Nary An Unpublished Thought







May 16, 2008

DAY 3 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?

Still, no takers.

Committee Survey: Committee 4, Church Polity

The Church Polity Committee deals with proposed amendments to every chapter of the Form of Government (the G- sections) except G-2 (the church and its confessions), G-6 (officers) and G-15 (relationships). Everything else falls here.

Of the 27 action items currently listed on PC-Biz, five have to do with transferring congregations from one presbytery to another. This is a responsibility specifically assigned to the General Assembly, so it has to be handled. That said, it is not the kind of action most Presbyterians will be watching in this committee.

1. The most interesting business this committee will be handling is the response/answer to questions received. There are ten items with questions of constitutional interpretation and clarification for the General Assembly to provide answers. This method of getting before the Assembly is gaining in popularity; I could be wrong, but I do not remember many items coming to prior Assemblies through this way. The ten items (some with multiple questions) are: 04-14(moderator discretion), 04-15 (Rules of Discipline, alternative dispute resolution), 04-16 (Rules of Discipline, negotiated settlements), 04-17 (Certified Christian Educators), 04-19 (moderating ordination and installation services), 04-20 (changing quorum), 04-21 (strategic renunciation of jurisdiction), 04-22 (clarifying alternative dispute resolution responsibilities), 04-23 (clarification regarding certification of Christian Educators), and 04-24 (discretion in Formula of Agreement and Orderly Exchange).

Not all of these ask equally interesting questions. They all address issues that are important in the specific circumstance, but some are pretty limited in scope and application.

What are the interesting ones?

Well, let's see. "Interesting" is such a broad term. Here's what I found interesting:

Item 04-14 involved a question about whether a moderator can refuse to participate in the ordination of someone whose examination has been approved by the session? The answer (for authoritative interpretation) recommended by the Advisory Committee on the Constitution is, "no, a moderator cannot refuse." So, let's say that a congregation in -- oh, let's just pick a place -- Burlington, Vermont elects as an elder a person who is a self-avowed, unrepentant practicing homosexual person. The session votes to sustain the examination, finding that G-6.0106b is not an essential part of our polity and therefore may be "scrupled." The pastor, less convinced that this is a constitutional move, is unable to obtain a stay of enforcement to allow time for review of the situation because the presbytery stated clerk is out on vacation until after the date set by the session for ordination. According to the ACC, this pastor must yield on his personal position and perform the ordination on behalf of the whole church.

Item 04-20 involved a question regarding establishing a quorum for a congregational meeting in the context of considering a withdrawal from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to another reformed body. The interesting part about this is the ACC's recommendation of an authoritative interpretation declaring out of order any motion at a congregational meeting for the congregation to discuss withdrawal.

Again, it is not that the others are unimportant; it's just that these were the most likely to generate discussion around the country.

2. The more controversial business for this committee will be how it recommends handling issues regarding same-gender relationships.

Following on the line of the decision by the California Supreme Court to allow same-gender "marriages," Item 04-08 invites the Assembly to re-define marriage. Items 04-12 and 04-13 request the Assembly to advocate on behalf of equal rights for families of same-gender partners. (In the "things that make you go 'hmmm'" department, I'm not really sure why these are two separate items as opposed to one item with a concurrence.)

There's not much else to say. Those items will play out as the votes go.


3. Item 04-07 proposes to amend the Constitution by limiting standing to file disciplinary complaints. It is targeted at Paul Rolf Jensen, who filed a series of complaints across the country regarding individuals who had declared their non-compliance with the Constitution. In many of these instances, Jensen was not a member of a congregation in several of the presbyteries in which the complaints were filed. That's the background; this proposed amendment is not likely to get far -- the cure is worse than the perceived problem.


Next week: There seems to be something strange going on. Posted on-line today was this "The Assembly Committee on Business Referrals recommends that Standing Rule A.2.a. be suspended in order to receive late business." Talk about "things that make you go 'hmmmm.....'" More on that Monday.