk about herring, can lutefisk be far behind?

“I’ve come to this conclusion,” he said. “There is no place in the Gospels where I am told to detest or despise somebody for whom they love. I no longer believe that a committed, sincere love between two consenting adults is in itself a state of sin. Period. Call it a scruple.”

So to deny Paul Capetz the restoration of his ordination credentials because he refuses to abide by the standards of the PCUSA constitution is to “detest or despise” him. Check. I’m glad someone played the “bigot” card. This whole event just wouldn’t have been complete without it.

Another woman minister, referring to the “fidelity/chastity” clause, said that, “this amendment is not about homosexuality, but about celibacy. It’s about anybody who is not in a marriage cannot be ordained. We don’t talk about that. It’s absurd for us to sit around and talk about Paul Capetz when there are a whole bunch of ordained heterosexuals having sex before marriage.”

“I’m tired of being the Bride of Christ,” she said, to laughter from commissioners. “If the way of marriage was open to me, I’d go there. I didn’t get into this to be a nun. If I wanted to do that, I’d have become a Catholic.”

When this person says that the fidelity/chastity clause means that “anybody who is not in a marriage cannot be ordained,” you realize what she’s saying? She saying that Protestants are fundamentally incapable of controlling their sexual appetites. The clause has to go, because she can’t keep her pants zipped, and if since she’s not married, it’s an oppressive requirement that she be required to do what she isn’t capable of. Of course, Catholics apparently are able to control themselves, since nuns (as well as monks and priests, the vast majority, anyway) manage to do so. By the way, please note that Capetz is not the only member of the Twin Cities presbytery to declare before God and everybody that he has no intention of upholding PCUSA’s ordination standards. It’s nice to know that he’s got heterosexual company.

Forget Lisa Larges. It appears the Rubicon has been crossed in Minnesota, according to the Presbyterian Outlook:

The Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area, in another high-profile case involving gay ordination, has voted to restore the ordination of seminary professor Paul Capetz.

I say forget Larges because she still has hoops to jump through that may or may not result in her being ordained. Capetz is another story.

Capetz, who had been ordained in 1991 as a minister of Word and Sacrament, had voluntarily set aside his ordination in 2000 because of his disagreement with language in the ordination standards of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) which requires those being ordained to practice fidelity if they are married or chastity if they are single.

But in 2007, Capetz asked Twin Cities presbytery to allow him to declare a scruple–an objection based on conscience–to the standards, and asked that his ordination be reinstated.

In a specially-called presbytery meeting on Jan. 26, the presbytery did just that – voting 197 to 84, with two abstentions, to permit the scruple Capetz had presented, determining it did not involve “a failure to adhere to the essentials of Reformed faith and polity.”

Except as is made clear below, this is not just a matter of “I disagree with the particular aspect of the PCUSA ordination standards.” This is exactly what critics of the Authoritative Interpretation said would happen–a “scruple” would be allowed that would then be interpreted by the presbytery to mean that the scrupler didn’t have to abide by the provision he disagreed with. Louisville has been saying all along that just because someone scrupled didn’t change the fact the he or she would have to abide by the provision objected to. Twin Cities has just blown a big Bronx cheer in Louisville’s direction.

Twin Cities presbytery also voted 196 to 79, with three abstentions, to restore Capetz to ordained office.

And, by a voice vote, it approved accepting as a “validated ministry” Capetz’ position as an associate professor of historical theology at United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities.

In an interview late last year, Capetz said he is gay and not currently involved in a relationship. But he said he would not, as a matter of conscience, pledge to be celibate as a condition of ordination. [Emphasis added.]

He said that ahead of time, Twin Cities knew that was his attitude. And they proceeded anyway. They put their stamp of approval on that attitude, and in the process defied the denomination to do anything about it.

Capetz has argued that he cannot, as a matter of principle, support a Protestant denomination making celibacy a requirement for ordination – because imposing such a requirement is, in his view, not in accord with the Reformed faith.

“If there was one thing the Protestant Reformation stood for, it was the abolition of celibacy for religious reasons,” he said.

This is a professor of historical theology? He thinks that the Reformation was about celibacy? If I had been a student of his, I’d demand my tuition back.

After the vote in Minnesota, Capetz said, “I’m happy with the outcome,” and said his ordination would be restored immediately. Capetz will continue doing the same work – teaching at the seminary – but said he’d be open to what possibilities might come along, to discovering “what God wanted me to do.”

