Shuck and Jive

Monday, December 06, 2010

My Speech Has Been Leaked!

Inspired by Wikileaks, here is the text of my speech that I will deliver tomorrow when Holston Presbytery votes on Amendment A.

If I leak my own speech will I have to execute myself if captured?

I am John Shuck, pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Elizabethton. I am speaking in favor of amendment A.

At First Presbyterian we welcome all people. We welcome all people as individuals. And when we choose elders and deacons we choose individuals. We do not choose or decide not to choose categories of people.

We do not ordain (nor decide not to ordain) communists, cigarette smokers, abortion providers, men, women, divorced persons, biblical literalists, moonshiners, Democrats, Republicans, grumpy people, or happy people. We evaluate for service Pat and Rebecca and Beth and Dwain. That is how Presbyterians do things. That is how we all do it.

If we don't think someone is qualified to teach Sunday School, lead the choir, run the youth program, or be a deacon or an elder, we do not ask that individual to do so. No session needs a prohibition in the Book of Order to do that. The same is true for a presbytery. If you don't think someone should be installed as a minister in your presbytery, you vote no. A governing body is guided by scripture and the confessions (ultimately the Holy Spirit) to evaluate individuals for particular service.

The problem for these past three decades is that a simple majority has instituted and enforced a binding policy of categorical prohibition on one class of individuals for the whole church. This has resulted in expensive court cases, a loss of qualified candidates, and loss of members frustrated that we cannot stop fighting over this. We will continue to have problems until we allow charity on non-essentials.

My congregation, as part of its ministry of social justice, advocates in word and deed on behalf of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. In so doing we feel we are faithful to Jesus Christ, Scripture, and the Confessions.

I don't expect anyone to agree with me. I don't expect to change anyone's mind. There is no consensus across the church or in this presbytery on what "the Bible says". No matter how certain we may feel about our interpretation of scripture regarding this issue, we must agree to the obvious fact that there is no consensus. People in good conscience disagree.

All Amendment 10-A asks is to let the church's polity be consistent with its theology. That is charity on non-essentials, respect for individual conscience, and a return to historic, Presbyterian principles. Let the governing bodies determine who may serve particular ordained ministries based on their evaluation of the character, faith and gifts of a person guided by Scripture and the Confessions.

It is the Presbyterian way that has served us well for over 250 years.

Let's stop fighting, make the change, and get on with ministry.
My polity professor at seminary, Bill Chapman, says that the proposed text is the "middle way".

Former stated clerk of the General Assembly, Clifton Kirkpatrick, is in favor of Amendment A, too.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. "Charity on non-essentials" is a nice phrase. Did you come up with that?

  3. Hey John, I misquoted. It should be "liberty on non-essentials". It is an old quote and it should be:

    In essentials, unity. In non-essentials, liberty. In all things, charity.