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.


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.


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…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *