The plain sense of the English language in G.0106b and the PUP task force report
By Gene Meyer, Special to The Layman Online, March 5, 2007
G.0106b: “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 in 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.” (Emphasis mine)
- Definitions (from the Oxford Dictionary)
- Standard(s): 1. object or quality or measure serving as a basis or example or principle by which others are judged.
- Require (v) 1. need; depend on. 2. lay down as an imperative. 3. command; instruct; insist on.
- Requirement (n) 1. requisite, prerequisite, condition, stipulation, provision.
The plain sense of the English language in G.0106b distinguishes between standard and requirement. The PUP Report Recommendation 5 and G.0108, which the report uses as a basis for its rationale, discuss only standards, not requirements. In fact, Recommendation 5 and its rationale use the term “standard” over 50 times. The term “required” or “requires” is used only six times, in the paragraphs beginning at line 1100 (web copy) thru line 1116. And this use of the term “required” is not in reference to G.0106b.
Allow me to offer an analogy. My wife and I are considering purchasing a purebred dog. The standards for that breed include the requirement that the dog’s hair not be cut, clipped or trimmed. If the dog does not meet that requirement, it is eliminated from competition in a dog show. If it does meet the requirement, then it is judged by the other standards of the breed (height, weight, color, stature, gait, etc.).
And so it should be with ordination. An individual must first meet the requirement(s) before they are judged by the standards. One may have a principled objection (scruple) to a standard (objective). By definition, one may not object to or scruple a requirement (specific).
Requirements and standards are clear and distinct. Had the authors of G.0106 and G.0108 and the PUP report intended to equate standards and requirements, they could have done so. Absent that, they could have used the terms interchangeably. They did not. However, do the authors of the PUP report imply that standards and requirements are to be equated?
Yes, possibly in three places in the rationale, but not in the approved Recommendation 5 itself. First at lines 1121 and 1193 of the report (web copy) the authors use the term “provisions” which one could assume lumps together standards, essentials and requirements. Second, in the paragraph beginning at line 1125 (web copy) the authors talk about a “manner-of-life standard” when referring to G.0106b. This paraphrase ignores the specific language used in G.0106b which is “requirement.” And finally, at line 1293 (web copy) the authors state, “Some current standards, particularly G.0106b, are controversial.” These last two statements may “imply” that standards and requirements are to be equated; however, at a minimum both are incomplete misstatements of G.0106b. One should ask two questions:
- 1) Why did the authors of the constitution separate G.0106b from G.0108?
- 2) Why did the authors use the word “requirement” in G.0106b and not “standard” alone?
The answer, I believe, is that the authors wanted to distinguish between the “standards” of G.0106b and the “standards” of G.0108 and make clear that G.0106b was a “requirement.” The authors of the PUP report fail to acknowledge this clear distinction in the constitution.
Some may argue that sentence two of G.0106b is just one “standard” among the many standards included in G.0108. This contention is not only incorrect by definition, it is wrong grammatically. Good English grammar tells us that the phrase in sentence two “Among these standards” is modified by the phrase “is the requirement.” What follows, “to live. …” is no longer a standard, or quality or measure; it is a requirement, a prerequisite, a condition. Sentence two is set apart from the general standards mentioned in sentence one. The Authoritative Interpretation in Recommendation 5 applies to standards, not requirements.
Further, standards and requirements are different by their nature. A standard, by its nature, requires judgment. A requirement by its nature is binary (yes or no, do or don’t, shall or shall not). Chapter 20 of Exodus begins, “And God spoke all these words.” Nowhere in the chapter are the words command or commandment used. The people then (and now) recognized that what God spoke were commandments by their binary nature (shall or shall not) and, hence, we call that chapter the Ten Commandments. These were not recommendations, or suggestions or standards. No judgment may be applied. No scruples. The second sentence of G.0106b is also binary – “live either in fidelity. …, or chastity…,” a requirement. No judgment may be applied. It is either yes or no, do or don’t. No scruples.
Finally, there are those that would say that it was the intention of Recommendation 5 to include G.0106b. We all have good intentions. We all know of a road paved with good intentions. However, we must judge the constitution and the PUP report by their words, not intentions.
While candidates for ordination may be allowed to express principled objections (scruples) to the standards of The Book of Confessions and the Book of Order (as approved in Recommendation 5 of the PUP Report), the clear definitions of the terms, the grammar used and the nature of the words in G.0106b should not allow scrupling of the “requirement” to “live either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman, or chastity in singleness.”
Gene Meyer is an elder at Covenant Presbyterian Church in Omaha, Neb. This article originally was written for the Presbytery of Missouri Valley’s task force that is considering how to implement the PUP report in the presbytery.