Obedience to His Word would be nice. But hey, if you’ve got a problem with that, don’t sweat it. God certainly won’t.

UPDATE: One of the Layman Online articles adds this:

In a statement, Interim Executive Presbyter Sarai Schnucker said, “We are overwhelmed by the grace and love that this presbytery exhibited today. The members of the presbytery have conducted themselves with respect and restraint, even while handling such a controversial issue. As a presbytery, we listened to each other and heard each other. In the midst of this time of debate and discernment, there was true worship by the Body of Christ as we sang songs and broke bread together.”

“We are unaware of what might take place as a result of today,” she said, “but we have come together as the Body of Christ and we are grateful for the presence of the Spirit with us. Thanks be to God.”

(Hat tip: Will Spotts.)

UPDATE: The Presbyterian News Service quotes Capetz saying this:

Describing the church’s current position, Capetz said, “In its categorical opposition to all expressions of homosexuality, the Protestant church has unintentionally found itself having to deny one of its own essential tenets, namely that vows of celibacy are wrong because they imply works-righteousness before God.”

Capetz took several questions from the floor, noting on several occasions that he would not take a vow of celibacy. When asked to elaborate on his view of the works of Martin Luther and John Calvin, Capetz cited justification by faith alone and not by works, noting that sexuality is an “inescapable” part of humanity. Demanding celibacy is “kind of works righteousness,” he said.

For a professor of historical theology, this strikes me as either ignorant or self-serving. Capetz keeps using the expression “vow of celibacy” because he’s trying to draw a parallel to the Catholic vow of life-long celibacy enforced on priests, monks, and nuns. There is, in fact, no parallel. The requirement of PCUSA ordination standards are not vows, and they are not life-long unless one chooses to take them that way. To Capetz’ certain reply that the “fidelity in marriage, chastity in singleness” clause means that he, because he is gay, must stay celibate unless same-sex marriage is legalized in Minnesota, I reply: yeah, so what’s your point? There are a lot of people who might like to chuck the fidelity/chastity stuff who aren’t gay: single heterosexuals who want to live together and be sexually active; polyamorists who want to be able to diddle their friends’ wives without consequences; people who want to use the services of prostitutes, and so on. That standard crimps lots of people’s lifestyles, and you know what? That’s life in the Christian faith. If you don’t like it, become a Unitarian.

As for the claim that “demanding celibacy is ‘kind of works righteousness,” one has to wonder whether Capetz believes in any moral standards whatsoever. Or are all calls for Christians to refrain from sin just examples of “works righteousness”? Does he really think that any Christian who deliberately makes a choice to not commit adultery, not kill his neighbor, not steal from his employer, not commit fraud on his income taxes, not abuse children, not engage in racist behavior, not covet what his boss owns, not bow before idols–does he really think that such moral conduct, along with not engaging in sexual relations outside of marriage or with people of the same gender, constitutes “works righteousness”? All I can say is that if he does, and I had been a student of his, I’d not only be demanding my tuition back, but I insist on at least 50% interest. It’s one thing to be able to define latitudinarianism, it’s another entirely to claim that the Martin Luther and John Calvin were latitudinarians, simply so that I can justify my own personal behavior.

Finally, there’s the unequivocal money quote:

When questioned if his departure from the chastity and fidelity section would be in both belief and in practice, Capetz said, “I refuse to be in compliance with The Book of Order as it now stands.”

Which just about says it all.

Want to see some illustrations of the reasons why the mainline churches are in trouble? Look no farther than the story in the Roanoke Times today about a visit by Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefforts-Schori to southwestern Virginia:

Calling for economic evangelism and political advocacy, the Most Rev. Katherine Jefferts Schori, elected leader of the nation’s 2.7 million Episcopal Church members, roused an audience of her denomination’s regional leaders in Roanoke on Saturday.

Reason #1: the confusion of evangelism with social activism and political advocacy. It shouldn’t be hard to tell the difference, but for some they are all the same thing. Writing a letter to a congresscritter stating your opinion that food stamp allowances should be raised is the same as witnessing to the tranforming impact of the lif, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

And Jefferts Schori urges a roll-up-your-sleeves brand of Christianity that’s big on persuading church members to volunteer in community service, dig deeper into their pockets to furnish food for the world’s impoverished and nudge politicians to provide more help for the hungry.

