Morton H. Smith Elected Moderator of Assembly

Tampa, Florida (June 20, 2000)-At the opening session of the 28th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), the Rev. Dr. Morton H. Smith was elected as Moderator. He was elected over the Rev. Dr. Joseph "Skip" Ryan, 502-391.

The 76 year old veteran churchman, who was the denomination's first stated clerk, accepted the post with sobering words for the commissioners. As he assumed the podium and the gavel, Dr. Smith declared: "We are a church in trouble." He stated that, as far as he was aware, he was the first "TR"-that is, "truly Reformed"-in the history of the denomination to be elected Moderator.

The Moderator went on to say that the PCA was in more serious jeopardy, because of the possibility of ecclesiastical division. Dr. Smith emphatically stated: "I do not want to preside over an Assembly that splits." He mentioned that one presbytery is "going to consider at its summer meeting its relationship with the Assembly"; and added that a few presbyteries will consider their continued relationship with the PCA depending on what decisions are made at this Assembly.

He referred to the Apostle Paul's instructions to Timothy regarding qualifications for elders and deacons. "He was writing about behavior in the church visible. We need to hold the behavior of the church visible in a much higher regard than we do."

Dr. Smith expressed thanks to Southwest Florida Presbytery for the tenor of the communion service, and thanks to the Rev. Joseph Novenson, who brought the sermon. The Moderator encouraged the commissioners to re-read the Scripture text before the reconvening of the Assembly in the morning.

The resident of Brevard, North Carolina, also stated that for three months in his family worship, he had been praying for revival in the church. He expressed the desire that all of the many issues which would be confronted by the court would be decided by an appeal to the Bible. Dr. Smith's candid comments were received warmly and with applause from the commissioners, along with numerous audible "Amens!"

Nominating Morton Smith was the Rev. Dr. Joseph Pipa, President of Greenville (S. C.) Presbyterian Theological Seminary, where the new Moderator is one of the founding faculty members and the Dean of Faculty. In making his nomination, President Pipa stated that Morton Smith, in his service as Stated Clerk, "bent over backwards to be fair." He urged that Dr. Smith would preside over the sessions with his "characteristic humility."

Referring to the first man nominated this evening, Dr. Pipa said that "Skip Ryan surely deserves to be Moderator." However, "of our first generation, there's only one man whom we've not honored as Moderator. . . . It's time to give this man an honor that he would never seek."

With a bit of irony, Dr. Smith, after his election, stated that although it was an honor to be Moderator, "it's [really] a hard unpaid job. The Moderator works harder than just about anybody."

One of his early duties was the selection of Assistant Parliamentarians. Dr. Smith stated that he was looking to others than those who have in the past been perennially selected, since both of those men are on the Standing Judicial Commission. He was desirous of selecting men who were not involved intimately in judicial matters, or members of the Committee on Constitutional Business, or involved in the matter of dividing Westminster Presbytery, since those were all potentially controversial matters. The new Moderator announced his choice of Sam Duncan, Esq., a ruling elder from Hattiesburg, Mississippi, who was Moderator of the 25th Assembly; and the Rev. David Coffin from Fairfax, Virginia. Mr. Coffin declined by stating, much to the bemusement of the court, "I appreciate the honor, but I'm a player rather than a referee." The selection of a second parliamentarian was accordingly postponed until the morning.

The session this evening went until after 11:00 PM, more than one hour later than scheduled. The communion service, which featured extensive liturgy, was almost two and a half hours in length.

Just prior to recess, the Assembly sang a hymn written by Dr. James Montgomery Boice, who passed away five days ago. The Rev. Philip Ryken, who served on staff at Tenth Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia, introduced the new hymn. He noted that Dr. Boice, while in his weakened condition, was still able confidently to affirm his belief in the resurrection and the hope of eternal life-truths which he expressed in his hymn.

