Category Archives: polity

PC(USA) Passage Of Amendment 14-F: Reaction

Word has quickly spread through the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) this evening that Palisades Presbytery on a voice vote approved Book of Order Amendment 14-F making it the 86th presbytery to do so. While unofficial, everyone – and as you will see in a minute I do mean everyone – has taken this vote to mean that the amendment has reached the majority mark for the passage of the change to the Directory for Worship section W-4.9000 changing the definition of marriage.

There has been official reaction with three resources being added to the PC(USA) Marriage web page. These include a video statement from the Stated Clerk, Gradye Parsons, a letter from GA Moderator Reda and GA Vice Moderator Kwong Abazia, and an Advisory Opinion regarding the new wording. In the letter from the Moderator and Vice Moderator they encourage presbyteries to keep discussing and voting:

Though we know that this amendment received the necessary majority for approval, we encourage the congregations, presbyteries, and synods of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to continue to be in conversation about marriage and family. We hope that such “up/down” voting does not mark the end, but the continuation of our desire to live in community; a partnership that requires prayer, the study of Scripture, listening to and with one another, and a dedication to partnership in the midst of our diversity of opinion. The change will go into effect with the other changes to the Book of Order on June 21, 2015.

The Presbyterian Outlook has an article posted with reaction from both sides. In addition, related groups on both sides have issued statements. The statement from the Covenant Network Board says they are grateful for the passage of the amendment and that with its passage “our denomination steps forward into a new chapter.” The statement concludes by looking forward:

As an organization, we are deeply committed to helping the church live joyfully and peacefully into this new and more inclusive day. Our national Covenant Conference will focus on these issues this fall, with dates and location to be announced soon. We are in a season of discernment about the goals and objectives that will guide our work in the coming years and look forward to sharing more in the next few months.

Similarly, the statement from the More Light Presbyterians also praised the result and said “This vote is the culmination of decades of selfless service by so many people.”

While nothing is posted on The Fellowship Community web site, its executive director, Paul Detterman, is quoted in the Outlook article as saying “I’m saddened by the passing of the amendment. I think we are listening to each other rather than listening to Scripture and the voice of God through Scripture . . . We’ve eroded some of our ability to stand on the teachings of Scripture by this vote.” (ellipses in article)

[UPDATE: The Fellowship Community has now posted a pastoral letter.]

And the Presbyterian Layman has an article posted with this quote from the president of the Presbyterian Lay Committee, Carmen Fowler LaBerge:

“The passage of the amendment is further indication of the erosion of Biblical fidelity within the PCUSA. There is nothing new to say in response. Just as we repudiated the action of the General Assembly in issuing the Authoritative Interpretation we now stand in firm opposition to the passage of this amendment to the denomination’s constitution.”

I will stop there tonight but there is plenty of verbiage out there about the vote from individuals, presbyteries and news outlets.

At this point I am going to let the data point accumulate a bit more before doing any more analysis of the voting trends. So back in a few weeks with that.

PC(USA) Amendment 14-F Voting At The Midway Point

With ten more presbyteries voting on Amendment 14-F this past weekend the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has effectively reached the half-way point in voting on the amendment to the Directory for Worship section of the Book of Order which will change the definition of marriage. Of the 171 presbyteries, 84 have now voted and the presbyteries are clearly concurring as the unofficial tally now sits at 61 yes and 23 no. You can follow the voting at both the Covenant Network web site and the Presbyterian Laymen web site. The official tally from the Office of the General Assembly is at 37 to 16, but it lags the voting a bit because of the time necessary for notification to reach them.

If all you are here to find out is if 14-F will pass, my models have a 99%+ certainty it will (baring some very significant and unforeseen development). For the presbyteries that have voted so far eleven have switched their no vote from the last similar vote on 10-A to a yes on 14-F for a 32.3% conversion rate. In the opposite direction two have switched from yes to no giving a 4.0% conversion rate in that direction. Projecting that out it would give a final vote of 117 yes and 54 no.

But as regular readers know, the vote tally is only a small part of what I am really interested in. Let’s start drilling down and see what the numbers say about the PC(USA).

For my data I am using the numbers listed on the two unofficial web sites I linked to above. I am making one change from past years and now the totals will include reported abstentions where I disregarded them in the past.

Of the 84 presbyteries that have voted so far, 74 have recorded votes on 14-F but only 68 have recorded votes on both 14-F and 10-A.

In terms of summary statistics, the percentage yes vote on 14-F has both a median and mean of 59% while the percentage yes vote on 10-A has a median of 54% and a median of 56%.

For the vote totals to date, the ratio of 14-F votes to 10-A votes has a mean of 0.83 and a nearly identical median of 0.82. In other words the number of presbyters casting votes is down about 17%. Of the 68 presbyteries reporting both votes, eight of them had more votes on 14-F than 10-A, including Chicago by one. But using my rule of thumb of a 3% natural variation between meetings, seven presbyteries fell between 0.97 and 1.03 with Blackhawk just missing at 1.04. Three presbyteries were below unity and four above.

Considering the three presbyteries well outside this range, Holston’s ratio was 1.17, Philadelphia was 1.19 and San Diego was 1.13. Philadelphia voted yes while the other two voted no.

For the eleven presbyteries that switched from no to yes, ten had recorded votes and the median yes percentage went from 45% to 56%. But to argue that they lost a significant number of churches and that has swung the theological balance is a bit simplistic since the ratio of the total number of votes has an identical mean to the whole group (0.83) and in fact the median is higher at 0.86. As a group there is no disproportionate drop in numbers so if an exodus from the PC(USA) is invoked to explain a shift it must be accompanied by replacement of presbyters as well, at least across the group.

For comparison purposes, a ratio of 0.83 in the number of presbyters between 10-A and 14-F is identical to the decrease in the membership of the PC(USA) from 2010 to 2014 if the decrease in 2013 is also used to estimate the 2014 membership numbers. (The 2014 numbers are being collected now and will be released in a few months.)

OK, let me throw a couple of pretty pictures at you and then wrap this thing up.

Let’s begin with the frequency distribution of the Yes Vote Ratio for 10-A and 14-F. As a geek bonus, I have added to the plot the distribution for this year’s presbytery voting in the Church of Scotland on their act providing a way for ministers in same-sex relationships to be ordained and installed.

yesdistribution1

Distribution of yes vote ratios

For comparison, remember that the mean for 10-A was 0.54, for 14-F was 0.59 and the mean for the Church of Scotland vote was 0.53. Similarly, in the same order the medians are 0.56, 0.59 and 0.58.

It is striking that all three distributions show the very similar bimodal distribution with a low peak down around 0.35 to 0.40 and a high peak around 0.60. While shifts between 10-A and 14-F are apparent – such as the decrease in the 0.45 peak from 10-A to 14-F and the increase in 0.40 for 14-F, I am going to resist the temptation to analyze too much right at the moment.  I will leave that for another day.

For my second pretty picture here is the correlation between the yes ratios for the 10-A vote and the 14-F vote to date for 67 of the presbyteries.

yescorrelation1

Correlation of 10-A and 14-F yes voting.

