PRESBYTERIAN INTERNATIONAL NEWS SERVICE
NEWS BULLETIN 31-1 JUNE 10, 2003
Effort to Defeat ‘Good Faith’ Subscription
in the Presbyteries Comes Up Just Short
Switch of Three Individual Votes Would Have Altered Outcome
Floor Fight at General Assembly Now Looms
Charlotte, North Carolina (June 9, 2003)—An effort to defeat “Good Faith” subscription in the presbyteries of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) has failed. With all 64 presbyteries reporting, the subscription amendment, also known as Item 2, has garnered the affirmative votes of 45 of the middle judicatories, with 19 votes in opposition. Consent by two-thirds (43) of the presbyteries was necessary in order for the amendment to be considered by the 2003 General Assembly.
The proposal’s proponents touted the measure as one which would bring unity and peace. However, that goal has seemed to be elusive, as across the PCA, the debate has raged, highlighting the divided nature of the church. Within the presbyteries, there have been many highly-divided votes. Moreover, three presbyteries reversed themselves; and there were formal efforts in at least five other presbyteries to have them change their votes, and informal discussions among men in at least four more toward the same end.
So close has been the contest that a switch of just three individual votes within three presbyteries would have altered the outcome. In Northern New England Presbytery, the vote was 7-6-1; in Potomac Presbytery, the final vote was 29-28; and in Blue Ridge Presbytery, the tally was 17-15. If there had been a one-vote switch toward the negative in each of those three presbyteries, Item 2 would have been defeated.
Adding up the votes in all of the presbyteries also shows the lack of consensus in support of Item 2. The final tallies indicate that 1446 (59%) voted for the amendment, 899 (37%) voted against, and 101 (4%) abstained.
Balloting within several of the presbyteries has been marked by confusion and turmoil. In Covenant Presbytery, the court voted in February 40-34-0 in favor; the matter was reconsidered, and then the amendment was approved, 42-33-3. However, in May, Covenant rescinded its prior approval, 28-24-4, and then voted against the amendment, 20-33-4. In Potomac Presbytery in February, the tally initially was 34-28-6; the motion was declared lost, because Potomac historically has counted abstentions as part of the total vote, and, with the abstentions, there would not have been a majority of all votes cast. However, when that procedure was challenged, the Rev. David Coffin moved to reconsider the matter, so that there could be a re-vote. When the new vote was taken, the measure carried, 34-28-2. In June, Potomac voted to rescind its prior approval of the amendment, 30-28; and subsequently voted once more for the amendment, 29-28.
In Southern New England Presbytery, a meeting was called for April 8th in order to consider rescinding approval of the amendment; however, when strong objection was lodged to having a called meeting, that meeting was called off. At its May stated meeting, a motion to rescind was defeated, and its original vote of 16-10 was allowed to stand. In Southern Florida Presbytery, a motion to rescind was defeated by about a two-to-one margin, reflecting the original vote in favor, 24-12.
In Siouxlands Presbytery, a motion to rescind was placed on the docket for the April stated meeting, but was never called up.
Besides Covenant Presbytery, the other court which reversed prior approval and voted against the amendment was one of the Korean presbyteries. Originally, Korean Capital had voted in favor, 21-0-0; but in April, it voted against, 4-17-4.
On the other side of the ledger, Northern Illinois, which had voted against the measure in October (8-13-2), finally gave its blessing to Item 2. In January, a motion to rescind seemingly carried, 21-20-2; but the Moderator, upon challenge, ruled that the abstentions should count as part of the total, and that a majority had not carried the motion. However, in April, the court once again voted, and this time approved the amendment, 20-4-2.
The amendment now goes to the floor of the 31st General Assembly, where a simple majority must approve in order to enact it.
AN OPEN LETTER FROM TE DAVID COFFIN TO ELDERS SERVING
ON COMMITTEES OF COMMISSIONERS TO THE 31st GENERAL ASSEMBLY.
[Editor’s note: The issue of whether Bills & Overtures (B&O) Committee may amend presbytery overtures caused quite a stir at the 2002 PCA General Assembly. One of the denomination’s recognized parliamentary experts, the Rev. David Coffin, went to the extraordinary length of challenging the orderliness of the B&O Committee report, for its failure to honor the long-standing practice of allowing for such amendments. The Assembly sustained the ruling of the Moderator, that the B&O report should not be ruled out of order. In an open letter sent by email just prior to the General Assembly, Dr. Coffin openly pleads for commissioners to reconsider and weigh carefully the arguments.—Ed.]
Fathers and Brothers,
I write today to those of you serving on committees of commissioners to the 31st General Assembly to urge you to maintain your right to offer germane amendments to overtures considered by your committee. I urge this upon you in spite of the fact that the Stated Clerk will instruct you otherwise, and in spite of the fact that the Moderator of the 30th General Assembly was sustained, upon the Stated Clerk’s advice, in ruling to the contrary. You have the right and responsibility to exercise independent judgment in this matter. Our rules and long established practice permit this wise—this essential—work, and nothing in Robert’s Rules can be fairly construed to say otherwise.
Attached is a brief paper that sets forth the ground for the position I advocate, as well as a copy of the point of order I raised concerning this matter at the last General Assembly, and a copy of the protest that I registered upon the denial of the point of order. You will also want to read the paper of the committee appointed by the Assembly to respond to my protest (M30GA (2002), Appendix O). With respect to this last, please note that the paper was improperly included in the minutes of the 30th General Assembly, since it was never approved by that Assembly. Please note also that the committee’s answer offered 5 pages in response to my single paragraph, and, in my judgment, is marred by factual mistakes and non sequiturs, and improperly goes well beyond responding to the protest by addressing matters I never raised in that protest.
If you are persuaded by this argument, and do offer germane amendments, please be aware of your rights in the matter. If the chairman rules such a motion out of order, you have the right to appeal the judgement of the chair. Should the chair be sustained, you have the right to have your negative vote recorded in the minutes, noting that you continue with the work under protest. The critical point is this, for those who are persuaded by the attached arguments, you must not acquiesce in this mistaken ruling, for the error is given further legitimacy if it is unchallenged. To legitimize this error is to allow a significant rule to be changed merely by a reinterpretation imposed by political force.
Further, please be careful to inquire whether “The Manual of Operations for Committees of Commissioners” continues to read: “The Committee may propose amendments to the overture, when it deems such would improve the statement, if adopted by the Assembly.” (C.3.c., p. 3) If it does not, you may ask at whose direction and by what authority it has been changed. If it is asserted that minor amendments may be offered, but not substantial amendments, you may inquire as to where in the rules this distinction is authorized.
Please note: clearly, under our rules, amendments cannot introduce new business. However, just as clearly, germane amendments are not only lawful, but proper as a wholesome part of the process of achieving consensus in disputed matters. Robert’s Rules defines the standard as follows: “[A]n amendment must be germane to be in order. To be germane, an amendment must in some way involve the same question that is raised by the motion to which it is applied. A secondary amendment must relate to the primary amendment in the same way. An amendment cannot introduce an independent question; but an amendment can be hostile to, or even defeat, the spirit of the original motion and still be germane.” RRO, sect. 12, pp. 129-30.
I urge this course today because in my judgment there is no more critical issue with respect to the preservation of biblical Presbyterianism in our Assembly than to preserve the only forum available where real deliberation, debate and conscientious compromise are possible at the Assembly level. Please read and consider these matters carefully and prayerfully.
If you have any questions concerning this issue, please do not hesitate to write to email@example.com or to call 703-385-9056. Your servant in Christ, TE David F. Coffin, Jr.
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