Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Reflections on the 2009 General Assembly, III

Thursday, June 18th – the day everyone was anxiously anticipating. The docket called for the report from the Overtures Committee. The main item was the overture to appoint a study committee to report back to the assembly next year concerning the role of women. As previously noted there was a close vote to deny that request. The minority drafted its own report in favor of the study committee and after lunch this item was front and center. This report was an amended version of the original overture as submitted by the Susquehanna Valley Presbytery. Here is the amended version of that overture (text that is bold was added):

“Be it resolved that the 37th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America authorize the Moderator to appoint a study committee representing the diversity of opinion within the PCA, including up to two advisory members who may be women, to study and report to the General Assembly in the form of a pastoral letter that the General Assembly could choose to commend to the presbyteries for their study. This pastoral letter should address the following questions:

1) What sorts of roles may women fill in the life of the church that are faithful to the Scriptures?
2) What are some models of local church practices that have developed as ways of employing the gifts of women in the lives of their congregations that might be exemplary and encouraging to other local churches?
3) With respect to (1 above), what elements of organization and accountablility to ordained leadership can be commend to PCA churches that are consistent with the BCO (Book of Church Order)?”
4) Does our BCO unnecessarily hinder achieving the best utilization of the gifts of PCA women in light of the teaching of Scripture?”

NOTE: Items 2 & 4 were removed from the original overture by the minority. I cannot figure out how to do a strikethrough.

First those wishing to defeat overture 10 spoke as represented by TE David Coffin. He argued that a pastoral letter would not bring peace to the denomination for by its very nature it is nothing more than pious advice. Worse, such letters undercut the authority of Sessions and Presbyteries to interpret Scripture for themselves (people point to the pastoral letter and claim, ‘The denomination has spoken on this matter once and for all’). The minority report was presented by former moderator, E. J. Nusbaum. Speeches for and against went on for about an hour before votes were cast on the minority report (it was offered as a substitute motion and took precedence over the majority report). The minority report failed by a slim margin of 18 votes out of 950 commissioners present (Note: Over 1,100 registered so about 200 were AWOL from this debate).

I voted with the majority on this one. While there were many speeches for the minority report none were compelling. Many argued that we needed this for the peace and unity of the church because we are a divided denomination on this question. To me it sounded like they wanted peace at any cost, or at least the cost of an on-going debate. What seemed to be forgotten is that three presbyteries that are pushing the envelope on this issue have matters pending before the General Assembly. A complaint has been filed against New York Metro which will be heard by the Standing Judicial Commission this coming year. Northern California and Metro Philadelphia have been referred to the Committee on Constitutional Business for their failure to adequately respond to the Review of Presbytery of Records for the last two assemblies (I served on RPR in 2007 and 2008). How anyone can argue for peace at this moment is beyond me. One colleague who came into the PCA from the CRC says that this is like deja vu all over again.

Other people have written their opinion on the assembly: Joel Belz has posted his thoughts here.

Phil Ryken has posted his thoughts here:

Tomorrow I will post my own thoughts...


Anonymous said...

Concerning the minority report on the women-deacon issue there were two critical issues in my point of view:

1: There was this argument that a pastoral letter would be "the church speaking on the issue." A pastoral letter is what it is - a non-binding pastoral letter. The majority opinion of the committee was already "the church speaking" - at least as much as a pastoral letter would. To me it seems that the proponents of the study committee didn't like WHAT the church had to say, namely that the issue is clear and doesn't have to be studied again.

2. If the true reason for a study committee really is to EXEGETICALLY resolve the question, why would there need to be two women on it or with it? Would the exegesis be better or is there another line of motivation behind it? It might sound harsh, but in order to resolve the issue exegetically, we don't need to know how the women "feel about it." If, on the other hand, some women's feeling drive our exegesis, then why not change our epistemology from "sola scripture" to "whatever fits with people's preferences?"

For theses reasons I was quite unsure about some of the motives that drove the minority report.


Dave Sarafolean said...


Agreed. The idea of 'the church speaking' grows out of the proposed composition of the study committee -- from the various perspectives on women in the PCA. Such a committee could never be free from politics and in the end the conservatives wouldn't get all that they wanted and the progressives wouldn't be entirely happy either.

Exegetical work seemed to be beyond the scope of this committee. To have up to two women sitting on the committee to teach and advise men was troubling at best. I couldn't support it.

I am troubled by the impulse within the PCA to dialogue and make peace by consensus.

Anonymous said...


I totally agree. I wonder if it will be pushed again at the 2010 GA. It reminds me of the EU who let the Irish vote on the "European Constitution" over and over again until they finally give in. I wish we would be more like Churchill, "Never give in!"


Dave Sarafolean said...


Yes, I believe that we will be seeing this proposed again and again until a study committee is appointed. Hopefully the complaint before SJC concerning New York Metro and the CCB review of Northern California and Philadelphia will throw some cold water on this.