Tuesday, April 28, 2009

It's Over

At least for the time being, the battle in the PC(USA) over the fidelity and chastity clause in its ordination requirements has ended. For anyone unaware, the PC(USA) requires any candidate for ordination, whether it be as a Minister of the Word and Sacrament, an Elder or a Deacon to either live in fidelity within marriage or in chastity in singleness. Obviously, as long as the PC(USA) does not recognize homosexual marriage (which it does not), this would preclude anyone engaging in an active homosexual relationship from being ordained to office. This has not stopped some ordaining bodies from doing it anyway (my own presbytery, the Baltimore Presbytery, has knowingly ordained an openly gay man as a minister). However, these bodies are acting in defiance of the denomination's constitution.

Over the past year, the 173 presbyteries in the PC(USA) have been voting on whether or not to adopt an amendment to the constitution that was proposed by the General Assembly last year. The General Assembly is the highest legislative body in the PC(USA). The proposed amendment called for the fidelity and chastity requirement to be eliminated from the constitution altogether, substituting language about a candidate's sincere efforts to follow where they feel Christ to be leading them. If passed, this amendment would have permitted the ordination of practicing homosexuals.

A simple majority (i.e., 87) of the presbyteries would have to vote in favor of the amendment for it to pass. As of yesterday, however, 89 presbyteries have voted to keep things the way they are. The current vote is 89 against the amendment, 69 in favor of it, with 15 still having to vote. Of those 15, 4 are expected to vote against the amendment, 3 are expected to vote for it, and the remaining 8 are "up for grabs." Even if all 8 of those presbyteries vote as they did in 2001, however, the final margin for this vote (101-72) would still be far closer than the 2001 vote when this same issue previously arose (127-46). This has proponents of the amendment claiming victory and arguing that a change in the ordination requirements is only a matter of time.

Michael Adee of More Light Presbyterians, an organization that was supporting the proposed amendment, has told the Presbyterian periodical The Layman that More Light's (and similarly minded groups') next mission will be to get denominational approval for same-sex marriages and other similar rights for same-sex couples ("‘Fidelity/chastity’ affirmed but both sides claim victory" by John H. Adams).

Below is a list of the presbyteries that will still be holding their votes between now and May 18, along with the result of their 2001 vote on a similar amendment. An "(S)" next to a presbytery means that the vote in 2001 was close enough that they realistically could switch their vote this time around. Even if all 15 remaining presbyteries voted in favor of the amendment, though, it still cannot pass.

1 Dakota-No
2 Detroit-No (S)
3 East Iowa-Yes
4 Kiskiminetas-No (S)
5 Lehigh-No (S)
6 Middle Tenn.-No (S)
7 Minnesota Valleys-No (S)
8 Missouri River Valley-No (S)
9 Noroeste-No
10 Northern Waters-Yes
11 Pacific-No (S)
12 Savannah-No
13 Southern New England-Yes
14 Suroeste-No
15 Utah-No (S)

Monday, April 20, 2009

Fidelity and Chastity is Likely to be Upheld

It's been far closer than it should be, but with 24 presbyteries still needing to vote, those in favor of keeping the PC(USA) ordination requirements as they are only need 3 more votes. Both the Alaska Presbytery and the Atlantic Korean Presbytery voted against amending the PC(USA) Constitution. But the impact on those seeking amendment is bigger than just these two votes. Alaska was one of the "key" presbyteries; i.e., one whose vote on this same issue in 2001 was close enough that they foreseeably could have changed their vote this time around. The amendment backers needed every single one of these presbyteries to go their way in order to have a chance to win the day. Even if they got every one of these close presbyteries, they still would have needed at least one "upset" vote; i.e., a presbytery which had a wide enough margin in 2001 that a switch really would have been a surprise. Now they would need all the close votes plus two upset votes.

Needing only 3 of 24 presbyteries to keep the Constitution intact, it is not looking likely that anything will change this time around. But, of course, it isn't over yet, and we all know that the issue will probably rear its head again at the 2010 General Assembly.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Be There

Here's the question of the day. Who spoke the following profound words?

