Oh boy… where to start.
Today was a day at Synod unlike any other I’ve seen in the dozen-or-so years I’ve attended. It was a morass of confusion and disorder – almost exclusively around the Synod’s response to a handful of overtures regarding Homosexuality. We saw a number of attempted substitutes, amendments, votes, re-votes, and the list could go on…. We even almost had a roll-call vote (which, as far as I know, hasn’t been done in living memory – although I’ve now seen twicely attempted)
In the end, the following Recommendation was passed:
While compassion, patience, and loving support should be shown to all those who struggle with same-sex desires, the General Synod reaffirms our official position that homosexual behavior is a sin according to the Holy Scriptures, therefore any person, congregation, or assembly which advocates homosexual behavior or provides leadership for a service of same-sex marriage or a similar celebration has committed a disciplinable offense; and further,
that the General Synod Council shall oversee the creation of an eight member committee made up of representatives appointed by each of the regional synods to pray and work together to present a way forward for our denomination given the disagreement in our body relative to homosexuality. The purpose of the committee is not to revisit our stated position, but shall operate with the understanding expressed earlier in this recommendation and issue a report with practical recommendations to the General Synod of 2013.
The most disturbing thing about this statement is the word “disciplinable.” It isn’t the theology necessarily (although that’s unquestionably an issue), it’s the messed-up polity. At some level, it’s an entirely useless statement that seems intentionally litigious and divisive. After all, General Synod Professors are the only individuals directly accountable to the Synod and (although much of the Synod doesn’t seem to understand this) the Synod cannot simply define “disciplinable” and force it on to Regional Synods, Classes, or Congregations. The only way Synod could do that would be a change in the Book of Church Order (which would require approval by the Classes which this has not received).
Why is it disturbing then? Because it is the attempt, in my opinion, to hijack the denominational process and polity. A single Synod doesn’t have that kind of power. Even more importantly, the statement essentially tries to make a 1970-something denominational paper “binding.” Our papers inform us (I often compare them to legal precedence… certainly not denominational law) – they do not bind us. If that were true, we would make it disciplinable to drive SUVs (which we’ve made statements about), disciplinable to be Zionist (which we have an incredible paper on), disciplinable to use styrofoam (which we’ve condemned the use of), and – ironically – disciplinable to not believe in women in ministry (which we declared biblically appropriate in the 1950s.)
It’s like a states’-rights vrs federal-rights situation. The federal government (like the Synod) can do some things, but when it isn’t specifically given them, it is left to the states (like the Classes). The Classes, in our polity, are the bodies with the big power. In order for the Synod to wield power over them, it needs to be done through very specific pathways (i.e. a constitutional process that includes Classis’ validation).
And the day isn’t even over… We still haven’t dealt with the Conscience Clauses….
As a side note, the Overture Rochester Classis sent (which originated in Pultneyville) was passed forward to the Church Order Commission. It wasn’t quite what we’d hoped for, but that does mean it’s still moving forward.
Grace and peace,