General Assembly Directs SJC to Adjudicate the Wood Case


        Tampa, Florida (June 23, 2000)—The 28th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) voted this morning to accept the finding of its Bills & Overtures (B&O) Committee and commit the petitions for original jurisdiction over the Rev. John Wood to the Standing Judicial Commission (SJC) for adjudication.  The vote to approve this action was overwhelmingly in favor.

        This action came after the dramatic adoption last evening of the B&O recommendation that the Assembly should find the overtures from four presbyteries—Ascension, Calvary, James River, and Western Carolina—as having been timely-filed.  When the court last night adopted the Committee’s motion, it essentially rejected the action by the SJC in ruling the matter with respect to Mr. Wood out of order; as well as the advice of the Committee on Constitutional Business (CCB).

        The motion that was brought this morning followed a late-night meeting of the B&O Committee.  That body recommended that the SJC proceed according to Book of Church Order (BCO) 31-2.  That paragraph prescribes an investigation to determine if there “a strong presumption of the guilt” of the accused; if there is a strong presumption of guilt, then the court must proceed to trial.

        Even this proposal was not adopted without a fight.  The Rev. Craig Childs, a member of the CCB and of the B&O Committee, moved that the General Assembly refer the overtures to the SJC to assemble the record of the case and determine if Tennessee Valley Presbytery (TVP) had acted; if the SJC determined that TVP had indeed acted, then the case would be ruled administratively out of order.  Dr. Childs argued for his amendment by claiming he is afraid that the invoking of original jurisdiction is “going to invite the ‘big brother’ dynamic,” as he warned, “You’re going to have many more cases.”

        The Rev. Don Clements supported the amendment, while at the same time saying, “But, gentlemen, do not be fearful to follow [BCO] 34-1.”

        Countering the amendment was the Rev. David Coffin.  The Fairfax, Va., pastor said that it was “not just any action of a presbytery” that would be brought to the purview of the General Assembly by means of invoking original jurisdiction over a minister, and that the fact that two presbyteries would have to concur was sufficient safeguard.  He reminded the court that “the Assembly at this time was not sympathetic to the SJC’s view.”

        An officer of the SJC, the Rev. Robert Ferguson, surprised many observers by rising to state, simply: “I actually stand in support of David Coffin.”

        Chaplain Thomas Eddy, a member of the B&O Committee, argued for his committee’s recommendation.  He reasoned, “If we don’t agree with B&O, then the good name of John Wood will not be restored.”

        B&O Chairman Dan Carrell summarized his committee’s position this way: “It is our judgment . . . that our preliminary hearing should center not on Tennessee Valley’s action, but on the substance, that is, what John Wood has or has not done.”  The Assembly, overwhelmingly, agreed, as it voted down the amendment and approved the B&O recommendation.

        Mr. John White, SJC Chairman, shortly thereafter indicated that the Commission would indeed be taking up the matter.


GA Votes Down Overtures Opposing PINS


        Tampa, Florida (June 23, 2000)—The Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) General Assembly this morning defeated two overtures which opposed Presbyterian & Reformed News.  The votes in both cases were overwhelmingly in favor of the recommendations from the Bills & Overtures (B&O) Committee.

        A minority report regarding the overture from North Florida Presbytery was presented by the Rev. Stephen Estock, a member of Southeast Alabama Presbytery.  He argued that the minority presentation would “strike a better balance—to respect both the independent press, and matters raised by North Florida.”  The minority recommendation would have recognized the importance of an independent press, while at the same time encouraging North Florida Presbytery to pursue judicially the allegations of wrong-doing by the editorial staff.

        But the Rev. Gary Engelstad of New Jersey Presbytery said, “I don’t think it’s appropriate to encourage anyone to go to the courts.”  He urged that the brethren concerned follow Matthew 18.

        Although there was no minority report regarding the overture from Southeast Alabama Presbytery, an attempt was made from the floor to amend the committee recommendation.  The Rev. Chris Labs of Susquehanna Valley Presbytery proposed a substitute that would have said that the General Assembly “appeals to ruling and teaching elders in the press to use temperate language which guards the peace and purity of the church and that they protect the reputations of the people they cover.”

        But the Rev. Mike Ericson of Central Carolina Presbytery argued that “to adopt this would be to imply that intemperate langauge was used.”

        The Rev. Lea Clowers of First Presbyterian Church, Chattanooga, Tennessee, spoke in favor of the amendment.  “Gossip, no matter how nicely stated . . ., is still gossip.”

        Ruling Elder Andrew Webb from Philadelphia Presbytery argued against the motion from the floor, and cited four points.  The first point was “our history.”  The PCA was born out of the Southern Presbyterian Journal, and its journalism was railed against by the denominational establishment.  The second was the “sunshine issue.”  “We believe in total depravity,” the seminary student averred, and therefore there needed to be a check on those exercising power.  The third point was the “Biblical witness.”  Here he cited the Apostle Paul saying, with regard to Chloe, that “it was reported” that something had occurrred.  This therefore marks an instance of something that was outside the church courts, with which the Apostle was concerning himself.  The final point was the “freedom of the press issue.”

