Thursday, April 21, 2011

Neuhaus' Law and the Forthcoming Intolerance

I just read this Presbyterian Outlook article by Barbara G. Wheeler and John Wilkinson, pleading with orthodox Presbyterians to stick with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in the face of the likely removal of biblical fidelity and chastity standards from the denomination's ordination standards.

The article immediately brought to mind something Richard John Neuhaus wrote several years ago. At that time, Neuhaus addressed what happens to orthodoxy when it's made optional. Lo and behold, Neuhaus' words were reprinted in the latest issue of First Things magazine. What a happy coincidence.

I've found "Neuhaus' Law" to be very helpful in interpreting the times of my own denomination (PCUSA) and other mainline denominations:
Where orthodoxy is optional, orthodoxy will sooner or later be proscribed ... Orthodoxy suggests that there is a right and a wrong, a true and a false, about things. When orthodoxy is optional, it is admitted under a rule of liberal tolerance that cannot help but be intolerant of talk about right and wrong, true and false. It is therefore a conditional admission, depending upon orthodoxy’s good behavior. The orthodox may be permitted to believe this or that and to do this or that as a matter of sufferance, allowing them to indulge their inclination, preference, or personal taste. But it is an intolerable violation of the etiquette by which one is tolerated if one has the effrontery to propose that this or that is normative for others. [Emphasis added.]
Despite all the protestations to the contrary, proscription of orthodoxy is precisely what will happen if the revisionists succeed, as they almost certainly will, in altering with the denomination's deminished ordination standards. All will be well, until that first person ordained under the diminished standards gets called to a predominantly orthodox presbytery.


  1. Each congregation goes through a painstaking process of selecting a new pastor when one is needed. Why would a conservative congregation call an openly gay pastor. It just won't happen.

  2. A conservative congregation calling an openly gay pastor? I agree, it won't happen. Therefore this point has the markings of a straw man argument.

    How about this scenario instead: A liberal congregation, in a conservative presbytery, wanting to ordain an openly gay pastoral candidate. How does that congregation live with it's Presbytery's authority when the request is denied? Will the situation lead to a court case to be decided by a GAPJC? Will that presbytery be required to ordain or will it be permitted to keep that congregation from ordaining who it wants to call as pastor?

  3. Anonymous8:36 AM

    While I was ordained in 2008 without too much incident as a Minister of Word and Sacrament, the comment was made by those who voted against my ordination at both the CPM and Presbytery level that I was "too orthodox." I was also asked during my interviews with CPM whether I would leave the denomination or try to take the church with me if the church mandated the ordination of practicing members of the GLBT community. So it's most definitely happening already.

  4. Further, what will happen to those of us like Beaver-Butler Presbytery who have already declared after the last GA (218) that we would refuse to recognize such ordinations as valid or effective -- regardless in which Presbytery they take place? I ask in all seriousness as one of the co-authors of Beaver-Butler's Theological Declaration, which BTW is available on the Beaver-Butler website. ( )

    Pastor Rusty Stuart,
    Highland Presbyterian Church
    Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania

  5. @Paul - The scenario you describe gets to the nub of the issue. Individuals ordained under the diminished standards will still have the imprimatur of the entire denomination.

    @Pastor Stuart - I read somewhere that the GAPJC Bush decision might be problematic for statements such as the Beaver-Butler's Theological Declaration.

  6. Like "desperatedisciple", before my ordination I was also asked during my interviews with CPM whether (presumably because of my evangelical PCUSA connections) I would leave the denomination or try to take the church with me; if my interpretation of Scripture was "literal" and also if I was "Pentecostal." I have since been "instructed" that the church's teachings on homosexual practice have been the "result of mistranslation of a single Greek word." I believe such nonsensical and biased examinations to be the norm. Since then, I have heard candidates who were unable to retrieve what Scripture teaches about atonement or the Trinity, and who were unable to articulate how those doctrines impact evangelism - but who apparently were less "literalist" than merely illiterate.

  7. The problem is not likely to be, at least any time soon, any congregation being forced to call this or that pastor. The problem is more likely to be that a pastor will be "invited" by a presbytery to participate in an ordination of which he or she does not approve. When the pastor declines, he or she will be charged with hate crimes and removed from the ministry.