Wednesday, November 26th, 2014
The Layman Online > 2014 General Assembly (PCUSA) > Calling their bluff – with the hope of keeping the General Assembly from erring

Calling their bluff – with the hope of keeping the General Assembly from erring

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Committee members vote against spending 20 minutes reading Scripture, before beginning discussion on the various business items dealing with same-sex marriage. The vote failed 22-39.

When the Advisory Committee on the Constitution advised the Moderator of the Committee on Civil Unions and Marriage of the 221 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA), the ACC erred. The ACC said that a commissioner’s Point of Order was out of order because, they said, the Book of Order trumps Robert’s Rules. I’m calling their bluff.

Following their logic, if the Book of Order trumps Robert’s Rules then

the Book of Confessions trumps the Book of Order and

Scripture trumps them all.

But the Scriptures were not read.

Here’s what happened:

In the Civil Union and Marriage committee of the General Assembly of the PCUSA, a commissioner made a motion to approve an Authoritative Interpretation of the Constitution that “permits teaching elders to participate in any such legal marriage they believe the Holy Spirit calls them to perform.”  Translated that means same sex weddings.

Knowing that an AI cannot interpret a portion of the Book of Order whose language is clear and unambiguous in a manner that reverses and redefines the plain and ordinary meaning of the words, a commissioner rose to raise a point of order.

He was wondering how the committee could do what it was being asked to do. How could the committee recommend to the GA the approval of an AI that is contrary to the plain meaning of the words contained in the section of the Constitution in question (W-4.900)

The committee moderator turned for advice and the counsel he received was that in this case, the Book of Order trumps Robert’s Rules. But no one asked how or where exactly the Book of Order trumps Robert’s Rules.

So, I’m asking now. ACC, please show your hand.

To play a trump, you must have a trump to play. But when you look closely, you will see their bluff.

Nowhere does the constitution of the PCUSA say that an express contradiction is allowed. And nowhere does the Constitution of the PCUSA permit contradictory interpretations to be “interpretations.”  In fact, the official advice of the ACC posted on pc-biz reads:

This overture proposes an authoritative interpretation which would allow the exercise of pastoral discretion and freedom of conscience in conducting a marriage service for any couple as permitted by the “laws of the place where the couple seeks to be married.” It suggests an interpretation contrary to the clear statement of W-4.9000.

Section W-4.9001 and related citations (W-4.9002a, W-4.9004, W-4.9006) limit marriage to couples who are “a woman and a man.” Because these statements are clear and unambiguous, they can not be interpreted in a manner that is inconsistent with their plain and ordinary meaning.

The Book of Order is not based upon state and civil law, but the church’s understanding of Scripture and Reformed theology. As noted in Southard v Presbytery of Boston (GAPJC 2012, 220-02), “While the PCUSA is free to amend its definition of marriage, a change in state law does not amend the Book of Order.”

Freedom of conscience is a foundational principle of the PC(USA) (G-2.0105) but must be exercised within certain bounds. The exercise of freedom of conscience in and of itself is not necessarily a violation of polity or an obstruction of constitutional governance. Such freedom of conscience, however, is not freedom of action. All persons in ordered ministry have a duty to fulfill constitutionally mandated responsibilities.

If it is the will of the assembly to change the definition of marriage, such a change is better accomplished by amendment of W-4.9000 rather than by authoritative interpretation.

The advice offered to the committee seems to rely on the language from G-3.0103 in a way that attempts to dismiss the issue, but that too is a bluff.

Certainly there are places in the Confessions of the church where conflicting statements exist, but there is no conflict on the matter of marriage. In every place that the Book of Confessions speaks about marriage, the voice of the Church is strikingly clear and unambiguous. The Book of Order builds upon the theology expressed in the Confessions. Furthermore, the Book of Order states clearly that we cannot dismiss or ignore the Book of Confessions (F-2.02).

So, what exactly is going on?  If the assembly votes to issue an AI allowing for something the Scriptures, Confessions and Book of Order expressly prohibit, then the Assembly itself needs to be called out of order. But by whom, as the GA is not subject to anyone’s review; save God.  The only recourse would be reversal of the decision by a subsequent Assembly — which could not happen until at least 2016.

