News from the Tennessee Valley Religion

Rev. John C. Bush

Why I believe Presbyterians took best path

I believe the 217th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church took the best path open to it in dealing with a long-running set of controversial issues.

It is not a perfect action, but no human action is.

In the Presbyterian system of church government, the General Assembly is the final arbiter (the "supreme court") for interpretation of what our church constitution means. The assembly does that task through issuing an "authoritative interpretation" of the constitution.

I think that in this instance, that is precisely what the assembly did. Never in 300 years of Presbyterian history in North America has an assembly sent an authoritative interpretation to the presbyteries for a vote. Doing so would be like the Supreme Court of the United States sending its toughest decisions out to be voted on by state legislatures.
This authoritative interpretation does not deal explicitly with sexuality. It deals with how Presbyterians go about making decisions regarding who may and may not be ordained. Sessions (governing boards) of local congregations make those decisions regarding our elders and deacons; presbyteries (regional governing bodies) make those decisions regarding ministers of word and sacrament.

This action by the General Assembly empowers those more local governing bodies and strengthens their hands as they make critical decisions regarding who their leaders shall be.
In essence, the effect of the action the Assembly took was to reinforce the ordaining body as it determines who is eligible for ordination, within the framework of standards established in our constitution. That is the way Presbyterian churches throughout the world have handled ordination decisions since John Knox established the principles of Presbyterian polity for the Church of Scotland 450 years ago.
I believe that the path laid out for us by this action of the General Assembly can lead us, ultimately, to stability and concord, but following the path will take patience and a will for unity among us Presbyterians.

That is my hope and prayer.

The Rev. John C. Bush of Decatur, a retired Presbyterian minister, is interim senior pastor of Birmingham First Presbyterian Church. He is a guest columnist.

Rev. John C. Bush Rev. John C. Bush

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