"There is no need to say you love me, It would be better left unsaid ...
all that I want from you is a promise you will be there."

(a) Emily Dickinson
(b) Nora Roberts
(c) Mark Twain
(d) Oscar Wilde
(e) The Spice Girls

Believe it or not, the correct answer is "(e) The Spice Girls." These are lyrics from their hit song "Say You'll Be There."

There is a powerful lesson in those words. In our society the word "love" is bantered about far too easily. We "fall in love." But we also "fall out of love." Your boyfriend or girlfriend may say they "love" you today, but that is no guarantee they will "love" you 10 years from now. You see, we have boiled love down to nothing more than a feeling. We often confuse it with infatuation, and once that higher-than-a-kite, giddy-as-a-schoolboy feeling inevitably exits, we too make our way for the exit, right out of the relationship.

The really sad thing is that this is not just true for couples who are dating. It also applies all too often in marriages. People get married because they are in "love," but their definition of love is this fleeting emotional state. They are quick to look for a way out when that feeling subsides and divorce is the inevitable result.

This is not to say you cannot feel a strong emotional attachment to your spouse. Of course you can. But a lasting love is far different from the infatuation on which relationships often begin. Shakespeare depicted this brilliantly in Romeo and Juliet. When Romeo and Juliet first meet, they are like two high school kids passing notes in class. But by the unfortunate end of the play, their relationship has grown to something far deeper.

The Spice Girls picked up on this truth. Don't say that you "love" me. What does that even mean any more? Telling me that you "love" me doesn't provide security. I want a commitment. It will mean far more if you would tell me that you'll "be there." At least that way I'll know that 20 years down the line when I need your shoulder it will be there for me to rest my head.

This is one of the problems I have with people moving in together before marriage. It's an illusion. People behave as if they are really committed to each other, but they cling on to that "escape hatch" just in case they "fall out of love" later on. Marriage is certainly not something to be taken lightly. We have to take the time to really get to know our prospective mate and prayerfully consider the commitment we are undertaking. But once you decide to make that commitment, don't beat around the bush. If you are willing to make the commitment, make it. If not, fess up to your partner and move on. To me moving in together just seems like a cop out.

Once you make a commitment, be true to your word. Don't say you'll "be there" unless you really mean it. But if you say it, do it. When the going gets tough, don't make a break for the exits. Remember your promise to "be there" and honor it. Nowadays, that promise means far more than how we have defined "love." God bless.

Monday, April 13, 2009

How Do You Define Morality?

I’m curious how people out there ontologically define morality. By “ontologically” I mean what morality actually is, not simply how we come to our personal moral beliefs (unless you believe subjective belief is all there is). The latter would be speaking epistemologically, and we all may agree that there are certain cultural influences, etc., that influence what a person comes to morally believe. My question is not about what is believed, but rather what is true.

I had a discussion recently on another board with someone who was basically advancing a similar notion to Sam Harris; i.e., a form of utilitarianism based upon harm. The morally correct action is the one that does the least harm, or in which the harm is most outweighed by the benefit. I pose the classic response to this of a homeless person with no family or friends to speak of, doesn’t have a job, isn’t giving anything to anyone or doing any service for anybody, but he is actually expending resources by way of food, volunteer time, etc. being given to him. Suppose I could euthanize this person painlessly while he slept (unbeknownst to him and without his consent). Should I do it? I believe an argument could be made under utilitarianism that I should.

If someone responds, “But there is great harm in the act of ending his life” I would simply ask, “Why?” At least if you hold to a purely naturalistic framework, I see no difference between killing this man and shooting a deer during hunting season. They are both simply biological machines that result from blind undirected evolution. Why is it acceptable to kill one but not the other? If anything, we could argue that the homeless man is more of a draw against society than the deer, who wanders quietly in the back forests of our country where few humans will ever see him.

Is it because blind evolution has bestowed greater intelligence upon the human? If so, does this mean that people with higher IQs have superior moral rights to those with lower IQs?

