News Bulletin #30-03 June 19, 2002

All Amendments Pass, Save One

Birmingham, Alabama (June 19, 2002)-All Book of Church Order amendments reported to the 30th General Assembly, save one, were passed today by the Assembly. One of the amendments finally enacted increased the number of men on the permanent program committees from 14 to 15 and increased their terms of office from four to five years. Another amendment specifies that each congregation may automatically be represented by two ruling elders at Presbytery. An amendment to BCO 12 added to the duties of a Session that it must "ensure that the Word of God is preached only by such men as are sufficiently qualified (BCO 4-4, 53-2, 1 Timothy 2:11-12)." Two other amendments dealing with judicial process were also approved.One of those changes will now require that "[a]ll testimony shall be recorded (transcription, audiotape, videotape, or some other electronic means)," and that "in order to be referenced in written or oral briefs, such recording must be transcribed and the transcription authenticated by the trial court. The court of final appeal may asses the cost of transcription equitably among the parties."

Dr. Charles McGowan, who serves on the Standing Judicial Commission (SJC), spoke against the amendment, arguing that cost of transcription "might not be recovered." He stated that a costs associated with a recent case reached $100,000, and that this amount "could double if this passes."

Another SJC member, Ruling Elder Howie Dunahoe of Central Carolina Presbytery, which court had initiated the amendment last year, supported the change. He said that under the present provision regarding the recording of testimony, a defendant who wants to appeal a case would have had to require said recording during the trial itself. He also stated that the "cost of professionally transcribing a tape is far from prohibitive."

Ruling Elder Dale Peacock, who has served on the SJC in the past, urged passage of the amendment. He stated that he is "one who greatly cherishes due process," and that this amendment is "required for the sake of justice . . . so that there not be simply excerpts of testimony." The Louisiana barrister argued that "someone who issues a frivolous appeal might be assessed the whole cost" of transcription.

Another attorney also supported the amendment. "In order to do justly, we can do no less than the secular courts. I have represented pastors in other denominations in defrocking processes, where there was no recorded testimony. Gentlemen, you do not want [a trial] without recorded testimony."

The Rev. Jeff Hutchinson closed the debate by arguing against the proposal because in his view it was "another example of inculturation."

By a hefty margin, the amendment passed.

The amendment that now explicitly prohibits women preaching was enacted without debate or objection. Another version of this amendment had passed the 2000 General Assembly, but was voted down in the presbyteries. At the 2001 Assembly, a minority report from the Bills & Overtures Committee carried the day, as the amendment was adopted and sent to the presbyteries for advice and consent. Forty-two presbyteries-the exact number necessary-approved the proposal. There were nine votes against the amendment, with twelve presbyteries not reporting.

Not receiving the requisite two-thirds of the presbyteries was an amendment to BCO 32-19, which would have broadened the counsel who could represent a defendant in a trial to include any communicant member of the denomination. This amendment was held over from last year, because an insufficient number of presbyteries had reported their votes. Even with the additional year, only 56 of a total of 60 eligible presbyteries had reported in, and the proposal garnered only 38 votes, two short of the requisite 40.

Personal Resolutions Address Variety of Topics

Birmingham, Alabama (June 19, 2002)-Each year, personal resolutions at the Presbyterian Church in America General Assembly reflect the concerns of individuals, and this year was no different. A variety of topics was covered, ranging from honoring long service, to opposition to a political organization.

Ruling Elder John Mardirosian presented a resolution honoring Vincent Donato, who has been on the Session of Evangelical Presbyterian Church, Mount Laurel, New Jersey, since 1952. The Assembly exercised its prerogative of not sending the resolution to a committee, but adopting it immediately.

Henry Lewis Smith presented a resolution which aims to welcome people of all races into the church.

Merle Messer's resolution opposed the League of the South (LOS), and would have counseled churches not to allow their buildings to be used for LOS activities. However, the Assembly by a large margin refused to receive the resolution. Arguing against receiving the matter was David Coffin, who contended that to entertain the resolution would violate "our doctrine not to consider anything political."

Jim Mezzanotte's resolution, which asked that there not be links on the denominational web site to sites with material which may be regarded as slanderous, was referred to the Administrative Committee.

Jim Meek introduced a resolution, arising from a current controversy on this year's Bills & Overtures Committee, which asks the Constitutional Business Committee to propose amendments to governing documents if necessary, in order to make clear that overtures may be amended. During discussion of this matter, the Rev. David Coffin stated that he was "going to ask that the B&O report be ruled out of order," since the Committee this year has been violating Assembly rules by not allowing amendments to overtures.

Overture 7 Regarding PCA Foundation Defeated

Birmingham, Alabama (June 19, 2002)-Without extensive debate, the Presbyterian Church in America General Assembly overwhelmingly turned down Overture 7 from Westminster Presbytery with regard to the oversight of the PCA Foundation and other Assembly agencies. In recommending this action, the Committee of Commissioners for Administration stated: "The General Assembly as a whole, not individual members of the PCA, has oversight of General Assembly Committees and Agencies." Also stated in the grounds was the statement that there are "certain legal requirements to be met before a member of the General Assembly may secure copies of specified records of General Assembly within a reasonable time frame." This ground, which was recommended by the Permanent Administrative Committee (AC), was a replacement for another statement initially adopted by AC, which contended that "The PCA is incorporated under Delaware law as a non-stock corporation, which does not give individuals the right to inspect the records as the overture alleges."

A motion from the Rev. Larry Ball, that AC be instructed to define what records are available for inspection and the procedures that must be followed, was referred to AC for report next year.

Assembly Declines to Mandate Health Coverage

Birmingham, Alabama (June 19, 2002)-The PCA General Assembly declined to require that ministers enroll in the denominational health insurance program. Instead, the Assembly voted to urge that churches enroll in the program.

The action came after the Rev. Daniel Jarfster issued a Constitutional challenge to the recommendation of the Insurance, Annuities, and Relief Committee of Commissioners, that utilization of the PCA program be mandatory. The Committee had approved that recommendation on a highly divided vote (11-9). The Assembly asked the Committee on Constitutional Business (CCB) for advice. CCB Chair Craig Childs reported that in his Committee's view, the motion was un-Constitutional.

Heard on the Floor . . .

"Mr. Ryan, 761 votes. Mr. Zaka, 449 votes. Mr. Gore, 1 vote. Mr. Bush, 3 votes. No hanging chads, no dimpled ballots."-Stated Clerk Roy Taylor. "I'm glad we have that behind us!"-Moderator Skip Ryan.

"I am Jim Wert, ruling elder of North Georgia Presbytery, not to be confused with Jim Wert, ruling elder of Western Carolina Presbytery. Hi, Dad!"-Jim Wert (the younger).

"There are some campus ministers who refer to him as the Strom Thurmond of campus ministers."-Lee Ferguson, as the Assembly honored Billy Joseph for his 22 years of service as a campus minister.

"Like Rod [Mays] said, we're not like Harvard-we're just trying to be like UT."-Fritz Gaines, campus minister at Middle Tennessee Stated University.

"The ARP probably has the most toothless bureaucracy of any of the Reformed churches, and that's not necessarily a bad thing."-Dr. William Evans, Associate Reformed Presbyterian fraternal delegate.

"For the last 17 years, I've never stood at a microphone, which might not be a bad thing for some of us."-Don Ward.