Gagnon Revisited

Timothy Kincaid

August 10th, 2008

gagnon.jpgSince I last expressed my opinions about the flaws in his logic, Dr. Robert Gagnon has devoted nearly 40 pages to refuting “Box Turtle Kincaid”. Sadly, the more he writes, the less I find him to be of principled, thoughtful, reasoning intellect.

In Why Box Turtle Kincaid Continues to Be Logic-Challenged and Now Also Principle-Challenged (pdf 15 pages), Gagnon continues the debate over whether his or not his logic was tortured when he offered his proclamation that the high court of the Presbyterian Church USA could and should continue to rule that ordinations of gay persons cannot occur .

Gagnon rightly notes that I quoted the wrong item in my last piece. I referred not to the Authoritative Interpretation from 2008 but to an Advisory Opinion from 2006. That truly is embarrassing. Gagnon believes this mistake says something about my credibility.

The correct full text of the Authoritative Opinion is

“The 218th General Assembly (2008) affirms the authoritative interpretation of G-6.0108 approved by the 217th General Assembly (2006). Further, the 218th General Assembly (2008), pursuant to G-13.0112, interprets the requirements of G-6.0108 to apply equally to all ordination standards of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Section G-6.0108 requires examining bodies to give prayerful and careful consideration, on an individual, case-by-case basis, to any departure from an ordination standard in matters of belief or practice that a candidate may declare during examination. However, the examining body is not required to accept a departure from standards, and cannot excuse a candidate’s inability to perform the constitutional functions unique to his or her office (such as administration of the sacraments).”

But while I did use the 2006 opinion to bolster my claim, it was not essential to my argument. My premise is that the General Assembly approved this Opinion as an effort to correct the court’s determination and to allow for gay ordination. It allowed a gay applicant to conscientiously object (the practice of scrupling) to the fidelity and chastity standard and for the board to consider such an applicant for ordination.

Or as Jerry L. Van Marter, in an article on the PCUSA website put it:

The authoritative interpretation reaffirms the scrupling practice affirmed by the 217th General Assembly … and effectively overturns a recent General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission ruling — Bush vs. Presbytery of Pittsburgh — that G-6.0106b, the commonly called “fidelity and chastity” ordination standard, cannot be scrupled.

I continue to contend that returning to the court and saying, “you can and should override the General Assembly and its clear intent” because of technicalities of language (ie loopholes) is notion unlikely to succeed.

Gagnon explains at great length why he disagrees. I keep trying to shortcut Dr. Gagnon’s convoluted arguments, which seems only to drive him to rage. But at the risk of yet another screed, this seems to be his logic:

  • When the A.I. says “apply equally” it doesn’t really mean equally because some requirements are essential.
  • And because it is the function of ordaining bodies to ordain those in agreement with the Book of Order, ordaining gay candidates would be a violation of the function of the bodies which would invalidate their ability to perform their function. Therefore these ordaining bodies themselves become invalid.

And if that doesn’t adequately paraphrase Gagnon’s mysterious loophole, I give up. It is, to my view, far too tortured a treatment of language and logic to make sense to anyone who isn’t looking for some peculiar view that conforms to their presumptions. Those interested in determining for themselves whether Gagnon is making clear, logical, persuasive arguments can read for themselves.

It also seems to me that the General Assembly of the PCUSA has rejected Gagnon’s peculiar notions. He wrote a long piece sharing just this same logic with the world after the A.I. was prepared for presentation and, as best I can tell, both the pro and the anti side responded with a resounding yawn.

Next Gagnon tries to argue that the General Assembly didn’t express its intent.

Although gay ordination was the hottest and most contested issue, and although the measure passed with 54% of the vote, he asks, “How do I know how each and every member of the General Assembly interpreted the words of the 2008 A.I.”

Instead he presents a picture of a body of “confused commissioners” unsure what they were voting on (I envision British comedy with elderly half-deaf clerics yelling into each other’s ear-horn, “what did he say? HomoWHATualists”). As evidence of this confusion, Gagnon shares

When I made the observation to the committee that approving this overture would mean that there would no longer be any identifiable churchwide essentials for ordination, not even for faith in Christ or fidelity in marriage, I got many puzzled and confused looks.

Yes. I have no doubt that he did.

While I have never attended the PCUSA General Assembly, I have attended a great many conventions. And I know that on significant and major issues those who may not understand the complexities of wording turn to those with whom they find alliance. I sincerely doubt that you could find anyone voting who was not aware of that this vote would allow local bodies to ordain gay applicants.

That Gagnon is willing to pretend otherwise suggests to me that he is either deceptive or seeking to delude himself. Which is really rather sad.

In his Point IV, he goes on to tell us why he thinks that I’m principle-challenged. In short, it’s because I criticize him for looking for loopholes in the Authoritative Interpretation while I employ the practice of looking for loopholes through technicalities when it serves my “homosexualist interest” (He doesn’t provide any actual examples of my doing so.)

This argument quickly morphs into an assertion that if I were to be principled, I would have to insist on supporting Gagnon’s view – a bit of a presumptuous definition of “principled”, I think. It’s all a little silly and a little sad so I’ll just let the reader decide whether my “overall argument here is unprincipled”.

And I will let history decide whether the PCUSA’s General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission will say, “Lookie there, Gagnon’s long-winded rant about essentials overrides the clear intent of the General Assembly”. But I sincerely doubt it.

See also:
Gagnon Rants On And On
My Very Favorite Gagnonism
Robert Gagnon and the Grand Box Turtle Whirl of Immorality
Gagnon Revisited
Clarifying Robert Gagnon’s Tortured Logic
Gagnon Employs Tortured Logic
Robert Gagnon’s Unorthodox Approach to Doctrine

Lynn David

August 10th, 2008

Oh for goodness sakes, Timothy, give the guy a break. He’s been fighting an overtly verbose, yet losing, battle for the last 8 or so years and doesn’t even realize it.

Looking at his website I note that he has even had to put a disclaimer on it now: “The views expressed on this website are Dr. Gagnon’s own and make no claim to representing the official views of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary (which, incidentally, does not have an official policy on homosexual practice).” I’m sure the first of that was demanded by the Seminary, the parenthetical note was likely Gagnon’s.


August 11th, 2008

Isn’t it the definition of a sectarian theologian that he gets paid to argue and defend bad ideas and bad behavior?

After all, good people are clearly willing to argue in favor of good ideas and decency for (almost) free.

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