        Also speaking against the amendment was the Rev. Lewis Ruff of Northern California Presbytery.  He stated that “I have gone to the individual in question” when he was concerned about a matter which had been reported in the newspaper.  “I don’t support the motion, because I don’t think that’s the way to deal with this matter.”

        B&O Chairman Dan Carrel summed up the Committee’s position by saying that “both overtures have achieved a very valuable purpose, namely, to open the door of communication.”  The Assembly overwhelmingly defeated the substitute, and adopted the main motion.


GA Approves Amendment Which Would Explicitly Prohibit Women Preaching


        Tampa, Florida (June 23, 2000)—The 28th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) this morning voted to adopt an amendment to the Book of Church Order (BCO) which would explicitly prohibit women preaching.  The final vote in favor was approved overwhelmingly, with only a scattering of “no” votes.

        The amendment was one of two which presbyteries had sent up to the General Assembly, as a result of the recent controversy over women preaching in the PCA.  The proposal which was adopted came from Potomac Presbytery; it seeks to amend BCO chapter 12, dealing with the duties and authority of local sessions.

        The language which is to be added would state that sessions are “to encourage the women of the church to hold meetings and give instruction appropriate to their calling (e.g. Titus 2:3-5), while prohibiting women from expounding and preaching the Word of God as an ordinance of public worship (cf. BCO 4-4; 53-2), as this is clearly forbidden in Scripture (I Tim. 2:11-12).” 

        Not adopted was an overture from Mississippi Valley Presbytery, which would have amended the Directory for Worship portion of the BCO. Given the ambiguous status of the Directory for Worship in the PCA, the Bills & Overtures (B&O) Committee adjudged the Potomac route to be superior to that of Mississippi Valley.

        The B&O recommendation did not pass without an attempt to amend the language.  The Rev. Fred Mau, a member of the Committee, moved from the floor that the words “expounding and” be deleted, and that the words “in a sermon” be added after “preaching the Word of God.” 

        The Rev. David Coffin from Potomac Presbytery and a member of the B&O Committee explained that the use of the terminology “expounding and preaching” was deliberate, in that it paralleled the language of BCO 4-4. Constitutionally, the terms “expounding and preaching” are intended “to refer both materially and formally” to the act of proclaiming the Word.

        That explanation led the Rev. Harry Long to argue for the amendment to the motion: “We’ve got experts here [in the Assembly], and we had to have David Coffin explain to us the language.”  Also speaking in favor of changing the proposed amendment was Dr. Frank Brock, who said that the discussion “is beginning to sound like the debate in Tennessee Valley Presbytery.”  Warning that this was a “potentially divisive issue,” the Covenant College President then tried to move that the motion be referred to the Committee on Constitutional Business.  The Moderator, however, ruled that since the gentleman had already spoken to the matter, he could not make a motion.

        Others argued against the Mau amendment.  Dwight Dolby of Southwest Florida Presbytery  contended that “one of the possibilities is that of a women reading and expositing Scripture, which would not be protected against” if the language was modified.

        The Rev. Zach Eswine from Great Lakes Presbytery stated that Mr. Mau’s motion “implies that preaching can take place outside of a sermon.”  Ruling Elder Andrew Webb from Philadelphia Presbytery noted that “we’re talking about women in worship,” as he countered the notion that any exposition of Scripture would be prohibited to women; he added that the Potomac proposal was entirely consonant with the action already taken by the Assembly with regard to the Mission to North America Committee, in which women speaking during public worship was forbidden.  And the Rev. Tom Vanden Heuvel, who transferred into the PCA from the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) in 1997, said that “in the CRC, it didn’t take long for women not only to expound, but also to preach.”

        The Mau amendment lost, overwhelmingly.  The Assembly then voted for the B&O recommendation.

        Having been adopted by the Assembly, the amendment to the BCO now goes to the presbyteries for ratification; if two-thirds of the sixty presbyteries give their consent, the subsequent Assembly must also approve by majority vote before the new language would become part of the Constitution.



In Other Action . . .


        The General Assembly . . .

*Voted to amend the BCO so as to refine the definition of “counsel” allowed to an accused in a trial.  The proposed amendment will allow a defendant to employ any communicant member of the PCA to represent him at any stage of the judicial process, rather than being bound by more-restrictive parameters.

*Voted down an overture to make the Directory for Worship fully Constitutional.

*Voted down two personal resolutions from Ruling Elder Bob Miller of Philadelphia Presbytery, dealing with abortion and women in combat.  The reasoning of the B&O Committee is that the Assembly has already addressed the various civil magistrates with regard to abortion; and that the Assembly should wait for the report of its ad hoc committee on women in the military before making any pronouncements or judgments.

*Accepted the explanation of Southern Florida Presbytery that it would not employ women to read Scripture or lead in prayer in public worship.  The Presbytery issued that statement in response to the exception that had been taken to its minutes by the 1997 General Assembly.