Leading From the Center: Strengthening the Pillars of the Church by William J. Weston
Part II: Where are we now?
Chapter 4 – The Half-Finished Story of the Fidelity and Chastity Competition.
Chapter 4 is the first of two chapters addressing the question posed by Part Two of the book: Where are we now? Weston gives a quick summary of events that have led up to today. He writes of Presbyterian denominations merging into the Present Presbyterian Church (USA) in 1983. He writes of the upheaval in the culture and the church beginning in the 1960s and the resulting membership decline. Particularly significant, he notes the move away from the Westminster Confession as the confession of the church to having a Book of Confessions. This had the tendency to move constitutional authority away from confessions and to the Book of Order. (The PCUSA Constitution is seen as two parts with the Book of Confessions as Part I and the Book of Order as Part II, with the scripture above both.) The changes over the years have brought the denomination to place of intense competition similar to the period of the 1920s.
Weston singles out the “Fidelity and Chastity” portion of the Book of Order as the prime example of competition within the denomination. The “Fidelity and Chastity” moniker refers to section G-6.0106b of the Book of Order added in 1996:
Those who are called to office in the church are to lead a life in obedience to Scripture and in conformity to the historic confessional standards of the church. Among these standards is the requirement to live either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman (W-4.9001), or chastity in singleness. Persons refusing to repent of any self-acknowledged practice which the confessions call sin shall not be ordained and/or installed as deacons, elders, or ministers of the Word and Sacrament.
Starting with the 1970s, Weston gives a very good summary of the events that led up to this amendment and then chronicles the ramifications sense. He walks us through the Definitive guidance offered on issues related to homosexuality in the 1970s, permanent judicial commission rulings, the Keeping Body a Soul Together report to the General Assembly in 1991, and the proposed G-6.0106b amendment to the constitution in 1996 (ratified in March, 1997.) From this point he chronicles the events since that time to defend, soften, or remove this section from the Constitution. The conflict surrounding this and other topics led to the formation of the Peace, Unity, and Purity Task Force that will be bringing their report to the General Assembly next month.
I am not going to recapitulate all this chapter offers. I think it is an excellent summary of events for anyone wondering how we got here. Actually, I thought his opening two paragraphs for this chapter sum up present circumstances well.
The best way to see if loyalist competition is still driving the church would be to find an issue so divisive that the loyalist majority is forced to choose a direction for the church. No issue has been more divisive in the Presbyterian Church recently than homosexual ordination. This issue came to a head in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) at the 1996 General Assembly and in the struggle over the fidelity and chastity amendment to the church’s constitution. The story is not over, but the fidelity and chastity amendment – now section G-6.0106b of the Book of Order – is a milestone in the loyalist reassertion in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) today.
The Presbyterian Church has maintained a consistent witness that homosexual behavior is a sin and the homophobia and civil discrimination against homosexuals are also wrong. In the past quarter century liberals have steadily increased their efforts to convince the church that homosexuality is not wrong, while conservatives, much less steadily, have been irritated by the church’s support of homosexuals. Somewhat to the surprise of both sides, the church has not changed it position much on this issue despite increasing pressure from both wings and growing weariness in the center. (47)
All in all, a pretty good summary, although in the last paragraph I would have concluded the second sentence by saying “irritated by the church’s support for legitimizing homosexual acts.”