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May 15, 2008:

DAY 2 ON nFoG WATCH: I have been looking around on-line and have not found anyone writing in support of the nFoG (that is, anyone who was not a part of the Task Force itself). Can you? If so, send me a link. I will post, I promise. Is there a presbytery, a stated clerk, an executive presbyter or other blogger who is advocating for the nFoG?

Committee Survey: Committee 3, General Assembly Procedures

I thought it might be time to begin looking at the various commissioner committees and breaking down the business that way. My goal here is to highlight the things that will have the most immediate impact, the items most likely to be discussed at watercoolers around the country. It will not be a comprehensive look.

Today, I begin with Committee 3, General Assembly Procedures.

1. Item 03-03 has to do with the voting majority necessary to amend or suspend the standing rules; dropping the bar from 2/3 to a simple majority. Now, because I was barking a few weeks back about amending the standing rules regarding the Stated Clerk election, you might think that this is something I would like. For my purposes, sure. For general purposes, no. We have standing rules for a reason. The higher bar is a good protection against a simple majority running wild over the minority. Even with my desire to see a more engaged Stated Clerk election, I would rather be required to persuade at least 2/3 of my commissioner colleagues than a simple majority -- it takes more than a whim of a majority. That seems appropriate so that the rules do not consistently change in the middle of the game.

2. Item 03-05 is an overture from Beaver-Butler Presbytery that deserves some reflection and thought. It is an attempt to move the denomination forward in a more effective way than the nFoG. The basic idea is stated early, "Congregations may choose membership in a particular presbytery based on geographic, theological, missional, or other considerations of importance to those congregations." In other words, have congregations determine their presbytery affiliation based on the things most important to the congregation. Instead of being bound geographically, allow congregations the flexibility to determine where and how to affiliate based upon mission and ministry priorities. I do not know if this is the final answer, but it seems like the beginning of a more workable solution than the nFoG.

By the way, to harp back to a previously mentioned thought: this is exactly why we ought to have a more engaged Stated Clerk election process. The four candidates should be provided opportunities to present a detailed or comprehensive vision for where they would help guide the denomination for the next four years, and commissioners should have the opportunity to discern from among them.

Back to the overture. I do not know if this is the year to pass the kind of overture that Beaver-Butler has proposed. It may get swept up in the reaction to the nFoG. It does appear in a different committee's agenda, so it may get more substantive consideration than it otherwise might; or, we may see a procedural move to refer it to the following Assembly in order to allow the nFoG to get the priority hearing at this assembly.

3. Item 03-09 is one of several overtures (03-08, 03-10, 03-11) having to do with per capita. It is the most direct, asking that per capita be eliminated from the mission funding system by 2010. The Advisory Committee on the Constitution comment recommends that the General Assembly disapprove this item.

The reason why this is interesting to me -- and perhaps to someone else -- is because the nFoG looks to eliminate the distinction between per capita and mission funding, too. Look at the reason why the ACC finds per capita important:

The Advisory Committee on the Constitution advises the 218th General Assembly (2008) that if it agrees with the intent of Item 03-09 it should recognize that approval would place in jeopardy the constitutionally mandated functions of the General Assembly now funded by per capita apportionment. Examples of such functions that would be at risk range from holding biennial meetings of the General Assembly as the highest and most inclusive governing body of the church (G-13.0102b) and paying the expenses of the presbyteries’ elected commissioners to these meetings (G-4.0308), to establishing and maintaining the Office of the General Assembly itself (G-13.0103g), to serving in judicial matters in accordance with the Rules of Discipline through its permanent judicial commission (G-13.0103o). Furthermore, approval of the overture would require that all of the constitutionally mandated General Assembly functions be supported from the mission budget, which would potentially create conflict and dissension for the whole church in its efforts to meet a greatly expanded General Assembly mission budget without diminishing its programmatic mission commitments.

Remember yesterday's post issuing the third challenge for support of the nFoG -- money? When the nFoG says "presbyteries are responsible for the raising and timely transmission of requested funds" to the synod and General Assembly, does that "are responsible" mean "shall be responsible" or "may be responsible?" As the ACC comment illustrates, the elimination of per capital will necessitate the ability of the General Assembly and synods to tax. So, "are responsible" must mean that presbyteries will be taxed, and that presbyteries will have to function like collection agencies apportioning GA and synod costs among their congregations.

Oops. Slipped back into the nFoG. Well, per capita made me do it.

4. The other items of business seem a little more "inside baseball" for a review here. They are important but most Presbyterians in the pews will not wake up during the night wondering with anxiety about how they turn out.