As Fall fades into Winter about 38 presbyteries have given their advice and consent concerning some or all of the twelve Items sent down from the 49th General Assembly (2022) in Birmingham, AL. To change the Book of Church Order, an amendment is run through a three-part process.
First, it must pass the General Assembly by a simple majority. Then, it must pass 2/3 of the 88 presbyteries, or 59, by a simple majority. Finally, it must pass the following General Assembly by a simple majority. This article reports on how the twelve Items are faring across the presbyteries of the PCA. These are unofficial results compiled from presbyters throughout the PCA; the official results will be published by the Stated Clerk’s office before the 50th General Assembly, which will meet in Memphis, TN.
Item 1 (Overture 15)
Item 1 was perhaps the most controversial overture to come out of the 49th General Assembly. This amendment was drafted to address the ongoing controversy in the PCA concerning the Revoice Movement. While Items 4 and 5 seek to do something similar, proponents of this amendment argue that it would put an end to the 5-year conversation concerning the nature of biblical sexuality. For those who support this amendment, it communicates a clear and simple rejection of any Side-B movement in the PCA. Opponents argue that this amendment is redundant (given the consensus behind Items 4 and 5) and that it could unduly jeopardize the witness of the PCA to the world. The amendment states:
BCO 7-4. Men who describe themselves as homosexual, even those who describe themselves as homosexual and claim to practice celibacy by refraining from homosexual conduct, are disqualified from holding office in the Presbyterian Church in America.
This amendment passed the Assembly by a vote of 1167-978 (54%-46%). Many wondered, after the Assembly, if Overture 15 would be “Dead on Arrival” to the presbyteries. This has not been the case. Overture 15 has exceeded expectations across the presbyteries. So much so, that it tracks well with last year’s vote on Overture 23. So far, 24 presbyteries have voted in favor and 12 presbyteries against it. Of the remaining 52 presbyteries, 35 or 67% of them must vote in the affirmative for it to be considered at the 50th General Assembly. Overture 15 did not die in the Fall and will be watched closely as presbyteries vote in their January-April meetings.
Item 4 and Item 5 (Overture 29 and Overture 31)
Items 4 (O29) and Item 5 (O31) were perhaps some of the least controversial amendments to pass last year’s Assembly and resemble a consensus regarding the issue of biblical sexuality in the PCA. Overture 29 states:
BCO 16-4. Officers in the Presbyterian Church in America must be above reproach in their walk and Christlike in their character. While office bearers will see spiritual perfection only in glory, they will continue in this life to confess and to mortify remaining sins in light of God’s work of progressive sanctification. Therefore, to be qualified for office, they must affirm the sinfulness of fallen desires, the reality and hope of progressive sanctification, and be committed to the pursuit of Spirit-empowered victory over their sinful temptations, inclinations, and actions.
Item 4 passed the assembly by a vote of 1922-200 (91%-9%) and Item 5 passed the Assembly in an omnibus vote of 2062-33 (98%-2%). These amendments have sailed through the presbyteries. So far, 36 presbyteries have voted in for item 4 and 1 presbytery is against it. Likewise, 36 presbyteries are for item 5 and 2 presbyteries are against it. Overall, the raw tallies reveal that these amendments are supported by over 90% of the Elders in the PCA. Given the present trajectories, Commissioners at the next General Assembly will likely have the opportunity to consider both Items 4 and 5 for final ratification.
Item 7 (Overture 8)
Item 7 is an amendment that seeks to fix a major issue in the Book of Church Order (BCO) concerninghow the General Assembly can assume original jurisdiction over a presbytery in a case of doctrinal or public scandal. Proponents of the amendment argue that this solution is far superior to the current language of BCO 33-1 and BCO 34-1. They reason that by changing the language from “fails to act” to “fails to indict” clarifies when the Assembly could assume original jurisdiction of a case. They also argue that by raising the number of presbyteries needed to require the GA to assume jurisdiction to 10%, and by placing the burden of the cost for the investigation on either the petitioning presbytery or presbytery of the minister, this would prevent the provision from being abused.
Some opponents argue that the 10% threshold is too high basically rendering the provision useless. Other opponents claim the threshold is too low resulting in overburdening the Standing Judicial Commission. However, all the opponents agree that amending BCO 33-1 would overburden small presbyteries, especially that with less than 10 churches; under the provision if amended only one Session would would be needed to require a presbytery to assume original jurisdiction over a case. Both proponents and opponents of this provision agree that BCO 34-1 is broken in its current state, but the solution is less clear than the problem. The amendment states:
BCO 33-1. Process against a church member shall be entered before the Session of the church to which such member belongs. However, if the Session does not indict in either doctrinal cases or instances of public scandal and the Sessions of at least ten percent (10%) of churches in the same Presbytery request the Presbytery of which the church is a member to assume original jurisdiction for a case of process, the Presbytery shall do so. The Presbytery may assess the costs thereof equitably among the parties, including the petitioning Sessions and the Session of the church member.
BCO 34-1. Process against a minister shall be entered before the Presbytery of which he is a member. However, if the Presbytery does not indict in either doctrinal cases or instances of public scandal and at least ten percent (10%) of Presbyteries request the General Assembly to assume original jurisdiction for a case of process, the General Assembly shall do so. The General Assembly may assess the costs thereof equitably among the parties, including the petitioning Presbyteries and the Presbytery of the minister.
Item 7 passed the Assembly by a vote of 1245-521 (70%-30%) and defeated a minority report. Since the Assembly, Overture 8 has struggled to maintain its momentum. So far, 20 presbyteries are for it and 15 presbyteries are against it. This amendment needs to pass in 39 of the remaining 53 presbyteries to be considered at the next General Assembly. While not impossible, this amendment faces a tough road ahead in the Winter and Spring.
The Remaining Items
The rest of the Items before the presbyteries have received little pushback. These Items (2-3; 6; 9-12) have been seemingly uncontroversial. While some presbyteries have voted against some of these amendments, they remain widely affirmed by the presbyteries that have voted thus far. Given the non-controversial nature of these amendments, the 50th General Assembly will likely consider these items for final ratification.
There are 55 presbyteries yet to consider some or all of the Items sent down from the 49th General Assembly. To follow these votes on these amendments this spreadsheet will be regularly updated.
Scott Edburg is a Minister in the PCA and is Assistant Pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Tuscumbia, Ala.
Map Credit: Steve O’Brien