For these data points there is a clear trend and a strong correlation. The R-squared is 0.78 and the cluster has a slope of 0.91 and a y-intercept of 0.09. This would argue that the difference between 10-A and 14-F voting is, taken as a whole, generally uniform with an increase in the number of yes votes by an average of 4.5%.

I do need to address one missing data point in this plot, which will provide a useful segue into asking if this plot is even relevant. I have dropped the data point for Stockton Presbytery from this plot because it was a very significant outlier with a 10-A yes value of 0.12 and a 14-F yes of 0.56 – the largest single vote swing so far. I do not know the specifics of presbyter representation in that presbytery although their ratio of 14-F to 10-A is 0.82 which is right on the mean for the group. The vote numbers themselves were 23/18 for 14-F and 6/44 for 10-A.

It is tempting to say that the drastic change in the vote is a product of drastic losses in the presbytery. But unlike other presbyteries in that position where yes voting stayed roughly the same and no votes decreased (e.g. Lake Erie which went from 36/44 to 35/26) the change for Stockton is a shift in votes, not a depletion of one side. One possibility is that there was a change in attitude since the last vote. Another is that the departures were more heavily weighted in loss of members and not churches so the shift represents those that stayed and took the place of departing presbyters. Or maybe, with the dismissal of churches the presbytery changed representation rules so the number of presbyters at meetings did not decrease by that much.

[UPDATE 2/25/15: After looking at some records and checking with a friend in Stockton Presbytery the answer is that to counteract the loss of eight of 21 churches the number of RE’s from each church were doubled. On the one hand, this explains the dramatic shift in the theological position. On the other hand much of this statistical analysis presumes no replacement of presbyters in this way.]

One final option is that the presbyters viewed 14-F as a different situation than 10-A, and that is the question that underlies any comparison of these two votes. Can they be compared in the manner I have been doing or should they stand as their own individual cases.

From a polity perspective it may be stretching it too far to consider the two comparable. 10-A dealt with ordination standards and was a change to the Form of Government section. On a basic level this is a question internal to the PC(USA) and is closely tied to our understanding of governance and call. In contrast, 14-F is a change to the Directory for Worship and while it has certain ties to polity it is as much an external discussion as same-sex marriage has quickly been accepted across our culture.

On the other hand, I would argue that they are comparable for one major reason: For both sides in the discussion when 10-A passed they made a point of highlighting marriage as the next step in equality and justice on one side or the erosion or orthodoxy and confessional standards on the other. For the last four years it seems that many people anticipated the vote on 14-F as the next logical step in the journey that the PC(USA) is on.

From the analysis above I would argue that 10-A and 14-F can be compared. Whether it be about the issues or about the overarching themes of equality or orthodoxy the similarity of distribution and strength of correlation suggest presbyters are generally approaching the two issues the same way.

So, as the data accumulates I will be continuing to crunch numbers and see what we can say about the PC(USA). There is no question that it is on a journey and it will be interesting to consider what these data are telling us about where that journey will be leading. We do know one piece of the journey is the reconfiguration of the Synods and maybe some presbyteries, so this may be the last amendment vote that we can do these incremental statistics. It will be interesting to see.

Stay tuned…

Disciplinary PJC Decision — Grace Presbytery v. TE Rightmyer

On 7 January the Permanent Judicial Commission of Grace Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) announced its decision in Disciplinary Case 2015-1: Grace Presbytery v. TE Joseph Rightmyer finding him guilty on eight of the eleven counts he had been charged with. This case comes out of the departure of Highland Park Presbyterian Church of Dallas from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to move to ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians.

According to the history in the PJC decision, an accusation was made against TE Rightmyer in the Fall of 2013 and an investigating committee of five members was appointed on 2 December 2013 which then returned the charges on 16 October the following year. There was a pre-trial hearing on 14 November and the trial conducted on 6 January.

The eleven charges filed with the PJC relate to TE Rightmyer’s service at Highland Park as an interim pastor from June 2013 to August 2014 when TE Bryan Dunegan was called and took over as head of staff. Parallel with the pastoral search Highland Park filed suit in September 2013 in the Texas courts to gain control of its property. That case was to go to trial in October 2014 but Highland Park and Grace Presbytery settled for $7.8 million almost exactly a year after the suit was filed.

Instrumental in this case is the fact that Grace Presbytery has a “Policy for a Just and Gracious Dismissal of a Congregation to Another Reformed Denomination“, but in all the reading I have done I have seen no reference indicating that Highland Park initiated discussions with the presbytery under this policy but rather they carried out a unilateral process to leave the PC(USA).

With that background, let us look at the charges against TE Rightmyer. There are four root charges:

  1. On or about September 23, 2013, and following, you… did commit the offense of advocating and facilitating a process for Highland Park Presbyterian Church to determine whether to remain a member of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) not permitted by the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and contrary to Grace Presbytery’s “Policy for a Just and Gracious Dismissal of a Congregation to Another Reformed Denomination.”
  2. On or about September 23, 2013, you… did commit the offense of moderating the Session of Highland Park Presbyterian Church and permitting it to vote to call a congregational meeting to vote on whether to remain a member of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), an action not permitted by the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
  3. On or about October 27, 2013, you… did commit the offense of moderating a congregational meeting of Highland Park Presbyterian Church and permitting it to vote on whether to remain a member of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), an action not permitted by the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) (Book of Order G-1.0503) and contrary to Grace Presbytery’s “Policy for a Just and Gracious Dismissal of a Congregation to Another Reformed Denomination.”
  4. On or about October 27, 2013, and following, you… did commit the offense of permitting the dissolving of the installed pastoral relationship of teaching elder Marshall C. Zieman to serve as associate pastor of Highland Park Presbyterian Church without action of the
    presbytery as required by the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

This is a “theme and variations” set of charges and for each root charge there were multiple variations. For the first, this charge was cited as being a violation of ordination vows W-4.4003e, “Will you be governed by our church’s polity…”, and W-4.4003g, “Do you promise to further the peace, unity and purity of the church?”.

For the second and third root charges related to calling and holding a congregational meeting with business not permitted by the Book of Order, these were charged as violations of G-1.0503 that limits the business of a congregational meeting, as well as the two ordination vow violations attached to the first root charge.

Similarly, the fourth root charge was a violation of G-2.0502 as well as G-2.0901 regarding the process for dissolving pastoral relationships and the ordination vow about being subject to our church’s polity.

So the two variations of the first root charge and three variations of the other three add up to the total of eleven individual charges.

The Presbytery PJC found him guilty of the first eight, that being the ones associated with root charges 1, 2 and 3, but found him not guilty of the last regarding the dissolution of a pastoral relationship.

Disciplinary trial decisions, unlike many remedial cases and appeals, typically do not come with analysis so there is not much more to directly draw from the PJC’s decision.

The court rendered their decision:

Whereas, you, JOSEPH B. RIGHTMYER, have been found guilty of the following offenses, and by such offenses you have acted contrary to the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.); now, therefore, Grace Presbytery acting in the name and under the authority of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), does hereby set aside and remove you from the ordered ministry of teaching elder.

