Chattanooga, Tennessee (July 13, 1999)-Meeting at historic First Presbyterian Church in downtown Chattanooga, the Presbytery of Tennessee Valley (PCA) today opted to take no action regarding the practice of women preaching. The issue had been raised by a letter from Western Carolina Presbytery, because of reports that one of Tennessee Valley's congregations had had women preach in its pulpits. The Tennessee court also chose not to communicate officially with its North Carolina counterpart.
In August of 1998, a female staff member at Cedar Springs Presbyterian Church, Knoxville, Tennessee, twice filled the pulpit at Sunday evening worship services. Widespread publicity of these incidents, and of the defense of this practice by the church's pastor, the Rev. John Wood, led to the communiqu‚ from Western Carolina.
Acting on a resolution offered by Dr. Morton H. Smith, first Stated Clerk of the PCA General Assembly, Western Carolina had overtured the General Assembly to advise its presbyteries and churches that female preaching
should not be allowed to continue. Mentioned in the overture were the fact that two years ago, the PCA had broken fraternal relations with the Christian Reformed Church because of its ordination of women to ruling and teaching office, and that this practice would cause tensions in the denomination. While answering the overture in the negative, the Assembly did state that female preaching is out of accord with the teaching of Scripture. The higher court also urged that the issue should be raised in the lower courts (i.e. in Presbyteries and Sessions). This was the second stated meeting of Tennessee Valley since its reception of the inquiry from Western Carolina. At its April stated meeting, Tennessee Valley had scheduled a discussion on the propriety of women teaching in an ecclesiastical context for the July stated meeting. Upon motion by Mr. Wood, the discussion took place in executive
session (see related story, "Tennessee Valley Ejects the Press" and editorial "An Open or Closed Case?"). When the court was out of executive session, the Rev. Bob Borger moved that Tennessee Valley respond to Western Carolina. The Moderator, Mark Wilson, indicated that he had spoken with the Stated Clerk of Western Carolina, to inform him that Tennessee Valley had postponed consideration of this matter until July. "We didn't want to cause undue offense by not responding." The Moderator added that he had indicated to the Clerk that "we are taking no
action towards Cedar Springs." Mr. Borger withdrew the motion to communicate with Western Carolina.
Tennessee Valley Ejects the Press
By Bob Shapiro
At its stated meeting on July 13, 1999, Tennessee Valley Presbytery (PCA) today took action to go into executive session in such a way as to exclude only one person from its
meeting: a representative of the press. The
initial motion to enter closed session was made by the Stated Clerk, J. Render Caines, just prior to the scheduled discussion on the practice by First Presbyterian Church of Chattanooga of infant dedication. Under parliamentary procedure, a motion to enter executive session is undebatable. Immediately after the motion was made, the Rev. Tim Rake asked, "Is it possible that the brother would withdraw that motion momentarily so that I might say something?" The mover and seconder agreed to withdraw the motion, and as a point of personal privilege, Mr. Rake said: "I know that some of you have discussed going into executive session." He then mentioned that the Editor of Presbyterian & Reformed News, who was present at the meeting, had been the topic of discussion. Mr. Rake started to elaborate: "It's a sin to try to judge people's hearts and judge their motives. . . ." At that point, he was interrupted by the Rev. Lea Clower, Associate Pastor of First Presbyterian Church, on a point of order. The point of order was that Mr. Rake was debating a non-debatable motion. The Moderator ruled that since the motion had been withdrawn, there was nothing on the floor, and the point of personal privilege could continue. The Rev. John Wood, Senior Pastor of Cedar Springs Presbyterian Church, Knoxville, Tennessee, challenged the ruling of the chair, and the court, on a voice vote, overruled the chair. It was then moved, seconded, and carried to enter executive session. At that point, the Editor of P&R News left the meeting, as did several ministerial candidates. Those candidates were within a few minutes then informed that they could rejoin the meeting, which they did. In executive session, the court then voted to allow non-commissioned elders of First Presbyterian of Chattanooga to remain in the meeting, which they did. The net effect was that only the reporter was ejected.
This action came subsequent to an incident just after the lunch break. The Moderator had asked if there were any other first time ruling elders or guests who should be introduced. After several commissioners made introductions of others, Mr. Clower stood up, turned to the Editor of P&R News, and said that there was one further visitor who had not introduced himself. The Editor introduced himself by standing up and saying, "Frank J. Smith, Teaching Elder, Northeast Presbytery." Mr. Clower, who stated that there had been no communication regarding Dr. Smith's presence, demanded to know what brought the minister to the meeting today. Dr. Smith explained that he had visited a number of presbyteries, that he was representing the newspaper, and that he also was completing an update of his history of the PCA. He thanked the Presbytery for its hospitality. Mr. Clower responded by saying: "I support freedom of the press." However, he also said: "I would like to express some concern about your being here. . . . I personally am not in support of the approach of that magazine." The Moderator, Mark Wilson, responded that Presbytery meetings are "open meetings" and that actions of the court are recorded in "public documents." He further commented that, "aside from us going to executive committee, these are open meetings." He added: "I'm not sure we can take action against the magazine."
After the discussion on infant dedications, the court came out of executive session. Almost immediately, the Rev. John Wood moved that the court go back into executive session, for the discussion on women preaching. Several commissioners recorded their negative votes on this second move to proceed behind closed doors.
[Editor's Note: Once a body is in executive session, it is improper to amend the executive session by allowing others to witness the proceedings. The motion to allow non-commissioned elders to remain could lawfully be made only if the court voted to come out of closed session, and then passed a different procedural motion, specifically including them. Also, the Book of Church Order states that it is proper for the Moderator to introduce visiting ministers (BCO 13-12), rather than for visitors to introduce themselves. Often, members of the court who know the visiting brother will be recognized by the Moderator in order to facilitate the introduction.]
Tennessee Valley to Discuss Infant Dedications
Chattanooga, Tennessee (July 13, 1999)-The historic First Presbyterian Church in downtown Chattanooga was the site of a discussion on what to do about the extra-Biblical practice of infant dedications. The controversy within Tennessee Valley Presbytery (PCA) has arisen because of an exception taken to the minutes of First Presbyterian two years ago, for engaging in this practice.
The debate took place in secrecy, the court having gone into closed session (see related article, "Tennessee Valley Ejects the Press" and related editorial "An Open or Closed Case"). During executive session, the court voted to schedule a debate on the issue of infant dedication for the October stated meeting. The Presbytery approved this motion as a substitute for a motion made by the Rev. Mr. Robert Borger, a member of the Court Records Committee. Mr. Borger had moved to take from the table a motion made at the April stated meeting regarding exceptions to the minutes of First Presbyterian Church. The motion, as presented, would have required the Session of First Presbyterian to indicate its willingness to abide by the standards of the Church.