Her activist message resonated with Southwest Virginia pastors such as Vince Carroll, rector of Trinity Episcopal Church in Richlands. “She reminds me of something the Apostle Paul said, ‘The poor will always be with you.’ But you damn well better do something to help them out.”

Reason #2: ignorance of Scripture even among the clergy. It was, of course, Jesus who said “the poor you will always have with you” (Matthew 26:11, Mark 14:7, John 12:8). This isn’t just a matter of not being able to remember addresses, either. The expression comes in the context of a woman (John says it was Mary of Bethany) anointing Jesus with expensive perfume, which others objected to because the perfume could have been sold and the proceeds given to the poor. But Jesus rebuked them, both for ignoring the “beautiful thing” she had done to Him and for missing the prophetic significance of the act, which was to anoint Him ahead of time for burial. In fact, while there’s no doubt that Jesus highly valued ministry to the poor, the message f this particular passage is exactly the opposite of the one that Rev. Carroll assigns to it. Then again, if you’re going to decide what the teaching and mission of the church is based on the New York Times editorial page, I don’t suppose it really matter.

There’s nothing esoteric about her take on theology. “It’s refreshing to hear her put it in very straightforward terms,” said Deborah Hunley, rector of Christ Episcopal Church in Roanoke’s Old Southwest neighborhood. “What we are as a church is defined by the good we actually do for others.”

Reason #3: failure to grasp the proper mission of the church. The church is not defined by “the good we actually do for others” (that would be the Lions Club or the local food pantry). The church is defined by its faithful relationship with the Lord who constitutes it as His body. As such, our mission is not to “do good,” our mission is to carry our the work that God has assigned us, much of which (for instance, witnessing to the truth of the gospel, making disciples, teaching them Jesus’ commandments, baptizing them–you know, Great Commission stuff) the world doesn’t consider good, and in fact positively repudiates.

In her address, [Schori] barely mentioned the traditional church mission of saving souls. Instead, she zeroed in on the need for “social justice ministry,” specifically to rally to such causes as improving health care, education and job opportunities. Further, she encouraged church leadership to press politicians into helping Third World nations develop economically — plugging debt reduction and fair trade.

Reason #4: mistaking the church for a political party. What Schori wants these people to be is Democratic Party activists, not Episcopalians. In her vision of what the church and its mission are, Schori has traded in the glorious vision of the Kingdom of God for the earthly (and in truth, miserly) vision of a government program. If that’s all the church is, I’d just as soon go to work for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services or Labor or Education. The government’s pension program is better than the church’s.

(Via T19.)

Yesterday I noted the vote in the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina to repudiate the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. Today, perusing the thread on this at Stand Firm, I noticed some extra information that I thought pertinent.

First, there are other Episcopal dioceses that have done the same thing or something very similar. According to Stand Firm reader Jill Woodliff:

South Carolina makes the sixth diocese to dissociate.  The first five were Mississippi, Albany, Quincy, Springfield, and Pittsburgh.  San Diego votes on dissociation in two weeks.

The Web Elves (of CaNN fame) later added Central Florida. So while South Carolina isn’t the first, it’s clearly part of a wave that is moving through at least some dioceses. Pray for San Diego to add its voice in February, and for others to take up the torch.

Jill also made mention of the fact that the RCRC affiliate in Georgia is Georgians for Choice. Keep in mind that this is the “Religious” CRC. Jill filled others in on the nature of the fund-raiser that GFC had back in October, a description of which I take from the Web site advertising it:

Sex, Wine and Chocolate, a sex-positive cabaret fundraiser for Georgians for Choice and Generation Five’s Atlanta Transformative Justice Collaborative…

Doors open at 7 pm. Show begins at 8 pm.

* Spoken Word by NYROBI MOSS
* Pole Dancing Performances by POLELATEAZ
* Vegan Desserts from LA DOLCE LULU

In case you’re not sure what all of those are, Amber Rhea, whose site hosts the ad, fills us in:

There will be burlesque performances, spoken word, a drag show, Dr. Sketchy’s Anti-Art School, all manner of tasty desserts, a chocolate fountain, plenty of booze, awesome prizes such as a trip to St. Croix, and, of course, more.

I’ll leave to your imagination what “more” might mean, but take note: those of you whose denominations or denominational agencies are member organizations  of RCRC (including ECUSA, PCUSA Washington Office and Women’s Ministries, United Methodist General Board of Church and Society, UCC Justice and Witness Ministries, as well as the YWCA) are part of organizations that condone if not actually support this kind of stuff.

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