From a practical standpoint, the onerous duties of the Stated Clerk would seem to be enough for any one man. From an appearance standpoint, serving on the 24-man judicial commission and as Stated Clerk would seem to lodge undue denominational power with one man.
Dr. Bryan Chapell, recently-elected Stated Clerk of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), is a respected churchman with a sterling reputation, which is why he should immediately do two things: resign from the Standing Judicial Commission (SJC) and disavow the secretive political organizing group, the National Partnership, which has claimed him as a member and an ally.
The Stated Clerk of the PCA has “no special role as spiritual leader or teacher to the denomination” (BCO 3-2 b), but does possess considerable influence and power by virtue of his duties. He routes overtures to committees as he deems appropriate, arranges the docket of the General Assembly, makes or directs most of the public communications of the PCA, and is the chief administrative officer of the Administrative Committee of the General Assembly—the committee that sets the agenda of the PCA more than any other. He also gives advice to the innumerable questions posed to him and his office, and renders non-binding opinions as called upon, some of which are related to judicial or discipline matters.
Because of the power described and duties outlined above, he should resign from the SJC, the denomination’s highest court of appeal.
From a practical standpoint, the onerous duties of the Stated Clerk would seem to be enough for any one man. From an appearance standpoint, serving on the 24-man judicial commission and as Stated Clerk would seem to lodge undue denominational power with one man. Also, the SJC is a commission of the General Assembly, of which the Stated Clerk is parliamentarian and for which he sets the docket. While actual conflict of interest might rarely exist, apparent conflicts are easy to imagine at a time of great division and controversy in the denomination. It is fair to ask if the attention generated by SJC service (Dr. Chapell voted in the recent controversial case involving teaching elder Greg Johnson and Missouri Presbytery) is something a Stated Clerk should prudently avoid.
While the Book of Church Order does not prohibit the Stated Clerk from serving on the SJC, wisdom and precedent suggest stepping down is the right thing to do. Retired Stated Clerk Roy Taylor had just begun a second term on the SJC in 1997 when he was nominated for Stated Clerk. He resigned his SJC post even before being elected as Stated Clerk in 1998.
Besides resigning from the SJC for the reasons listed above, Dr. Chapell should also make clear his past and current relationship (if any) with the secretive political group, the National Partnership. Recently disclosed emails (seen by hundreds if not thousands and now well and truly in the public domain) reveal that Dr. Chapell was considered a member (at least by National Partnership leaders) and an ally. He was referred to as an “NP member” in 2014 and his SJC nomination was supported. He was thanked for “not wait(ing) the extra second to hear calls for ‘division’” in his role as General Assembly moderator in 2014 as well. Apparently, this was considered a helpful parliamentary maneuver by the National Partnership. If his seeming membership in the National Partnership had been generally known at the time one wonders how others might have viewed his moderator performance.
If Dr. Chapell has cut all ties with the National Partnership, well and good. A public statement to that effect would be wise. It would be helpful to know when he cut those ties with the group and why he did so. Disavowing any relationship to the National Partnership, and secret political groups more generally, would certainly increase confidence in his ability to serve as a Stated Clerk for the entire PCA.
Charles Inverness is a member of the Presbyterian Church in America and serves as a ruling elder in a congregation in Tennessee.