SJC Amends Its Manual, But is Forced to Drop Section on Memorials
Colorado Springs, CO (June 11, 1997)--The matter of judicial process has been one of considerable controversy for the last several years in the PCA. Starting with proposals generated by an ad hoc committee on the restructure of the denomination, the church has moved from having each General Assembly appoint a commission to handle each judicial case, to a Standing Judicial Commission (SJC) which employs three-man panels to adjudicate cases and which meets between General Assemblies to render verdicts.
Both as a result of the system itself and as a result of some of the decisions made by the SJC, criticism had surfaced within the first two years of the SJC operating (1990-92). Severe criticism had especially come from the Presbyterian Advocate magazine, and from members of the Assembly's former Judicial Business Committee. The 1993 Assembly responded to no less than three overtures regarding judicial process by erecting an Ad Interim Committee on Judicial Procedures (AICJP). The overwhelming support for studying the matter can be seen in that the Rules for Assembly Operation (RAO) had to be suspended, requiring a two-thirds vote, because the Assembly had already authorized two other ad hoc committees.
That special committee almost did not get an opportunity to
report its findings. In 1995, the General Assembly twice had to
beat back attempts to have the AICJP dismissed. A few of its
recommendations were adopted that year; while the bulk of its
proposals were postponed until the 1996 Assembly. At that time,
they were adopted in an omnibus fashion by the Assembly; and those which were to amend the Book of Church Order were sent down to the presbyteries for approval.
Part of the work of the AICJP was the review of the Manual of
Standing Judicial Commission (MSJC), which up to that point had
been the sole province of the SJC itself. Numerous emendations
were hammered out in discussions between the AICJP and the SJC.
One of the new provisions is that any future amendments to the
Manual will have to be adopted by the General Assembly itself.
Another part of the motion, which was contingent on passage of the BCO amendments, was that the Assembly adopt the current version of the SJC Manual (M24GA, p. 78).
Despite the fact that the Assembly, pending final approval of the BCO changes, had last year adopted the SJC Manual as its own, the SJC, at its March 1997 meeting, made numerous, and substantive, changes to that document.
In its report to this year's Assembly, the Commission stated:
"The SJC has prepared amendments to the SJC Manual to facilitate
implementing the amendments to the BCO and RAO proposed by the Ad
Interim Committee on Judicial Process and adopted by the 24th
General Assembly. The amendments will not take effect until and
unless the amendments to the BCO are approved by the 25th General
Assembly. In addition to those amendments the SJC further amended the Manual to clarify procedures and time requirements, and to rearrange the contents of the Manual into a more consistent format."
There were numerous editorial and/or stylistic changes in the
newly-revised Manual, and other changes which were contingent on
other modifications. But beyond that, the Standing Judicial
Commission made close to 50 substantive changes to the document
which the Assembly had adopted for its own. Many of the changes
increase the responsibility of the Stated Clerk, particularly
with regard to the Record of a Case. Another significant change mandates that faxes and e-mail messages will not be considered when determining if documents have been filed in a timely fashion.
The SJC added an entirely new section, dealing with
Memorials. A memorial is a communication to a church court, asking for redress of a matter. The specific reference in the Book of Church Order to memorials is in Chapter 40, which speaks of a higher court being memorialized about alleged deficiencies of a lower court. Much of the material in this new section in the Manual may reflect a peculiar philosophy of church government not shared by everyone in the PCA.
At least several of the new provisions adopted by the SJC may violate the Constitution.
Regarding the new Manual, TE David Coffin, who was Chairman of
the AICJP, said, "the Manual should not have been amended; however, I've checked with other members of my Committee who presently serve on the SJC and they say that they were acting in good faith. They did not make the connection between what was adopted by the Assembly and what they were doing. In the main, they were trying to bring the Manual into conformity with the new BCO changes. The one major section [where that is not the case] is the new section on Memorials."
Dr. Robert Ferguson, Chairman of the SJC, announced that the Commission was vacating Chapter 16 in the SJC Manual which had been newly-revised by the SJC. This new section, which made provision for handling Memorials, had been objected to by members of the Assembly. A last minute behind-the-scenes deal between members of the SJC and those who objected to these new provisions avoided a floor fight over that section as well as over the propriety of the SJC having made any changes in the Manual.
[Presbyterian International News Service (PINS), which publishes this newspaper, analyzed the new Manual provisions. Anyone wanting a copy of our analysis may contact us (PO Box 47, Somers, NY 10589; 914-248-8776; e-mail: PINS@journalist.com).]