Wasn’t one of the reasons for leaving the PCUS (UPC, PCUSA for some of us) because the other side had secured all the political (committee) power – and then used that to squash the ability of “our” side to even debate matters!? I can’t help but wonder, how was the behavior at this GA from the one side any different than that which drove our fathers all out to form the PCA in the first place? One side, rather clumsily, tried to follow the procedures to at least be heard. The other side, much more effectively (think pro-football team playing against a beer-belly team), used the same procedures to squash any reasonable discussion whatsoever.
Reflecting on how this GA went, one friend observed that in the PCA we use procedure to squash discussion. Whether that was the intention or not, from what I saw at this GA, his observation is right on the money.
I understand we need procedures to effectively function. I realize that the sheer number of commissioners at GA presents a challenge to having reasonable discussion on matters. I understand that the Rules of Assembly Operation have been compiled to make things both fair and effective for all voices. I appreciate that Roberts Rules of Order provide a means for even the strongest of opponents to disagree with one another and remain civil and committed to one another in Christian love.
Yet … it looks more and more like our polity has devolved into nothing more than crass politics. This GA had all the appearances of two parties, both with their positions mapped out ahead of time, trying to use the process to achieve their own ends. And, at least from my perspective, it didn’t look an awful lot like one side wanted to actually consider what the other side had to say. In fact, I got the distinct impression that one side came with one grand agenda item in view: squash the other side’s dissent.
As I have no first hand evidence of the plans of either side, I’ll leave my speculations at the level of appearances. Still, even at this level, things were not good at GA. I’m not imputing motives to anyone. And at the same time, I was offered little by way of explanation of motives. I’m not the most informed guy, believe it or not. And it would have helped immensely if men from the one side would have respected men like me enough to give us a clearer presentation of their reasons for proposing actions that effectively squashed the debate from the other side.
One egregious example was over a recommendation from the Nominations Committee regarding what to do in the event that a Teaching Elder and a Ruling Elder from the same Presbytery were each nominated for the same committee. The rules won’t allow both to be elected to the same committee (i.e., an effort to make sure a presbytery does not have too much influence on a committee?). The practice (precedent) of previous GA’s is to take up the election of the TE first. If he gets elected, this automatically disqualifies the RE. A recommendation (purportedly) came from the Nominating Committee to swap this order, to take up the election of the RE first.
My question is why? Why change the current practice of taking up the TE election first? I’ve gone over the Nominating Committee Minutes and I cannot find anything on this recommendation (I did not see anything in the floor minutes either). It was not a motion from this Committee, for sure.
So why the recommendation? Was the recommendation from the whole committee? If so, why did they not simply present it as an actual motion? If it was just a recommendation from some on the committee, why did they propose it? What were they thinking? Understanding their reasons for the recommendation sure would have made it easier for me to make an informed conscientious decision with my vote; something I am accountable before God to do!
Was the reason because of some appearance of unfairness to Ruling Elders? If so, then why wasn’t that voiced? More importantly, if this was the motive, then TE David Coffin’s motion (a coin toss each time) would actually have positively addressed that, securing a visible fairness. I really appreciated one brother’s perfection of Coffin’s motion, adding biblical reasoning to it. If this was the reason, then why didn’t the other side support the motion? (It was obvious from the jumbotron that they did not support his motion.)
Why the numerous “points of order,” parliamentary procedural objections from those who supported the recommendation? We spent at least an hour on this subject, mostly on parliamentary maneuvering. Would that one of them, any single one of them, had spoken to why he wanted to change the precedent, I might very well have agreed with him. But, crickets chirping …
One opinion from some was that the reason for the recommendation was nothing more than a parliamentary maneuver to stop TE Dominic Aquila from being reelected to the Standing Judicial Commission. A RE from his presbytery (Rocky Mountain) was also nominated for the SJC. Others better informed than me believe that this RE’s nomination was part of an intentional process by one side to run candidates opposed to the other side. If this precedent of voting on TE nominations first was reversed (taking the RE nomination first) and this RE was elected to the SJC, that would have effectively eliminated TE Aquila from even being able to stand for election.
In others words, the appearance is that one side wanted to change the procedure here for nothing more than a political power purpose. I’m not saying that WAS the motive. I am only saying that this is the appearance, and that the lack of explanation why IS NOT encouraging. No lecturing me on assuming the best about my brothers. I am. And I’m troubled as to why they seemed unwilling to behave in a manner that was transparent, leaving no judicious reason to question him (cf., 1Ti 3:2, Tit 1:6-7, and the qualification to be above reproach; Php 2:15, 2Pe 3:14).
Don’t misunderstand me here. I’m not debating the relative merit of one side’s positions vs. the other’s. I am questioning the use of what appears to be rank political manipulation to achieve one’s ends. Any explanation as to why the desire to change the procedure would have been better than what was (not) offered. And if the appearance was reality there would have been more integrity in a frank acknowledgment that at least one reason for the change in process was to attempt to stop confessional men like TE Aquila from getting back on the SJC. At least such transparency would encourage biblically-based trust in my brothers.
As it is, I watched men push and push, for about an hour, trying all the tricks possible to secure a change in this procedure. In the end I voted for Coffin’s perfected motion, as I could see the possibility of at least the appearance of unfairness to REs (i.e., even though this was never voiced, I was willing to act on an assumption of the best). When that motion was defeated I then had no good reason to vote to change the current practice. And a majority of Commissioners saw likewise on this one. Still, an hour or so of what appeared to be nothing more than rank political maneuvering, without one offering of justification for the change, left me with the distinct impression that I was being manipulated by one side.
Two final thoughts here. First, my wife graciously joined me at this GA. She joined me for one the business sessions. She spent about an hour trying to follow what was going on with one motion. After a plethora (a mass, an overabundance, a superfluity, a whole gobbling throat-choking mouthful!) of “point of order” procedural challenges, she got hopelessly lost. To her, it looked like nothing more than political manipulation, like the worst seen in the halls of any secular governing body. I found it hard to offer a defense of my fathers and brothers for what looked like ungodly behavior.
Lastly, wasn’t one of the reasons for leaving the PCUS (UPC, PCUSA for some of us) because the other side had secured all the political (committee) power – and then used that to squash the ability of “our” side to even debate matters!? I can’t help but wonder, how was the behavior at this GA from the one side any different than that which drove our fathers all out to form the PCA in the first place? One side, rather clumsily, tried to follow the procedures to at least be heard. The other side, much more effectively (think pro-football team playing against a beer-belly team), used the same procedures to squash any reasonable discussion whatsoever.
So, given how this all went down, given the rather across the board effectiveness of one side squashing the debate from the other side, how is this any different than the political manipulation used in the PCUS? And if the rank political manipulation used there lacked any integrity, then why should we not be concerned about the sense of déjà vu now?
Reed DePace is a Teaching Elder in the Presbyterian Church in America and serves as Pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Montgomery, Alabama. This article first appeared on Green Baggins and is used with permission.