Overture 22 to be Considered Prior to SJC Report

Tampa, Florida (June 20, 2000)-One of the more controversial overtures before the 28th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America will be considered as a separate item. Overture 22 from Louisiana Presbytery, which proposes the condemning of the judgment of the 27th General Assembly in the John Wood matter, will be presented as a partial report of the Bills & Overtures (B&O) Committee, prior to the consideration of the Standing Judicial Commission (SJC) report.

Louisiana's overture alleges several irregularities in the SJC handling of the John Wood matter. The judicial matter arose when three presbyteries petitioned the General Assembly to assume original jurisdiction over the Senior Pastor of Cedar Springs Presbyterian Church, Knoxville, Tennessee, for his support of women preaching. The SJC found the case "out of order."

Earlier today, the B&O Committee voted, 23-8, in favor of a motion put forward by the Rev. David Coffin. The proposal would respond to the overture with the following statement: "In light of the highly charged, novel and confusing circumstances attending the matter arising out of Tennessee Valley Presbytery . . ., and as there is no provision specifying that a request for the Assembly to take original jurisdiction under BCO 34-1 is to be heard and determined by the SJC, the 28th General Assembly declares that the resolutions of Western Carolina Presbytery . . ., Calvary Presbytery . . ., Ascension Presbytery . . ., and James River Presbytery . . ., be treated as overtures timely filed to this General Assembly, and be referred to the Committee of Commissioners on Bills and Overtures, for recommendation to this Assembly as to whether the Assembly should assume original jurisdiction as so requested, and refer the case for hearing before the SJC." The grounds given are these: "The plain language of BCO 34-1, absent any other provision in the Constitution or Rules, appears to have the Presbyteries in question petition the Assembly itself concerning the question of original jurisdiction. After that decision is rendered, the Assembly should exercise its jurisdiction in the regular Constitutional manner, i.e., through the SJC (cf. BCO 15-4)." [NOTE: Subsequent to the ruling of the SJC, James River Presbytery also adopted a petition for original jurisdiction.]

If adopted by the Assembly, the motion would require the Assembly itself to make the determination as to the orderliness of the petitions from the several presbyteries. Mr. Coffin, in his remarks before the B&O Committee, indicated that this involves a principle which he was most jealous to guard. The principle is that a commission must never assume authority by analogy, but only by specific grant from the court which appointed or elected the commission. In the present instance, Mr. Coffin argued, there is no specific authority for the SJC to determine the orderliness of said petitions.

Arguing against Mr. Coffin's proposal were several members of the B&O Committee, including the Rev. Dr. Charles McGowan and the Rev. Dr. Craig Childs. Dr. McGowan is on the SJC, and Dr. Childs is a member of the Committee on Constitutional Business, which has had SJC matters in the John Wood matter before it.

In other action on the docket, the Assembly voted to allow for the introduction of new business up through the close of business on Wednesday. The Rules for Assembly Operation (RAO) provide that no new business may be introduced after the end of business on the second day of the Assembly. The original docket would have made the cut-off to be 11:00 AM. Upon motion by the Rev. Tim Miessler, Pastor of Beech Street Presbyterian Church, Gaffney, S. C., the Assembly decided to coincide its agenda with the RAO.

One amendment to the proposed docket which did not pass was a proposal that the fifteen minute reports from most of the permanent committees and agencies be placed towards the very end of the Assembly. By a wide margin, the Assembly decided to continue with the usual procedure of allowing the various committees and agencies to give their program reports throughout the week, in conjunction with the reports of the various committees of commissioners.

EDITOR'S NOTE: In News Bulletin 28-1, it was reported that the Standing Judicial Commission (SJC) "argued that since a Session has authority over the conduct of public worship, concern over the conduct of that worship must be directed to the Session itself. The SJC also argued that Tennessee Valley Presbytery had 'acted' in the matter when it allegedly investigated the situation." A member of the Assembly has suggested that these statements may not be fully accurate, in that the SJC was not "arguing" these matters, but was merely adopting Tennessee Valley's position. While we do not necessarily totally accept this understanding, we wanted our readers to know of the concern that has been expressed.