Removal from ordered ministry, also referred to as being defrocked, is the strongest penalty that can be levied in a disciplinary case.

That pretty much sums up the PJC decision. In an interview with Carmen Fowler LaBerge of the Presbyterian Layman, Mr. Rightmyer indicates that he is in the process of considering an appeal of this decision.

Discussion

Let me begin my comments with what is to me the elephant in the room — the only reason this trial could take place was because Mr. Rightmyer did not leave the PC(USA) with Highland Park Presbyterian Church but chose instead to remain in the PC(USA) after his interim service was over. In a large proportion of the departures from the PC(USA) all the teaching elders depart for the new denomination taking them out of reach of the PC(USA) disciplinary process should the church’s process been outside the established process. It is worth noting that regarding these charges going to trial Mr. Rightmyer did live into his ordination vow to be “…governed by our church’s polity and… abide by it’s discipline.”

[As a polity note, there is much that can be argued about Mr. Rightmyer’s status and leaving the denomination in light of the fact that interim pastors usually depart the church and the fact that since an investigating committee was considering his case he could not be transferred. I won’t belabor this point except to say that if he wanted to depart with the church, or on his own, a way could probably be found, possibly including renunciation of jurisdiction.]

Another question that arises is why the church went to the civil courts and did not engage in the presbytery’s dismissal policy? In the interview mentioned above Mr. Rightmyer explains the church’s perspective:

“The leadership of Grace Presbytery made it abundantly clear that any candidate for pastor would have to pledge loyalty to the denomination and subscribe to a ‘big-tent’ ideology; meaning that he or she would have to tolerate and perhaps even celebrate what God deems intolerable in the body of Christ.  With the church’s children and grandchildren at heart, the leadership of HPPC felt a clear responsibility for the ‘preservation of the truth’ and fidelity to the Scriptures in the preaching of Christ.  When seen in that light, the vote to disaffiliate from the PCUSA became a spiritual mandate and the cost was minimal compared to what was gained.”

What are the implications of this decision? You could say that this is only a Presbytery PJC decision and a disciplinary one at that so the formal precedent it sets is minimal. From another perspective this shifts the playing field. While previous cases were all remedial this case indicates that someone is willing to reach into the toolbox and try another option. It sends a message to the presbytery that in the future churches need to engage with the presbytery about dismissal or get our cleanly and quickly so that teaching and ruling elders are out of reach of the judicial process. I thought it significant that the decision specifically indicates that the teaching elder who submitted the accusation was the chair of the committee on ministry giving strong weight to the appearance that this was a case being filed with presbytery backing.

Furthermore, if the case does go through a series of appeals to the General Assembly PJC, then formal guidance to the whole church could result. That is certainly a wait and see situation.

But digging a little deeper, does this case now suggest a preemptive strategy for those that would prefer stronger enforcement of the trust clause? While I am not endorsing this and hesitate to continue this thought exercise lest I give anyone ideas, I want to consider a couple scenarios:

What if a church were to baulk at a presbytery’s gracious dismissal policy or the negotiations under it? Could some random member of the presbytery who has standing bring charges like these against the teaching elder(s) and ruling elders on session if they were to take some sort of unilateral action outside the process even before they tried to separate from the denomination?

Or consider charge 2, the most general of the charges in this case: the offense of
advocating and facilitating a process… to determine whether to remain a member of the PC(USA) not permitted by the Constitution and contrary to the Gracious Dismissal Policy in violation of your ordination vow “to further the peace, unity, and purity of the church”. So what might qualify as advocating a process? A discussion in the session meeting about alternatives? Preaching a sermon critical of the PC(USA) or its leadership? Consulting with the leadership of another Reformed body? It would seem that any number of possible actions could have the appearance of “advocating and facilitating a process” and be the basis for an accusation.

Farfetched? Probably. Minor and not likely to be successful at trial? That could certainly be the case. But my point is that simply filing an accusation and having an elder under investigation is enough to stop their transfer and possibly stop all progress under a Gracious Dismissal Policy, particularly if it is the installed teaching elder. So what are the choices? Waiting it out could easily take a year or more like this case did. Speeding it up by changing to self-accusation would amount to pleading guilty and taking your chances with the penalty imposed by the PJC. Moving forward by renouncing jurisdiction means that you lose standing with the denomination and would probably lead to the congregation departing but likely leaving the property behind. Is there another, easier and faster alternative to clearing this that I am missing?

It is an interesting possibility to ponder, and hopefully not one that we will have to respond to. For the moment we are left with our first disciplinary case and penalty for actions take outside the presbytery process for gracious dismissal. There are still questions whether the trial verdict would stand up under appeal and whether more disciplinary cases will follow now that the ice is broken.

Stay tuned…

 

Top Ten Presbyterian News Themes Of 2014

As we close out this eventful year I will once again join the numerous sources putting out top ten lists for the year that was. And as in past years my primary focus will be on stories, or themes, that were seen across multiple Presbyterian branches with a few more selective ones thrown in.

General Assemblies and Same-Sex Relationships

This was probably the top news theme of the year: The Church of Scotland GA sending to the presbyteries, and the presbyteries approving, language for churches to opt-out of the traditional standards. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) 221st GA approving language to redefine marriage in its Book of Order and it appears on path to approval in the presbyteries. The Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand approving a change to their Book of Order to prohibit same-sex marriages. And momentum is building around an overture to the next Presbyterian Church in Canada GA that would remove the prohibition against ministers being in a same-sex relationship.

Seminaries

This was a category that really caught my attention this year but which I have yet to write up in detail. In any year there is interesting seminary news, like Doris J. García Rivera’s installation as president of the Evangelical Seminary of Puerto Rico. But this seemed to be a year with more initiatives than normal.

These included the reorganization of the Free Church Seminary as the Edinburgh Theological Seminary. There was also the new joint initiative between Reformed Theological Seminary and Redeemer Church in New York City.

More radical seminary initiatives include a non-accredited communal seminary associated with Church of All Nations in Minneapolis and San Francisco Theological Seminary has launched a Center for Innovation in Ministry with a workshop on the theology of video games.

But the one that I have found most interesting is the Redesigned Master of Divinity Program at Fuller Theological Seminary. Fuller listened to their alumni and launched a new program which is described in part like this:

Many graduates can no longer count on traditional systems to create jobs for them. They will have to invent new ways to minister. Our reshaped curriculum is designed to prepare students with entrepreneurial skills.

One of the interesting things about this new initiative, and Fuller in general right now, is the prominence of Presbyterian leadership. In addition to Mark Labberton becoming President last year, the initiative is under the oversight of Scott Cormode, the Academic Dean. Behind the Vocation and Formation part of the initiative are some well-known Presbyterian faces that include Tod Bolsinger, Steve Yamaguchi and Laura Harbert.

Congregations Switching Branches

The moves between branches continue with the PC(USA) once again transferring more churches than it closes. And in the Church of Scotland there has been a slower, but noticeable, departure.

