Louisville, Kentucky (June 17, 1999)-The 27th Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) General Assembly voted to receive the report from its Ad Interim Committee on Women in the Military as "advice", and to refer the matter back to the Committee for perfection. The Assembly also voted to increase the membership of the Committee from seven to ten, the three additional members to be appointed by the Moderator of the Assembly.
The battle over women in the military revolved around several issues. One of them was the propriety of the church speaking to an issue that, to some of the members of the Assembly, is not clearly spelled out in the Bible. Another was the propriety of the church addressing the civil magistrate on the matter. A third was the wisdom of taking a stance that is not "politically correct," and the impact that such a stance might have upon the ability of the PCA to continue to supply the U. S. military with chaplains.
This is the fourth consecutive Assembly to deal with the issue, which has been raised primarily by overture from Philadelphia Presbytery. In 1996, the Assembly declined to adopt a lengthy statement generated by Philadelphia Presbytery about women in combat, but did express "grave concern" regarding the practice. In 1997, the Assembly voted down the Presbytery's effort to have a study committee. In 1998, the Assembly did acquiesce to Philadelphia's renewed request for such a committee.
The Committee Chairman, the Rev. Mr. Stephen Leonard, presented the report. He moved the first recommendation from the Committee, that the Assembly "receive the report an adopt its conclusions." The three conclusions were:
1. That the Presbyterian Church in America is formally on record as opposed to the drafting of women into military service, in time of war or peace, under any and all circumstances, for the reason that such governmental actions would be contrary to the Word of God.
2. That the Presbyterian Church in America is formally on record as opposed to the inclusion of women in military combat roles, and that such inclusion is contrary to the Word of God.
3. That no Presbyterian Church in America Chaplain who is endorsed for military service by his Presbytery through the instrumentality of the Presbyterian and Reformed Joint Commission on Chaplains shall be required to advocate, support, or agree with any philosophy and effort to include women in military combat roles, nor can he be required by any superior line or staff officer to teach or advocate such a philosophy or effort, nor shall he be forbidden to provide the biblical counsel contained in the report.
The first and second conclusions were editorially amended to read that the "27th General Assembly" is formally on record as opposed to these practices.
From the floor came a substitute motion, "To adopt the present report and refer the matter back to the Committee for further refinement to be reported to the next General Assembly," was made and seconded. An amendment to strike "and that such inclusion is contrary to the Word of God." with regard to the inclusion of women in military combat roles was made and seconded. The amendment to strike was defeated.
The Moderator ruled that, if the substitute motion is adopted, the report may be amended at the next Assembly by a majority vote. The Moderator ruled that adoption of the substitute would require the implementation of the further Committee Recommendations, because the adoption of the report would include the adoption of all the recommendations. Those recommendations were: "That the 27th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America forward this report to the Presbyterian and Reformed Joint Commission on Chaplains and Military Personnel (PRJC) as: a. The 1999 General Assembly's response to the 1998 PRJC request for guidance on the subject of women in the military and in combat. B. That this report in its entirety be included in the PRJC written instructions and guidelines as a supplement for Presbyterian Church in America Chaplains endorsed by the PRJC." The ruling was challenged, and the Moderator was sustained. Then, the substitute motion was defeated.
A substitute motion "to receive the report in its entirety and send it as our advice, not direction, to our presbyteries, sessions, members and especially to PRJC and military personnel" was made and seconded. At that point, the Assembly adopted a motion "to receive as information the present report to be used as advice and that the report be referred back to the Committee to perfect for the Twenty-Eighth General Assembly, and that the Committee be expanded by adding three new members appointed by the Moderator."
Other denominations, including the Southern Baptist Convention, the Reformed Church in the United States, and the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, have taken strong positions against the practice of sending women into combat. However, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, meeting earlier in June, also recommitted a similar report back to its committee.