Peace, Unity, and Purity

Summary and Response

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There has always been controversy and competition in the Presbyterian Church. For the past generation, though, the PC(USA) has been in a permanent cycle of conflict. This has spawned a host of special-interest organizations of the left and right, an endless string of judicial cases, and an annual battle of overtures to amend the church's constitution. In 2001, the General Assembly created a task force to discern a way to bring about the peace, unity, and purity of the church. In 2005, the task force made its report to the church, to be adopted, or not, at the General Assembly in Birmingham in June 2006.

Two of the enduring issues in the church have been the precise authority of the Bible and the exact nature of Jesus' divinity. These issues play out somewhat differently in different eras. Since the 1970s, there has been a running argument in the church over the authority and interpretation of scriptural passages that appear to condemn homosexual behavior. This controversy has been especially acute over whether sexually active homosexuals can be ordained as ministers and elders. In the year before the task force was created, there was also a short-lived controversy over whether Christ was the only way to salvation or just one way among many. The way these controversies were fought out led some to see the church as being driven more by power politics than by faithfulness to the gospel.

The official report of the task force is recommended for study by the entire denomination. It may be found on the denominational Web site at (Theological Task Force on Peace, Unity, and Purity). This Thoughtful Christian study summarizes the issues addressed and the process the task force used. The first session focuses on the theological issues addressed by the task force. The second session focuses on the six recommendations made by the task force and the reaction by various affinity groups in the denomination so far.

William J. Weston is John M. and Louise Van Winkle Professor of Sociology at Centre College in Danville, Kentucky. He is an elder in the Presbyterian Church and has published several books, including Presbyterian Pluralism: Competition in a Protestant House .

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