Pursuing Justice, Kindness, and Humility in the PC (USA) Ordination Exam

There has been a lot of pain and anger resulting from the choice of Judges 19 as the passage for the January Biblical Exegesis ordination exam and the conflicts that followed. It is our hope that we can work together to discover what went wrong and what changes may be needed.

Moving forward, we want to support our candidates for ministry and improve the integrity of our examination process. We rest in the promise that God is the one who, “heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds” (Psalm 147:3). Following categories inspired by Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg, we hope to take a step toward embracing the healing that our Lord and Savior has so graciously offered us. We offer these requests:

Naming and owning the harm:

  • Make a statement that indicates that you (as a committee, not as individuals) understand what we are upset about that describes what you recognize as the main grievances.
  • Make a statement in which you acknowledge that this exam caused harm, even though that was not your intention.

Starting to change:

  • Let us know that you don’t want to cause the same harm again.
  • Tell us that you are learning about PTSD and healing from violence from a qualified mental health professional. If you cannot find a volunteer or the funds for this consultation, we will provide them.
  • Listen to those who have been hurt without shifting blame or shutting us down. We understand that different dynamics are at play when groups make decisions together and that unexpected things happen, but we have experienced this as a breach of trust. We want to be heard and acknowledged.
  • Review the purpose and responsibilities of the committee as expressed in your handbook. What does “entry-level readiness for ministry” mean? What distinguishes something as entry-level or advanced when anyone or any situation may be encountered at any time? Are lectionary texts a better representation of entry-level ministry since they are more likely to be encountered? Are the exams testing what you want them to be testing?
  • Consider returning to a choice of a Hebrew or a Greek passage for each Exegesis examination testing period. Had there been a choice in January, the impact of this exam would likely have been significantly less.
  • Be more transparent as a committee. Provide the qualifications and background information of each member of the committee (in brief) so we can see what their expertise is and why they are entrusted with the responsibility of writing these exams. Publish your operating manual so that it is available online. Publish what the accountability structure is for your committee.
  • After the exams are graded and the scores are recorded, publish the questions and results (percent who passed, failed, and turned in blank exams) on your website as well as the reader’s matrix that was used to evaluate the exam. Include available demographic information for those who passed and failed, if possible. If more than half of the test takers failed, acknowledge that the exam itself may have been faulty.
  • On the website, give us a formal process to give you feedback, whether positive or critical, that gives the option of making an anonymous statement. It is likely that candidates will find it more difficult to be candid without this option.
  • At least once a year, hold a meeting that is both open to the public and allows for live comment from the public both in-person and virtually.

Amends to the Harmed Party

  • Honoring some of these requests would go a long way to making amends and re-establishing trust.
  • Address the current lapses in the accountability structure. A committee is not being held accountable if it is only accounting within itself over a six year period. Work with people outside your committee who share this concern so that we can find a system that is more just and equitable.
  • Evaluate what happened within the committee. What went wrong? What needs to change? Are candidates who take the same exam at different times of year being tested on the same thing?
  • Indeed, there has been a lot of heated discussion as well as insults and accusations that have come from people on every side of this issue. In moving forward, just as you expect test takers to answer exams in a pastoral way and hope that people who disagree would answer pastorally, please make sure you are responding to questions and complaints in a pastoral way (whether privately or publicly).


  • Take responsibility for the harm that this exam has caused.
  • Express the remorse or regret that you have about what went wrong and commit to working so that this kind of harm does not happen again.

Making different choices.

  • The “Manual of the General Assembly 2022-2024” includes “Guiding Principles: Presbyteries’ Cooperative Committee on Examinations for Candidates.” In the discussion about maintaining the security of the exam, it mentions that: “Security entails making sure that no one other than committee members, consultants (e.g., sensitivity reviewers), or staff of the Office of Preparation for Ministry/Examinations have access to draft or final versions of the examination questions prior to their administration.” As suggested in the manual, use a sensitivity reviewer with trauma-informed credentials to evaluate the exams that are already scheduled and the ones in the process of being created. Commit to consulting with a sensitivity reviewer when selecting exam passages.
  • When you present a situation as the context of your examination questions, consult with people who are presently working in that context to improve the accuracy of the questions.
  • Continue to explore ways in which bias and privilege impact the ordination examinations. Just as the PCC was established with the goal of combatting racism, sexism, and ethnocentrism in the ordination process, we ask that you continue that legacy, particularly with sensitivity towards racism, sexism, heterosexism, cissexism, and disability. For example, would you please stop using the term “blind review”? It is ableist.
  • Follow up with public statements about the progress you make in addressing these concerns.

These are not accusations or demands. Rather, we hope they are the start of a Spirit-filled and fruitful discussion. Let us come together to find peace through justice.

In Christ,