Shuck and Jive

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Clergy Letter Project Passes General Assembly!

The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) voted to endorse The Clergy Letter, 14-02 by a vcote of 374-194.   This was an overture that started with the session of Southminster Presbyterian Church.  Last Fall, Cascades Presbytery endorsed it and sent it to the General Assembly.  It received concurrences from Eastern Virginia, and Upper Ohio Valley.
Kathleen Huddleston, an elder from Southminster, was the Overture Advocate.  She did a fantastic job presenting the overture to the Theological Issues and Institutions Committee and it was approved by the committee 66-10.   This is something I have been working on for some time.   The approval by the denomination will help on a number of levels.  It an atmosphere of science-denial, this will put the PCUSA on record as unambiguously supporting the teaching of evolution in public schools as "a foundational scientific truth."   It will show by example that people do not have to choose between science and faith.   It will invite the church to rethink its theology and its theological symbols in light of the advances in science, particularly the challenges of evolution in regards to ideas such as Creation, Providence, and what it means to be a human being.   Rather than regard science and evolution as an enemy of faith, this overture calls the church to befriend science and learn from it.

The General Assembly also approved overture 14-13, from the Presbytery of Boston.  This overture with concurrence by Cascades, Denver, Milwaukee, and Wabash Valley, was approved by the General Assembly, 305-264.    More specific than the Clergy Letter, this new affirmation provided a list of things that we know from scientific exploration:

today with confidence we can affirm:
•              That God has been calling this universe into being for at least 13.8 billion years and continues calling upon the Creation to bring forth new creatures;
•              That God’s creative call has resulted in virtually countless stars and planetary systems, and new stars and planetary systems are continuing to be created;
•              That, in response to God’s creative call, the Earth took form at least 4.6 billion years ago;
•              That, in response to God’s call, living creatures emerged on the Earth at least 3.6 billion years ago;
•              That God has connected all life on Earth in a network of kinship by virtue of descent with modification from common ancestors;
•              That, in response to God’s call, we Homo sapiens emerged as a species over more than 6 million years of hominin development;
•              That, since our line of descent split from the line that resulted in our contemporaries, the chimpanzees and bonobos, we Homo sapiens were preceded by at least eighteen already identified hominin species, all of which are now extinct;*
•              That, in the providence of God, we Homo sapiens have come to exercise extraordinary power over other creatures and their habitats, the Earth’s geological structures, and the meteorological systems of the Earth;
•              That, by virtue of the powers of intellect and creativity called forth in us by God, we bear exceptional responsibility for the future of the Earth and all its constitutive creatures.

Since science would not speak of "God," this statement is a theological statement and invites an ongoing "interactive engagement" between theology and science.   One of the challenges for theologians is to explore what we mean by using the word "God" among other things.   

Thanks to the Presbyterian Association of Science, Technology, and the Christian Faith and in particular to Overture Advocate, Sara Joan Wasson Miles, who provided an excellent explanation of this overture to the committee.  


  1. The statement that "evolution" is a "foundational scientific truth" is an absurd overly simplistic statement. You know better. You are aware that there are a number of valid criticisms of Darwin's evolutionary theory including it's failure to identify a viable mechanism for producing high level complex and specific information, explain the biogeographical distribution of some species and the fact that Darwin has no plausible account for the origins of life. As you know there are many others. I do hope the PCUSA will not feel a similar need to pronounce particular theories in the fields of quantum mechanics and astrophysics as "foundational scientific truth". Science has a method for sorting that out which avoids overgeneralization which implies the theory explains more than it does.