The other interesting movement is churches moving from the Reformed Church of America to the Presbyterian Church in America. Last Spring one of the flagship churches, University Reformed Church, voted to transfer. This fall five churches in Illinois have also voted to make the move.

Fossil Fuel Divestment

The General Assemblies of both the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand considered this issue. In the PC(USA) the Assembly did not approve an outright divestment but referred it to the Mission Responsibility Through Investment Committee for further consideration. The PCANZ instructed their Property Trustees to divest and recommended that individual churches do likewise.

Independence Referendum in Scotland

The Church of Scotland was prominent in the time leading up to the Scottish Independence Referendum with an open session at their General Assembly that presented a variety of voices on the subject and further national and regional level gatherings leading up to the vote. Following the vote there was a service of unity hosted by the Kirk.

The Free Church of Scotland also held a session at their General Assembly and issued their own material providing viewpoints on Independence.

Property

For the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) this was certainly a hot topic with a GAPJC decisioncivil legal challenges, settlements and high-valued negotiations. For this post the full extent of the property news is left as an exercise for the reader but there are still a lot of open questions and at the moment there seems to be momentum in favor of the hierarchical church.

Another property news item is the Greyfriars Church in Port of Spain, Trinidad. The historic structure was sold to a developer and it’s future is uncertain. Some preliminary demolition has begun and efforts are underway to try and preserve it.

PC(USA) Ethics Investigation

In a still developing story, it was revealed that four PC(USA) church development employees associated with Presbyterian Centers For New Church Innovation were the subjects of an internal ethics investigation for not following policy in setting up an outside non-profit corporation to facilitate distribution of 1001 Worshiping Communities funds. Initially there were administrative actions taken but as the story grew the four were placed on administrative leave and an outside law firm brought in to conduct an independent investigation. At year’s end it was decided that firm had a conflict of interest and a new firm was chosen.

Israel-Palestine Actions

The other hot topic leading up to the PC(USA) General Assembly was issues around Israel-Palestine. At the previous GA a proposal for divestment from three companies who profited from Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory failed by a very narrow three-vote margin. The proposal was returning to this GA. In addition, a PC(USA) affiliated group, The Israel/Palestine Mission Network, (IPMN) issued a controversial study guide Zionism Unsettled that questioned Israel’s character and identity. While IPMN does not speak for the PC(USA) the study guide was sold by the official Presbyterian Distribution Services making the distinction fuzzy in many minds. In addition, there was some advanced controversy when the commissioner chosen to moderate the related commissioner committee was asked to step down because a number of people questioned his impartiality.

The 221st General Assembly did approve the divestment proposal by a slim seven-vote margin, but the action also encourages ecumenical dialogue in the region and affirms the denomination’s commitment to Israel and the peace process.

The Presbyterian Distribution Service dropped Zionism Unsettled shortly after the Assembly and it is now available on the IPNM web site. However, studies around this topic are available on Thoughtful Christian.

Women’s Ordination and Related

The religion gender issues news this year was dominated by the Church of England and the completion of the process to have women serve as bishops. In fact, in Presbyterian circles it was a very quiet year for complementarian/egalitarian discussions, which in itself is probably news.

The one big item is the decision by the Mizoram Synod conference to reject a long-standing request from Kohhran Hmechhia, the Women Ministry of the Presbyterian Church, to ordain women theologians.

In another story, history was made when Michael Barry and Liz Hughes tied in the first round of voting for Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland. Rev. Barry was elected in the second round by one vote over Rev. Hughes and a third candidate, Rev. McNie. This was the strongest showing that a female candidate has had in the election.

Death of Ian Paisley

Among several notable deaths in the Presbyterian community, the death of Ian Paisley stands out for his iconic status in both Northern Irish religion as the leading founder of the Free Presbyterian Church and for his important roll in politics and reconciliation in Norther Ireland.

And a couple of other Presbyterian-ish stories

Knox 500

While the date of birth of John Knox is not known with certainty, the best information suggests that it may have been in 1514 making this the 500th year of his birth. This was marked by the Knox 500 Conference in Edinburgh as well as the making of a documentary about him titled “Give Me Scotland.”

Spectacular Viking treasure hoard found on Church of Scotland land

Not your typical religion news story but a very important archaeological discovery involving the Kirk and a couple of its ministers as well as a metal detectionist.

And let me take a moment to throw in two transitions: The retirement of Jerry Van Marter after over 26 years with the Presbyterian News Service and Jack Haberer stepping down from the helm of the Presbyterian Outlook to return to parish ministry. Best wishes to both in their new settings.

And those are some of the highlights of 2014. Now as we look ahead to 2015 – and many of my friends around the world are already there or now busy celebrating Hogmanay – I wish all of you a very Happy New Years and best wishes for the coming year.

May you balance your ardor and order and remember to be decent and in order.

Happy New Year!

Presbyteries Begin Voting On Same-Sex Marriage Actions

With General Assembly season now behind us we move into the portion of the year where the actions of the General Assemblies that require presbytery concurrence are now being considered by the lower governing bodies.

Coming from three of the Assemblies we have proposed actions that have implications for same-sex marriage/partnerships within the church and the progress is being closely watched within each branch. Here is a brief summary of what to watch and where each is at this time.

Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

The 221st General Assembly (2014) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) adopted a proposed constitutional amendment that now needs to be approved by the presbyteries. This change in the language of Book of Order section W-4.9000 has been bundled into the Amendment booklet and is now referred to as Amendment 14-F.

Presbytery voting has begun and the Office of the General Assembly is, as always, the official tracker of the votes. They have created a page specific to the marriage amendment that has not only resources about the GA action and that amendment, but a nifty map of the presbyteries that have reported their vote and which way it went. I have to admit that with only a few recorded so far it is a bit tough distinguishing between the shades of purple they use for yes and no, but once it begins to fill in the difference should be more obvious. And interesting to see that the Dakota nongeographic presbytery was geographically placed in southern Saskatchewan.

If you want the official tally of the voting on all amendments that is still there and shows that to date three presbyteries have officially recorded their votes ( 1 yes and 2 no on both 14-F and Blehar at this time ). Also interesting to note that the official page for the Belhar Confession does not have nifty map.

And for the polity wonks it is helpful to remember that the PC(USA) now has two less presbyteries for a total of 171 meaning that it takes 86 to approve a Book of Order Amendment and 114 to approve a change to the Book of Confessions.

For up-to-the-minute unofficial reporting I see that the Covenant Network is keeping an on-line tally with the presbytery voting results including the number of yes and no votes, something the OGA does not include. As of two weeks ago their tally was two presbyteries on each side.

While I will be doing a much more detailed analysis as more data are available, here is a quick comparison of the first four data point in comparison to 10-A. I will leave it for another time to discuss whether the comparison of two amendment that deal with significantly different equality questions is appropriate. Abstentions are included in the totals and the percentage after the total is the change in the number of total votes from 10-A.

