For many years, the Review of Presbytery Records Committee took so much time to complete their work after gather on the Monday before GA started, they were traditionally the last report of the week, generally on Friday mornings. However, this committee now meets a month prior to Assembly and their report is already complete and thus is now being docketed for the first day.
This year, two of their recommendations result in extensive debate. The first issue came on a recommendation to change the Rules of Assembly Operations which read as follows:
Due to the fact that there are frequent exceptions to presbytery minutes regarding RAO 16-3.e.5, amend as follows: “Presbytery minutes shall record ministers’ and ministerial candidates’ stated differences with our standards in their own words in the following manner. Each Presbytery also shall record whether…
(Underlined words are additions; words with strikethroughs are deletions)
The requirement for requiring candidates to express their differences with the standards in their own words and requiring the Presbytery to record those differences in their minutes, along with their judgment as to whether the different was an exception or not was a key element of the so-called ‘Missouri-Virginia Compromise’ developed over a decade ago to bring an end to a long term dispute in the denomination of what ‘subscription’ to the confession meant.
The Missouri-Virginia language came from the fact that language for the changes to the
BCO and RAO were developed by TE Bryan Chappell (Missouri Presbyter) and TE Don Clements (Virginia – Blue Ridge Presbytery) and became known as ‘Good Faith Subscription’. The heart of the compromise was to allow Presbyteries to make their own decisions on what should or should not be an exception, but to require the language of the difference to be recorded in the Presbytery minutes so the GA could see through its review process what was happening concerning such issues.
The original implementing language of the RAO had not clearly defined the process and this recommended change to the RAO was made in order to clarify the meaning.
When the Chairman of the committee placed the motion before the Assembly, TE David Coffin of Fairfax, VA made a motion to refer the matter back to committee with instructions to clarify the matter due to the fact that written differences could turn out to be very lengthy and that we not want Presbytery minutes and General Assembly reports to be overturned with such excessive language.
TE Clements argued against the motion, stating that it was an essential part of the original compromise and that the language was making clear that the differences must be in the words of the candidate – not a summary of his views made by the Clerk of Presbytery or some other party in preparing the minutes. Mr. Coffin’s motion to refer lost on a show of hands vote.
An amendment was offered by TE Jonathan Inman of Asheville, NC offered an amendment to the motion to add additional language to include not just candidates for the ministry, but also candidates for licensure. This amendment was sent to the Constitutional Business Committee to clarify if that recommended change was proper (CBC always is asked to rule on issues of changes to the constitution).
Late in the afternoon the CBC reported that the proposed amendment was out of order, and the Assembly voted to approve the motion as initially presented by the committee.
The second item from the Review of Presbytery Report will be the subject of an additional story.