Didn’t We Just Do This? Recent PCA Proposals to Ordain Women to Church Office – Part 2

“The question of the role of women in the Church is not a new or unstudied issue….the proposed study committee is unlikely to break new ground or shed new insights” (37th GA, 2009).

One of the contentions of the CMC is that the PCA has a history of passivity and even resistance to discussing the role of women in the church. However, a review of recent history will attest to the fact that the PCA does not have a history of passivity in discussing the role of women in the church; in fact, quite the opposite. The issues of the role of women in the church and women in office were occasions for long and serious debates, especially between 2000-2011.

 

The Cooperative Ministries Committee (CMC) of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) has proposed a recommendation to the 44th General Assembly that it form a study committee on the issue of women serving in the ministry of the church.

Here is the proposed recommendation that is being presented through the Administrative Committee (AC) to the PCA GA:

That –

  • The Assembly form a study committee on the issue of women serving in the ministry of the church (RAO 9-1; 9-3). The Assembly authorizes the Moderator to appoint the study committee. The study committee should be made up of competent men and women representing the diversity of opinions within the PCA (RAO 9-1; Robert’s Rules of Order [11th edition], §13, pp. 174-175, §50, pp.495- 496, §50, pp. 497-498 §56, p. 579]).
  • The committee should give particular attention to the issues of:
  • The biblical basis, theology, history, nature, and authority of ordination;
  • The biblical nature and function of the office of deacon;
  • Clarification on the ordination or commissioning of deacons/deaconesses;
  • Should the findings of the study committee warrant BCO changes, the study committee will propose such changes for the General Assembly to consider.
  • The committee will have a budget of $15,000 that is funded by designated donations to the AC from churches and individuals (RAO 9-2).
  • A Pastoral Letter to be proposed by the ad interim study committee and approved by the General Assembly be sent to all churches, encouraging them to (1) promote the practice of women in ministry, (2) appoint women to serve alongside elders and deacons in the pastoral work of the church, and (3) hire women on church staff in appropriate ministries. 

Grounds: The Cooperative Ministries Committee may not make recommendations directly to the General Assembly but must do so through an appropriate committee or agency (RAO 7-3 c; 7-6). The CMC has had a subcommittee on the role of women and has sent several recommendations to the AC (including a proposal for a study committee on the issue women serving in the church) and CDM to bring to the Assembly[1].

One of the contentions of the CMC is that the PCA has a history of passivity and even resistance to discussing the role of women in the church. However, a review of recent history will attest to the fact that the PCA does not have a history of passivity in discussing the role of women in the church; in fact, quite the opposite. The issues of the role of women in the church and women in office were occasions for long and serious debates, especially between 2000-2011.

The PCA had numerous discussions at each level of its church courts. The following from General Assembly minutes highlights the debate on the role of women in the church’s ministry and women in office.

From the 2009 General Assembly (Min37GA, p. 278)

  1. That Overture 10 from Susquehanna Valley Presbytery (“Appoint Study Committee on Role of Women in the Church”) be answered in the negative.

For Assembly’s Action on Recommendation 8, see 37-48, p. 295.

  1. That Overture 5 from James River Presbytery (“Appoint Study Committee on Role of Women in the Church”) be answered with reference to the Committee’s actions regarding Overture 10. Adopted

(See Recommendation 8 above)    This Overture called for: Now, therefore, be it resolved, that the James River Presbytery respectfully overtures the 37th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America to authorize the Moderator to appoint a study committee representing the diversity of opinion within the PCA to study and report to the 38th General Assembly on the following questions:

(1) What sorts of roles may women fill in the life of the church?

(2) What are some models of local church practices that have developed as ways of employing the gifts of women in the lives of their congregations that might be exemplary and encouraging to other local churches?

(3) What elements of organization and accountability to ordained leadership can be commended to PCA churches that are consistent with the BCO?

(4) What modifications, if any to the BCO might be desirable for achieving the best utilization of the gifts of PCA women in light of the teaching of Scripture?

The GROUNDS for this 2009 action, adopted by the GA, were:

Grounds: Unlike most issues for which past General Assemblies have erected study committees, the question of the role of women in the Church is not a new or unstudied issue. As such, the proposed study committee is unlikely to break new ground or shed new insights. Further, the assertions set forth in the third through fifth “whereas” paragraphs are offered without evidence and thus do not provide a sufficient justification for such a committee, nor do they offer a compelling case to suggest that our Constitutional documents are unclear or unbiblical. Even if the concerns set forth in those “whereas” clauses were persuasive, a study committee is not the best vehicle for getting to the concerns.

Many of the speeches offered before the Overtures Committee in support of Overture 10 argued that there is a need to “settle this issue.” But, by definition the report of such a committee, whether as a pastoral letter or in some other form, would have no binding Constitutional authority. As such, the committee’s report, even if adopted by a General Assembly, could not settle the issue. The proposed study committee also has the potential to heighten whatever tensions currently exist on this issue. The experience of some of the past ad interim committees “representing the diversity of opinion within the PCA” suggests that the proposed committee would find it very difficult to come to agreement at the level of specificity the proponents of the Overture appear to desire. Thus the proposed committee may exacerbate differences rather than develop unity. Further, if the committee did come to consensus at a level of specificity, the tendency among some will be to treat those conclusions as binding, at least in some sense. That, in turn, would have the effect of elevating any conclusions from the report of the study committee to a level that is de facto on par with the Constitution, but without Constitutional process. This, too, will elevate tensions, rather than bringing about unity.

The best way to address the concerns of those raising these questions is to allow individuals, sessions, and presbyteries to continue to study and interact on these matters. Further, we remind Presbyteries, as did the 36 th General Assembly, “…that the best way to bring these issues before the Assembly is through presbytery overtures to amend the BCO.” Such a procedure will allow the Church to clearly and constitutionally speak its mind with regard to whatever specific proposals are raised.

[1] PCA 44th General Assembly Commissioner’s Handbook. Pgs. 306-307.