Presbytery 14-F Yes 14-F No 14-F Total 10-A Yes 10-A No 10-A Total
New Castle 73 (74%) 24 (24%) 99 (-14%) 79 (69%) 34 (30%) 115
Palo Duro 25 (45%) 30 (55%) 55 (-35%) 35 (41%) 50 (59%) 85
San Diego 22 (22%) 76 (77%) 99 (+14%) 21 (24%) 66 (76%) 87
Yukon 27 (59%) 19 (41%) 46 (-22%) 21 (36%) 38 (64%) 59

So far we have two presbyteries with no on both, one yes on both and one switch from no to yes. In three out of four cases we see a significant decrease in the number of total votes cast. With 167 presbyteries left to go there is still a lot of data yet to be collected so I won’t go any further with this analysis now.

 

Church of Scotland

This past May the General Assembly 2014 of the Church of Scotland approved an act related to ministers in civil partnerships that affirms traditional language but includes proposed language (all found as an Appendix to the Legal Questions Committee report) for churches to request to depart from the traditional standards and it is now being voted on by the presbyteries as special legislation under the Barrier Act. There are 46 presbyteries and a majority of 24 are required for concurrence leading to the General Assembly giving it final considering in 2015.

The Principal Clerk’s office does not keep the official tally of the votes online but a group of evangelicals in the Kirk, Forward Together, has been monitoring voting. In a statement from last week (30 October) they indicate that they know of three presbyteries who have already voted no on the overture. That statement also contains a list of known dates of presbytery votes with the largest single day on the list this past Tuesday (4 November). The deadline to vote is in December.

In particular, the vote against by the Presbytery of Lewis received some publicity probably enhanced by the issuance of a statement following the vote. The story was picked up by the Stornoway Gazette and the KaleidoScot web site, among others.

Holding an alternate viewpoint on the question is Affirmation Scotland which says that they are disappointed the legislation does not go farther but supports it as an intermediate step. One of their affiliated churches, Greyfriers Church in Edinburgh, has recently made it clear that they are an inclusive congregation and that should the act be confirmed they will be an affirming congregation and request a departure from the act should the circumstances arise.

 

Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand

In their General Assembly about a month ago they reaffirmed their support for marriage between one man and one woman and the Assembly sent to the presbyteries special legislation under the Barrier Act that would confirm that language in their Book of Order.

The act must be approved by a majority of the eleven presbyteries, two synods and two church councils.

It is relatively early in their process so we will see what announcements are made as it moves forward.

 

Conclusion

At this point the process is moving forward in each of the branches. While the Church of Scotland voting will be wrapping up in the next couple of months the other two branches will take a bit longer. As I indicated above, I will be taking the PC(USA) voting data and adding that to my database to see what observations we can make about that branch. For the other two there is a paucity of previous votes for statistical comparisons so we can only keep an eye on them as current snapshots of their denomination. We will see what happens.

PC(USA) 221st General Assembly — Actions Related To Marriage

Yesterday afternoon the 221st General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) considered the report of Committee 10 – Civil Union and Marriage Issues. Here is a brief summary of the four basic actions that the General Assembly took.

[10-07] On Creating a Task Force to Identify Common Ground and Reconcilable Differences with Respect to Same-Gender Marriage
The first item to be considered came as a overture from Eastern Korean Presbytery requesting a Task Force whose charge it would be to

a. identify common ground and reconcilable differences in biblical understanding and confessional interpretation with respect to same-gender marriage;

b. study the nature, scope, and controversies of the same-gender marriage laws legalized in certain states;

c. assess the impact of such laws and related sociopolitical changes on the ministry and mission of the church;

d. provide the local presbyteries and congregations with theological guidelines for
their ministry, as to understand and apply the concepts and functions
of family and parenting based on biblical norms and ethics; and

e. bring forth practical and futuristic recommendations that would not
only strengthen and promote unity within the church, but also solidify
ministries and missions with ecumenical partners locally and globally.

The Task Force would report back two GA’s from now in 2018.

The Committee recommended disapproval and there was a minority report advocating approval of this request. After some discussion, a lot focusing on whether the PC(USA) needed four more years to study this, the substitute motion was not made the main motion by a vote of 237 to 372 and the Committee recommendation was approved 401 to 185.

[10-03] On Issuing an Authoritative Interpretation of W-4.9000 to Affirm Pastoral Discretion in Performing Marriage Ceremonies

The next item was this Authoritative Interpretation that would permit pastors in jurisdictions that recognized same-sex marriages to perform those ceremonies. The core line in the AI reads, with the amendment:

[W]hen a couple requests the involvement of the church in solemnizing their marriage as permitted by the laws [of the civil jurisdiction in which the marriage is to take place] [of the place where the couple seek to be married], teaching elders have the pastoral responsibility to assess the capabilities, intentions, and readiness of the couple to be married (W-4.9002), and the freedom of conscience in the interpretation of Scripture (G-2.0105) to participate in any such marriage they believe the Holy Spirit calls them to perform.

The AI would also permit the use of church facilities with the consent of the session.

This debate began with a point of order as to whether this item was out of order under Roberts Rules of Order because it was in conflict with the definition of marriage as found in the Book of Confessions.

Just as when this point arose at the 220th General Assembly, the Moderator turned to the Clerk who suggested that the Assembly receive advice from the Assembly Committee on the Constitution. In 2012, the ACC’s response was along the lines of the narrative found in the front material to the Book of Confessions in the Confessional Nature of the Church Report. At one point the Report says “Nevertheless, for Reformed Christians all confessional statements have only a provisional, temporary, relative authority.” In other words, while important the multiple confessions need to be considered as a body of work and individual points not singled out from the who body.

At this General Assembly the ACC advice took a different direction. The advice was essentially that this action and the confessions are in tension and that it is the responsibility and within the authority of the GA to resolve that tension. Within the ensuing discussion is was observed that in their original advice on the overture the ACC said:

The Advisory Committee on the Constitution advises that the 221st General Assembly (2014) disapprove Item 10-03

[snip]

Section W-4.9001 and related citations (W-4.9002a, W-4.9004,
W-4.9006) limit marriage to couples who are “a woman and a man.” Because
these statements are clear and unambiguous, they can not be interpreted
in a manner that is inconsistent with their plain and ordinary meaning.

When asked about this the ACC response was essentially the same as was previously given – that the Assembly could deal with this tension.

The Moderator ruled the item was in order, the commissioner challenged the ruling of the Moderator and after some significant discussion over the nature of the point of order the Moderator’s ruling was sustained.

With that out of the way the item was debated and the debate was generally civil and respectful. One of the things about this Assembly seems to be the number of times that points of debate are incorporated into questions from the floor. When debate was closed and the vote taken the commissioners voted 371 to 238 to approve the AI.

[10-02] On Amending W-4.9000, Marriage

This item is based on an overture from the Presbytery of Cascades with 16 concurrences. The proposed new wording of W-4.9000, as amended mostly by the committee but slightly on the floor, would be:

Marriage is a gift God has given to all humankind for the well-being of the entire human family. Marriage involves a unique commitment between two people, traditionally a man and a women, to love and support each other for the rest of their lives. The sacrificial love that unites the couple sustains them as faithful and
responsible members of the church and the wider community.