A few years ago I was engaged in a discussion with another gentleman who favored ethical nihilism. The problem I find with these views, however, is that inevitably the so-called evidence always ends up detailing how we arrive at moral beliefs. But that is a matter of epistemology, not necessarily ontology. In other words, we may sincerely believe that the moon is made of green cheese, and I can offer all the evidence in the world showing how we came to that belief. But this does not mean that the moon is actually made of green cheese. Not only that, but the particular viewpoint on moral origins being advocated by this individual (and by Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion) was based upon so-called “reciprocal altruism”; i.e., where members of a society realize that it is to their benefit to help others because they may get something in return. But this is not true altruism. This is selfishness. So those theories fail to explain the moral origin of truly self-sacrificing acts.

What about Kant’s categorical imperative that we should always act in such a way that our actions could be taken as a universal rule? This sounds good on the surface. We should not murder anyone we wish because our society would not survive long if we allowed willful murder to be universally permissible. Swiss philosopher Benjamin Constant provided a rebuttal to this point, however. Under Kant’s rule, lying is immoral because we cannot wish that lying be universally allowed. But what if a murderer is chasing his prey and asks us which way his prey ran? Are we allowed to lie to that murderer in order to keep him from consummating his intended crime? Kant says no. Lying is always wrong because we would not wish for it to be a universal rule. Some people respond by saying that we could simply refuse to answer and therefore not break Kant’s categorical imperative. But that is small consolation to someone with a gun held to their face and a murderer demanding an answer. Are we not allowed to defend our own lives and the other person’s by a simple deception, or must we accept our own end simply so as not to deceive a killer? By making everything universal, Kant fails to provide an adequate resolution when two ethical mandates come into conflict with one another.

The Christian worldview answers some of these questions by placing an inherent value on human life (to quote a certain famous American document, “All men are created equal”). All humankind is created in the image of God, and certain moral value is bestowed upon them as a result. It is wrong to kill the homeless man, regardless of what benefit society may see as a result, because there is value in his human life and it would be wrong to erase that value when the man has done nothing to warrant it. It would be okay to lie to the murderer because by doing so we are defending the value of the lives of both the innocent victim and ourselves.

The point of this post is not to provide a detailed defense of the Christian moral view. Instead I am asking for your opinions. If you do not accept the Christian worldview, how do you ontologically define morality? What (or who) determines what is right and what is wrong? God bless.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

New Facebook Page

Ten Minas Ministries now has a Facebook page. It contains updates on any events we have coming up as well as a discussion board where we will post some devotional-type thoughts from time to time. It also has the ability (unlike this blog) for people other than me to start posts. Just keep it clean please. We are all for honest intellectual discussion, but abusive or obscene posts will be deleted.

Visit our Facebook page here. Become a "fan" of Ten Minas on Facebook and tell your friends about us!

Monday, April 06, 2009

One Step Closer

We came one vote closer to ending the dispute over the PC(USA)’s ordination requirements when the South Louisiana Presbytery voted “no” on April 4, 2009, bringing the total number of “no” votes to 82, just 5 shy of the number needed to defeat the amendment. In the meantime, three more presbyteries voted in favor of the amendment: Long Island, Northern New York and San Jose. All three voted to amend the constitution when the issue arose in 2001 as well. The current vote count is 82 against the amendment and 65 for it.

Of the four presbyteries who have voted since my last blog post, none of them were surprises, except perhaps for the margin in San Jose. On April 4, 2009, the San Jose Presbytery voted 84-81 in favor of the amendment, a difference of only three votes. Bucking the trend that has been seen throughout the denomination, San Jose came very close to moving from a “yes” vote in 2001 to a “no” vote in 2008/09. Quite a few presbyteries have switched from a “no” to a “yes”, but San Jose would have been the first to flip/flop the other way around. In 2001 San Jose voted 86-75 in favor of removing the fidelity and chastity requirement. Unlike most other presbyteries voting for the amendment, San Jose’s “margin of victory” has actually shrunk over the past 8 years (from an 11 vote difference to only 3 and from 53.4% in favor of the amendment to only 50.9%).

26 presbyteries still need to hold their votes.