The Tenure of the Rev. Mansfield Kaseman at Rockville United Church was incorrectly reported in yesterday's editions. Kaseman moved to the church a year ago.
A United Church of Christ clergyman was voted into the Presbyterian fold here again this week -- the latest chapter of a theological dispute that has reached Presbyterianism's highest courts.
By a vote of 165 to 59, the Rev. Mansfield Kaseman, 40, was accepted as a member of the National Capital Union Presbytery at that body's monthly meeting Tuesday.Kaseman has been copastor since last March of the Rockville United Church, a congregation administered jointly by Presbyterians and the United Church of Christ.
A few years ago, when Kaseman first left a church in Florida to accept the Rockville church's call, he applied for and really was granted ministerial standing in the presbytery here.
Some of the theologically conservative members of the presbytery appealed that decision to higher church courts, charging that Kaseman held heretical views and that the presbytery has not followed prescribed procedures in examining him.
Last January, the Permanent Judicial Commission of the United Presbyterian Church ducked the theological question but ruled that the examination of Kaseman's theology was "not sufficiently thorough" and sent the case back to the presbytery.
At Tuesday's meeting, presbytery officials appeared to bend over backward to examine Kaseman carefully, taking a total of seven hours to do it.
Kaseman, who smiled frequently and appeared remarkably at ease throughout the trying session, led off with an autobiographical paper that wove together his beliefs and his life and earlier ministries in Boston's inner city, New Haven and with an ecumenical congregation in Tallahassee.
His life experiences, he commented, led him to eschew "security in clear and absolute answers" for the "greater value in searching, wondering, changing and hoping. For me, the God worth knowing is found more in the integrity of love than the purity of dogma, more in quest of liberation than the pursuit of orthodoxy, and more in the process of becoming than in the satisfaction of having arrived."
The ensuing questioning zeroed in on Kaseman's views on classical Christian doctrines and creeds and the way he expressed his beliefs.
"As you seek admission to our Presbyterian communion, you know Presbyterians pride themselves on theological exactitude," said the Rev. Graham Smith of Fairlington Presbyterian Church, who led off the questioning.
"I am not saying theological purity is not important," Kaseman replied, "but unless there is the spirit of Christ . . . some understanding and expression of love, the words are not going to be very meaningful."
Some of Kaseman's adversaries came prepared with a list of questions that seemed to be designed to try to trap the candidate into a misstatement. Several members of the presbytery denounced the "adversary procedure" atmosphere that developed.
In the examination a year ago, Kaseman had been asked: "Do you believe Jesus is God?" said responded "No, God is God." That response, which more orthodox Presbyterians took as a denial of the divinity of Jesus, was what triggered the appeal to a higher church court.
In responding to questions Tuesday night, Kaseman repeatedly affirmed his belief in Christ's divinity and in the Holy Trinity -- God, Christ and Holy Spirit.
Kaseman resisted answering such questions with a simple "yes" or "no" and often questioned the traditionalist terminology of some of those questioning him.
"I think saying that Jesus is one with God is a more helpful way of saying it," he told one questioner."I prefer to use the language of the trinity . . . What I would ask for is respect for pluralistic theology."
"Do you believe the Apostles Creed?", he was asked at one point. "I believe it as an affirmation of faith," he responded, adding, "That doesn't mean that I wouldn't question the meaning of some of the words."
Do you accept "the shed blood of Jesus, the unblemished lamb of God?" as the prerequisite for salvation, another commissioner, as members of presbytery are called, asked.
"What does that mean?" Kaseman asked.
"Well, if you don't know, then I've got the answer to my question," the commissioner retorted, and headed back to his seat.
"I resent that," Kaseman said evenly, adding that Christians had an obligation to try to understand each other.
There has never been any question about Kaseman's performance of his duties. Members of his congregation, many of whom were present for the presbytery examination, gave him a unanimous vote of confidence in January.
Efforts by commissioners Tuesday night to testify on Kaseman's effectiveness as a minister were protested by his opponents as not germane to the theological discussion.
Following the overwhelming vote accepting him into the presbytery, the body called on the national United Presbyterian Church to adopt legislation that would eliminate future cases of this kind. What was proposed was national church legislation that would accept automatically the ministerial credentials of clergy in good standing in other denominations with which the Presbyterians are in fellowship.