This is a moment of constitutional and confessional crisis for the PCUSA. If the Assembly proceeds down the path of allowing consideration and ultimately passing an Authoritative Interpretation of the Constitution that creates an express contradiction, the Assembly will be willfully disregarding its own constitution. How are we functionally a constitutionally formed people if we no longer live within our mutually agreed upon constitution?  The definition of that reality is anarchy which is inherently indecent and out of order.

 

About the author: Carmen Fowler LaBerge

Carmen Fowler LaBerge heads the ministry of the Presbyterian Lay Committee as its President and Executive Editor of its publications, including The Layman.

29 comments

  1. Ken Jones says:

    The battle has been lost in the PCUSA. So vote with your feet and go elsewhere if you take the word of God seriously.

  2. Pam Beattie says:

    Sounds as real as Harry Potter. Live and let live. Don’y hold your breath while you wait for Jesus.

  3. Dave says:

    This article is almost a Saturday Night Live skit. The process is such a joke! Attending GA is what led me out of the PCUSA. Carmen, report on something related to the actual Gospel. Let the dead bury the dead.

  4. James Cramer says:

    Spiritual zombies have done as some of us warned 40 years ago. Chanting “tolerance, inclusiveness & diversity”, and waving a banner proclaiming “social justice”, they have eaten away the heart and mind of a once great Reformation Church and left a hollow cult, no longer able to claim the Name of Jesus Christ and doomed to withering into dust and ashes when He returns. Sadness is profound; but we who mourn will certainly be comforted, as He promised.

  5. John Tate says:

    I am so glad we have dis-associated ourselves from PCUSA and Gone to ECO where the Bible still has SUPREME authority!

  6. James J. Grimes says:

    The PCUSA has descended so far into apostasy that there will be no way to reverse course. I thank God that there are denominations – the OPC and the PCA, who still believe that the Bible is the absolute and inerrant Word of God.

  7. Karen says:

    Romans 1:
    21. They knew God. But they didn’t honor him as God. They didn’t thank him. Their thinking became worthless. Their foolish hearts became dark.
    22. They claimed to be wise. But they made fools of themselves.
    24. So God let them go. He allowed them to do what their sinful hearts wanted to.
    25. They chose a lie instead of God’s truth. They worshiped and served created things.
    26. So God let them go. They were filled with shameful longings.
    28. They didn’t think it was important to know God. So God let them go.
    31. They are foolish. They can’t be trusted.
    32. They know that God’s commands are right. They know that those who do evil things should die. But they continue to do those very things. They also approve of others who do them.

    Do Not Be Joined to Unbelievers
    Bible believers cannot and should not try to be united “as one”, with Bible non-believers.

    2 Corinthians 6:14-18
    14. Do not be joined to unbelievers. What do right and wrong have in common? Can light and darkness be friends?
    15. How can Christ and Satan agree? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever?
    16. How can the temple of the true God and the statues of other gods agree? We are the temple of the living God. God has said, “I will live with them. I will walk among them. I will be their God. And they will be my people.”
    17. “So come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch anything that is not pure and clean. Then I will receive you.”
    18. “I will be your Father. You will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord who rules over all.”

  8. Gary Sweeten says:

    Is the evangelism consultant Dr. Jack Kevorkian? The approach is definitely suicidal for those who refuse to check with scripture.

  9. Judith Hall says:

    We (Presbyterians), need to take a close look at other Churches. They are growing we (The Presbyterian Church) is fading away.
    It won’t be long and our fight will be over because all of our Gays, Transgendered and supporters of those folks will go to other Churches. We can play on words, we can do all that we want to do to stop same sex marriage, but it is happening and it will continue as long as there are Gay folks in the world. Remove the Gay Musicians from the Church and the music will stop guess why!!!!

    • Greg Watson says:

      Denominations which support same sex couplehood are not growing. Even if they were that would not be a reason to follow their lead with regard same sex marriage. Our standard for what is right is faithfulness to orthodoxy, not following secular trends.

    • Mark Cook says:

      so your argument is that we need to be of the world not just in it…….go ahead and leave your Bible at the door, you no longer need it.

    • Gayle says:

      It is not the gays that are leaving the PCUSA…it is true believers that do not want to be a part of offending God. PCUSA will not survive like this. Just read how many churches have already left.

    • Yeah, I’d go ask the UCC and the Episcopal Church how much they have grown by authorizing same sex marriages or blessings.