“In civil law, marriage is a contract that recognizes the
rights and obligations of the married couple in society. In the
Reformed tradition, marriage is also a covenant in which God has an
active part, and which the community of faith publicly witnesses and
acknowledges.

“If they meet the requirements of the civil jurisdiction
in which they intend to marry, a couple may request that a service of
Christian marriage be conducted by a teaching elder in the Presbyterian
Church (U.S.A.), who is authorized, though not required, to act as an
agent of the civil jurisdiction in recording the marriage contract. A
couple requesting a service of Christian marriage shall receive
instruction from the teaching elder, who shall agree to the couple’s
request only if, in the judgment of the teaching elder, the couple
demonstrate sufficient understanding of the nature of the marriage
covenant and commitment to living their lives together according to its
values. In making this decision, the teaching elder may seek the counsel
of the session, which has authority to permit or deny the use of church
property for a marriage service.

“The marriage service shall be conducted in a manner
appropriate to this covenant and to the forms of Reformed worship, under
the direction of the teaching elder and the supervision of the session
(W-1.4004–.4006). In a service of marriage, the couple marry each other
by exchanging mutual promises. The teaching elder witnesses the couple’s
promises and pronounces God’s blessing upon their union. The community
of faith pledges to support the couple in upholding their promises;
prayers may be offered for the couple, for the communities that support
them, and for all who seek to live in faithfulness.

“If they meet
the requirements of the civil jurisdiction in which they intend to
marry, a couple may request that a service of Christian marriage be
conducted by a teaching elder in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), who
is authorized, though not required, to act as an agent of the civil
jurisdiction in recording the marriage contract. A couple requesting a
service of Christian marriage shall receive instruction from the
teaching elder, who may agree to the couple’s
request only if, in the judgment of the teaching elder, the couple
demonstrate sufficient understanding of the nature of the marriage
covenant and commitment to living their lives together according to its
values. In making this decision, the teaching elder may seek the counsel
of the session, which has authority to permit or deny the use of church
property for a marriage service.

“Nothing herein shall compel a teaching elder to
perform nor compel a session to authorize the use of church property
for a marriage service that the teaching elder or the session believes
is contrary to the teaching elder’s or the session’s discernment of the
Holy Spirit and their understanding of the Word of God.”

I wish I could have heard more of the questions and debate concerning this item but my schedule did not permit hanging around for most of the livestream. In the part of the discussion I did hear there were numerous questions about global partners and their reactions. I can also say that in what I heard there were no slippery-slope arguments made. And in a nod of cooperation and forbearance the wording in the first paragraph that said “two persons” was changed to “two persons, traditionally a man and a woman.”

In the final vote the new language was approved and will be sent to the presbyteries on a vote of 429 to 175. For comparison, the 220th General Assembly defeated an amendment of similar intent but significantly different wording on a vote of 308 to 338. Note that after that vote the business was bundled into an umbrella item to answer all business in one fell swoop.

This will now be sent down to the presbyteries and will require a concurrence of a majority of them.

[10-NB] New Business
The final item of business was a resolution crafted by the Committee following their completion of the other business. Compared to the extensive text of the rest of these items it is pretty simple:

Recommend the 221st General Assembly (2014) direct the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board and
the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly to engage in the process of working together with churches in the task of reconciliation, starting with visiting
each presbytery and serving as a resource for each presbytery’s
discussion of these actions in congregations and the presbytery at-large
and present voices of reconciliation for the unity of the church.

This is a response to the recognition that for this decision there will be some who will be hurt by the outcome in the same way that some were hurt by the outcome of other decisions in this matter in previous years. The committee itself was careful in its work about being respectful and developing a sense of fellowship in the group. One of the things it did to insert some levity during its work was to have committee members share embarrassing moments during worship. (Example 1, example 2).

It should be pointed out that there was a vote to reconsider this item this morning as the first item of business and a substantive and pastoral amendment was passed without changing the basics of the item.

What’s next
Here are three items the come to mind regarding this action going forward.

First, the amendment to the Directory for Worship does need the concurrence of the presbyteries. if approved by a majority of the 171 presbyteries it will become part of the 2015-2017 Book of Order which takes affect a year from now.

Second, as we know from ordination standards an AI from the Assembly is not the last word. Even if the Book of Order change is approved there is an outside chance that a challenge to a same-sex marriage ceremony could go through the judicial process fast enough that the General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission would have the opportunity to supersede the GA’s AI with a ruling that W-4.9001 does prohibit such ceremonies in spite of the AI.

Finally, expect the departures to continue. I am not sure that this action will suddenly and dramatically increase the exodus of churches leaving the PC(USA) as many that I have talked to have anticipated this and taken action on departure in a proactive manner. For most, this is not unexpected but a validation of what they have been saying for years. And while there are numerous factors at play between the action at the last GA and this proposed change to the Book of Order, we have to accept that the exodus has been at least partly responsible for the dramatic swing from a 308 to 338 vote to a 429 to 175 vote. (And at some point I hope to do some number crunching to explore what constraints could be put on the numbers.)

Following these actions a number of pastoral letters and statements have been released. In addition to one from the General Assembly leadership, there is one from Presbyterians for Renewal and another from the Covenant Network. I would also highlight one from Philadelphia Presbytery by their Executive Presbyter Ruth Santana-Grace.

As a bit of an aside, at the same time yesterday afternoon the 42nd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America was considering their ascending overtures, including two (Overtures 2 and 5) that reiterated that denomination’s stated views against homosexual practice and same-sex marriage. Both of those overtures were dispensed with fairly quickly, although with a little discussion, as they were ruled out of order since they were both affirmations of what is already established doctrine. However, in an independent occurrence that got a bit of a chuckle from some of us in both denominations, at least one news source got the two largest American Presbyterian branches a bit confused.

So, returning to the PC(USA), it is now time to see what happens as this descends to the presbyteries – both to approve the Book of Order amendment and in general to see what the reaction is. And we pray for the initiative to encourage reconciliation as this effort goes forward. Stay tuned…

PC(USA) 221st General Assembly — Committees Done, Moving On To Plenary

UPDATE: I did not get the time to finish this out. I will leave it posted in incomplete form.

[Ed. Note: Due to my meeting schedule this morning I will need to do this in pieces and so to get this out as quickly as possible I will be doing it in live blog style. That means that if you get the first part via email you will need to go online to see the complete post later today. If you are following online then check back in a while to see the update.]

It is now Wednesday morning and all the commissioners to the 221st General Assembly are busy reading the reports that they will be discussing and voting on the next 72 hours.

Committee work seemed to go fairly smoothly with one committee, Committee 14 – Congregational Vitality, finishing up in one day. It looked like one or two committees continued after dinner on Tuesday, but I could be wrong and PC-Biz was just catching up.

As we go into Plenary this afternoon here are some things to look forward to…

First, there is a new system with a unified consent agenda that will be approved as the first major item of business. Any action that received at least a 75% super-majority in committee would probably be placed on the consent agenda unless the committee felt it should be presented in a committee report. This means that Committee 14 does not need to report since all six of their business items were approved unanimously. The catch is that item 14-04 has financial implications and I understand that will bring it to the floor.

