Overture 21 is an attempt to satisfy the objections of last year’s Overture 8 thus enabling additional presbyteries to vote in favor to receive the 2/3 required. Overture 22 is a bit technical, but this overture is constructed in such a manner that there are no loopholes; the only thing it allows for is a minority report from the CCB on the reviewed minutes of the SJC in matters of procedural error, and that alone!
As the moderator of the session (First Presbyterian Church of Montgomery, AL), placing Overture 21 and Overture 22 before the Presbyterian Church in America’s (PCA) 50th general assembly, I thought it might be helpful if I offered our fathers and brothers some of the rationale behind our session’s recommendation of these overtures. My comments are organized around two main points: 1) why the lack of Presbytery support, and 2) why vote yes anyway.
Why the Lack of Presbytery Support
As mentioned to me at last week’s Review of Presbytery Records (RPR) Committee meeting, Southeast Alabama Presbytery (SEAL) is respected and admired for its history of wisdom and stability in affirmation of both PCA doctrine and practice. As an adopted son of the PCA (since Sept. ’08), I affirm with hearty gratitude and rejoicing that this reputation continues among the fathers and brothers that make up SEAL today. With some hesitancy then, I offer the following opinions as to why SEAL did not support these overtures, and why our Session thought it wise to forward them to PCAGA50, nevertheless. The following are based on my recollection of the deliberation at our presbytery’s meeting on March 7, 2023 (hosted at our church facility).
This overture is in effect a replacement for PCAGA49’s Overture 8 which barely failed the 2/3 majority presbytery vote this past year. Overture 21 is an attempt to make the provisions of this prior overture palatable to enough additional presbyteries that it passes the 2/3 requirement (see further, below).
At the SEAL March 7, 2023, called meeting, the main argument offered against Overture 21 was that it would result in too much intrusiveness into the ministry of teaching elders (TEs). The argument was made that O21 would make it easier for ‘charges’ to be brought against a TE.
Agreeing that nuisance charges are unhelpful and contrary to Presbyterianism, our session disagrees with this opinion. Note that some presbyteries, agreeing with the need for clarification on a better definition for “refuses to act” (BCO 34-1; see O2023-21 p. 2.19-24), expressly voted against last year’s Overture 8 (Item 7 before the presbyteries this last cycle) because they believed that its proposed change of the threshold to 10% of presbyteries requesting original jurisdiction was too high! Furthermore, in the history of the Standing Judicial Commission (SJC), the current standard of two presbyteries has not resulted in the SJC assuming original jurisdiction over a case. Noting that SEAL overwhelming voted to approve last year’s Overture 8, we respectfully believe that they got the vote on our session’s replacement proposal wrong.
A secondary argument against Overture 21 was that the 1/3 SJC signature provision (p. 2.12) might be deemed unconstitutional. The Committee on Constitutional Business having vetted Overture 21 negates that concern.
Thus, with respect, our session thinks SEAL should have approved of sending Overture 21 up to PCAGA50.
This overture arose in response to last year’s ruling from the chair that a minority report from the Committee on Constitutional Business (CCB) was out of order. Our session sees Overture 22 as a companion to Overture 21. It also serves the goal of strengthening the functioning of the SJC (see further, below).
At the SEAL meeting on March 7, 2023, the arguments offered were in effect the same as those offered at PCAGA49 defending the chair’s ruling, to wit: the CCB is merely a review of procedural constitutionality, and therefore it is improper for minority reports to arise from its work.
Why didn’t this pass our Presbytery? Our Presbytery is a strong supporter of proper procedures being followed in our courts. As PCAGA49 declined to allow minority reports from the CCB, the sense among the elders at SEAL’s March meeting was that it was proper to vote against this overture as well.
Why does our session disagree with our fathers and brothers? Quite simply, while we agree that the PCAGA49 chair got this decision right, there is nevertheless the need for a minority report procedure from CCB, when there is an egregious procedural failure in the SJC. Agreeing with our fathers’ and brothers’ sentiments to protect procedures, we believe Overture 22 actually supports that conviction and protects the SJC’s processes when there is such a procedural error.