It will be interesting to see how the consent agenda goes, in particular how many items are pulled off for consideration since any item can be removed by the request of even one commissioner.

There are some interesting items on the consent agenda, including the standing committee nominations. But in a quick look a lot of them are like the items on per capita limits and Young Adult Commissioners that the committee overwhelmingly disapproved with comment. We will see what is the will of the Assembly.

So, looking at the proposed docket, which may or may not be the one brought by Bills and Overtures for approval as one of the very first items of business this afternoon, here is what seems to be coming in the way of committee business.

Wednesday Afternoon
Report of the Assembly Committee on BOP, PILP, PPC, and Foundation (12)
This committee currently has seven items on the consent agenda. These include disapproval of [12-01] required participation in the benefits plan and disapproval of [12-02] that would require near-immediate divestment of departing pastors from the benefits plan.

Remaining business items seem fairly routine and received strong support in the committee. These include [12-07] to reelect the Foundation President and Chief Executive Officer, as well as [12-11] to confirm the election of the President of the Board of Pensions.

Report of the Assembly Committee on General Assembly Procedures (03)
This committee has 25 items on the consent agenda including a bunch of sub-recommendations from the Report of the Committee to Review Biennial Assemblies. The committee is recommending approval of all the Review Committee recommendations, some with amendment. As mentioned above, per capita limits and Young Adult Commissioners are recommended for disapproval. Otherwise almost all business, both consent and floor action, are recommended for approval. There are two more exceptions. One is a Commissioner Resolution  to provide childcare at GA and other national events which has financial implications and is being referred and the other is a Commissioner Resolution to give Executive Presbyters corresponding member status which is recommended for disapproval.

[That takes care of this afternoon – Back with more in a little while]

221st General Assembly Of The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

We now approach a very busy week of General Assemblies. Hold on to your proverbial hats…

Leading off in the lineup is the 221st General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). The gavel will come down to convene the meeting at 11:00 AM local time tomorrow (14 June) in Detroit, Michigan and it will run for one week until Saturday June 21.

The source for information is the on-line PC-Biz system. It can be access on the web at pc-biz.org. There are is also a PC(USA) event guide for the Guidebook App Android and iOS apps.

There is a docket posted and you can also find the schedule, reports overtures/business items on PC-Biz as well as all the Constitutional documents, the Manual of the General Assembly, and other useful items on the PC-Biz Resources tab.

The Assembly will begin with the usual formalities on Saturday afternoon followed by the election of the Moderator Saturday evening. Sunday is worship and receptions in the afternoon and then the Assembly goes into committees that evening. During committee time, which will run through Tuesday evening, PC-Biz is the place to find out what the committees are doing with the pieces of business near and dear to you.

Things open up again on Wednesday afternoon as the Assembly returns to plenary and than it is a mad push to get all the business done by Friday night or in the wee hours of Saturday morning. (What time will the buses stop running?) But one of the realities is that there is no real schedule of when particular committees report until later in the week when committees have finished their business and they are assembled on the docket like a jigsaw puzzle. The final Saturday morning is just closing formalities.

All of the plenary sessions will be live streamed.

The tracking utility on PC-Biz is the best place to follow business. While the PC(USA) does have a general Twitter account (@Presbyterian), the General Assembly feed (@presbyGA) usually provides more play-by-play. This will be the first GA for the Presbyterian News Service on Twitter (@PresbyNews). The hashtag for the meeting is #ga221.

News items will also appear on the GA221 web site as well as the Presbyterian News Service feed. There is also a photo gallery. (And I will probably need to adjust that link.)

In looking at my rapidly growing list of who will be tweeting from GA I am thinking that the best thing to do is to point you at Bruce Reyes-Chow’s Twitter list for GA221. Bruce himself tweets at @breyeschow and @brc_live. The outgoing Moderator, Neal Presa, can be followed at @NealPresa. And one of these three will be the new Moderator – Heath Rada (@heathrada), John Wilkinson (@johnwpcusa) or Kelly Allen (@kellysueallen). In this list of individuals let me throw in the Director of Operations, Thomas Hay (@DirOfOp) and a true GA Junkie in his own right, Andy James (andyjames).

Out in the press corps, keep an eye on the Presbyterian Outlook on their web site (pres-outlook.org) and Twitter (@presoutlook) as well as their special correspondent Leslie Scanlon (@lscanlon).

Besides the election of the Moderator, two other issues will be among the hottest of hot-button topics discussed, debated and discerned this week..

Internally, the biggest question is probably the PC(USA) definition of marriage. Most everyone acknowledges that the definition given in the Directory for Worship (W-4.9001) is a bit of a problem since the part about marriage being a civil contract between a man and a woman is out of date in many jurisdictions. There are proposals to issue an Authoritative Interpretation to allow pastors to preform marriages in those jurisdictions. There are also overtures to change that section of the Book of Order. This has a long way to travel in the next week and a Book of Order change will require the concurrence of the presbyteries.

Externally, the headline issue is the return of a proposal to divest from three companies whose products are used to help Israel in their occupation of Palestinian Territory. This has been built up by interest groups on both sides and as of yesterday the ga221 hashtag was being flooded with tweets supporting divestment. At the 220th GA this was the closest vote of the Assembly with the divestment proposal failing in plenary by two votes. We will see what happens this year.

So we have a lot to look forward to this coming week. I, unfortunately, could not make a trip to Detroit work for me so I will be live blogging the live stream as I am able – trying to provide some color commentary to the play-by-play on Twitter.  As always, best wishes and prayers for all the commissioners and leadership as they deal with important issues but also so that they may not lose sight of the call to make disciples and build up Christ’s body in the minutia of individual business items.

Finally, in honor of Detroit and maybe as a metaphor for either the PC(USA) Book of Order, or the PC(USA) itself with its many splits and mergers, I leave you with Johnny Cash’s “One Piece At A Time.”

210th General Synod Of The Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church

Beginning tomorrow, Tuesday 10 June, the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church will convene the 210th Stated Meeting of the General Synod. The meeting, running until Thursday morning, 12 June, will be held at the ARPC conference center Bonclarken, in Flat Rock, North Carolina.

This meeting is not live streamed but the schedule and the reports packet are available online.

For the constitution and secondary standards, which will be necessary for this meeting, you can download the current version as a single document. For the individual parts you can download the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Form of Government or the 2012 Draft of the new FOG, the Directory for Public Worship and the Book of Discipline or the draft of the new Book of Discipline that is part of the discussion at this meeting but is itself being superseded.

News items about the meeting can be followed through the official ARP Magazine web page.

There is also a pre-Synod conference for Outreach North America and one following for World Focus 2014.

For social media you can watch the ARP Facebook page for updates or a better place to follow is the ARP Magazine Facebook page. The official feeds on Twitter are @ARPChurch and @ARPMagazine. The official hashtag has been announced as #Synod2014, but while the ARP Synod may be the dominant one using the hashtag this week, you are advised to read carefully since a couple other discussions are using that hashtag, including lingering conversation from the URC Synod Visalia that finished last week and the meeting of the Diocese of Guyana this week. In various threads I have also seen suggestions for using the hashtags #arpsynod, #GeneralSynodARPC and #210ARPGS so some tweets may appear under those as well. (Personally, I would have gone for #arpsynod as the least confusing and most character efficient but I am kinda late weighing in.)

UPDATE: As the Synod gets under way it appears that #210ARPGS is the crowd favorite for a hashtag. Looks awkward to me since it reminds me of one of the LA Freeways.

Besides the official Twitter feeds, a couple more that stand out so far include Andy Stager (@ARStager), Daniel Wells (@danielfwells) and  Michael Cochran (@koineguy – and I’m with you on the hashtag preference). There is also the parody account @ARPModerator which has not been active since last Synod, but you might want to keep an eye on it.

Considering what I am most interested in some of the business before this Synod is the most interesting that I have seen queued up for this year.

Leading off is a discussion of their version of the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF) and whether to drop two sections and a declaratory statement added roughly a century ago. The sections are 35 Of the Holy Spirit and 36 Of the Gospel. The Special Committee reviewing these later sections recommends eliminating them from the WCF and returning the WCF to a form closer to the original. Their report begins on the 48th page of the packet and picking one short piece from their report they say:

Our committee finds that our current version of the WCF deviates from our historic identity as an evangelical, Reformed and confessional Church that is passionate about the Gospel. Our current WCF with the two additional chapters, Of the Holy Spirit and Of the Gospel, are relics of 20th-century theological modernism’s movement away from historic, confessional Calvinism. Both additional chapters—by emphasizing human agency in salvation—alter the original WCF’s design that highlights God’s sovereign, eternal decree to save sinners by grace alone.

They go on to argue that “The brilliance of the WCF is found in its pervasive treatment of the person and work of the Holy Spirit throughout many chapters.” For a good review of the development of the WCF and the inclusion of those sections the rest of the report is an interesting read.

Turning to Presbyterian polity, both the Form of Government and the Book of Discipline are being revised. Maybe the most interesting development is a decision by the committee working on the Book of Discipline to reshape that document and their revision may not be ready for this meeting. They explain it this way (38th page of the packet):

However, during the meeting on February 17, the committee decided to change the emphasis of the Book of Discipline from an adversarial format to a pastoral, shepherding, board of inquiry format, which we submit is more Biblical. In light of this change in paradigm, your committee is completely revising the draft revision (hereinafter referred to as Draft # 1) which was included in the 2013 Synod Packet. We hope to have this new draft (hereinafter referred to as Draft #2) ready for this General Synod. However, failing that, we will endeavor to have Draft # 2 circulated, so that we can receive suggestions and comments, and ultimately produce a user-friendly document (a “Discipline for Dummies,” if you will) which will edify the church and bring glory and honor to our Heavenly Father.

The revision to the Form of Government was approved at the last General Synod and sent down to the presbyteries for their concurrence. At this Synod meeting there is a memorial (some other branches would call it an overture) from Catawba Presbytery (142nd page of the packet) to “delay its implementation until such time has passed that the amendment process can correct any flaws or include such suggestions which were not deemed of enough import to convince the Committee to include them in the proposal.”

Finally, what is an ARP General Synod meeting without breaking news from its college and seminary, Erskine. It was recently reported that a top candidate for the position of President of Erskine pulled out of the running because objections were raised that he was a Baptist and not a Presbyterian. This could produce interesting discussion, although in the Erskine report (114th page of the packet) was produced before the short list was presented to the full Board of Trustees. However, the report does highlight positive responses from the Erskine Board to recommendations from the last General Synod.

Those are the business items that caught my attention and it will be interesting to see how those, and other business items, develop over the next few days. As always, prayers for the commissioners to the General Synod for their prayerful discernment and productive discussions around these and all the matters they have before them.

2014 General Assembly Of The Free Church Of Scotland


In just about an hour from now on Monday 19 May, the Free Church of Scotland will convene their 2014 General Assembly in St. Columba’s Free Church in Edinburgh. The meeting will run until Friday 23 May. Lots of interesting items going on with this meeting so here is some of the info to help you follow along.

To follow along in social media you should be checking the official Free Church Facebook page as well as their Twitter feed @freechurchscot. The host church can be followed at @stcsfreechurch and the hashtag will be #fcga14.

I am trying to figure out where to begin in recommending personal Twitter feeds as there are a number of individuals with interesting ones at the meeting. I will begin with Iain D. Campbell at @revdridc. Maybe the most high-profile minister in the Free Church of Scotland, at least in the public eye, is David Robertson who you can follow at @theweeflea. Let me start there and add others as the Assembly gets going.

Two items of business are getting a bit of publicity. The first is the transformation of the Free Church College into the Edinburgh Theological Seminary. A program marking the launch of the new seminary will take place on Wednesday evening at the Assembly with the Rev. Sinclair Ferguson preaching. The Principal’s Report in the Report of the College Board talks about the nature of this change:

This year, in accordance with a decision at the 2013 General Assembly, the Free Church College will be renamed as Edinburgh Theological Seminary. Some may see this as a mere external facelift but the whole process has encouraged the staff and Board to actively explore ways of making the College more accessible to the wider church. Already, not only has there been substantial interest from various parties but the Free Church itself has become more aware of and excited about our training institution as a vital and indispensable resource. The key to the Seminary’s future is its attachment to a vibrant confessional church which will support its work and ensure its stability. To this effect, the Principal is gratified at the encouragement he has received from the Free Church at large.

The second item is the discussion of the future of Scotland leading up to the independence referendum. This will come up in the Report of the Communications Committee which has arranged for four papers from Free Church pastors addressing the issues of independence from the perspective of the church. While the Committee report provides summaries of the papers links to the full papers can be found under the news item announcing their release.

I also found it interesting that the Free Church of Scotland, like many other Presbyterian branches, is reviewing how they structure their Assemblies. The proposal that comes to the 2014 Assembly in the Assembly Arrangements Committee Report is this (Deliverance item 6):

6. The General Assembly authorise the Committee to make arrangements for the 2015 General Assembly to meet over three whole days, the evenings to involve shorter business sessions and to include worship items. The General Assembly approve the Committee’s recommendation that invitations to other Churches and organisations to send representatives be issued only every third year, phased over a three-year period so that representatives do not all attend in the same year. They also authorise the Committee to examine how more powers may be given to the Commission of Assembly and report to the next General Assembly.

Finally the Report of the Board of Trustees will be bringing an extensive report that deals with two current issues. The first is a new plan for the church boards and committees “related to ordering the Church’s activities in such a way as to bring finances back into balance” based on the charge from the last General Assembly. The second is a Policy for the Admission of Congregations.

I am struck by how they are dealing with issues that are being examined by other Presbyterian branches around the world, including ministerial training and the structure and nature of their Assemblies. We look forward to seeing how the Free Church considers and decides on these pressing issues.