      Oh wait, they haven’t ..

  10. Stuart Bain says:

    The Book of Order DOES trump Robert’s Rules; however, the Point of Order is the correct mechanic to use whenever ANY rule is broken, not just Robert’s Rules. In this case, the committee is doing something they can’t do: violating the “bylaws” of the organization without amending it in the proper manner. The point of order needs to be re-raised, and if the moderator rules the point of order to be “not well found” for any reason, that ruling should be appealed to the assembly.

    • The commissioner raised the point of order both in committee, and on the plenary floor.

      It appears that the Head of the ACC (although the person claims to be a parliamentarian), the Stated Clerk, and the Moderator had no clue about what the commissioner was actually making the point of order on. When the commissioner tried to clarify and get another ruling, he was told that the ruling must stand. The decision to ask for a floor vote may not have won the commissioner any friends, and may have pushed the point too far, but his convictions on this point were firm. It appears that about a hundred or so commissioners understood the issue, none of the rest did.

      The General Assembly violated Roberts Rules in bringing this up for a motion, and since it was pass, RRO says that such a motion is null and void.

      Only a parliamentarian will agree with that, not the PC(USA). As the commissioner said to someone else, “the fix was in”.

      Finally, by passing the AI, and not doing anything to correct the “Tension” or (as the ACC said in its comments) “an interpretation contrary to the clear statement of W-4.9000″, the General Assembly has violated the Book of Order’s F-3.03 which says “Where there are tensions and ambiguities between provisions, it is the task of councils and judicial commissions to resolve them in such a way as to give effect to all provisions.”

      • Oh … as far as the BoO trumping Robert’s Rules, here’s what the BoO has to say:

        G-3.0105 Meetings
        Meetings of councils shall be opened and closed with prayer.a Meetings shall be conducted
        in accordance with the most recent edition of Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised,
        except when it is in contradiction to this Constitution.

        I’m not sure where Robert’s Rules would have a contradiction to the Constitution, there was not one in this case.

  11. Jim says:

    Precisely! This would be analogous to the US Supreme Court interpreting the constitution to allow states to regulate interstate commerce. This is expressly disallowed in the constitution and there is no room for any other interpretation. This is just another chapter from the liberal play book – by whatever means necessary.

  12. Matt Hilgaertner says:

    I would be very interested in hearing a calm, sound, reasoned explanation or response to this article from someone with a liberal/progressive viewpoint.

    • R KELLY says:

      Just exactly what is not “calm – sound – reasoned” – about Carmen’s article? Why don’t you offer the liberal/progressive view. You certainly imply that the lib/prog baloney is the view you prefer.

      • Martha Leatherman says:

        I think what I hear Matt Hightower asking is for a liberal/progressive to try to defend this action by the GA without resorting to the usual liberal tactics of emotionally driven rhetoric, name calling, and straw men. Is there a rational legal explanation that has any merit?

      • Martha Leatherman says:

        Sorry–my computer auto corrected–I meant Matt Hilgaertner.

  13. Steve Jones says:

    Long-time observers of the PCUSA’s word games will recognize a similar ploy from 2006: http://www.curmudgeons-progress.com/pcusa/pcusa-word-games-part-3/

  14. This is pretty much exactly what I’ve protested on the floor of the Presbytery of Southern New England when the overture for this AI first reared its disingenuous head. “This overture should have been ruled out of order and never have come to the floor for a vote. Those proposing this overture should have been directed to pursue the process to overture for a change in wording of the Book of Order (that is, to replace “man and woman” with “two people”), rather than that of an ‘authoritative interpretation.’ However, as (rather cynically) stated by [a moderator of one of the churches moving the overture], the first process “takes too long.” W-4.9000 (9001-9006) clearly states eight times (three times in the opening paragraph) that Christian marriage is between a man and a woman (or, husband and wife). Requesting General Assembly to authoritatively interpret that ‘a man and a woman’ means ‘two people’ is linguistically ignorant at best and intentionally disingenuous at worst. Such deliberate functional illiteracy strikes me as contemptuous of our constitutional standards and does nothing to engender my trust in the integrity of those endorsing such manipulation of language.”

  15. Joseph LaBerge... says:

    It may be necessary to remind them that although… for the moment our President is doing the same kind of rewriting rules… that too will fail… If however we obey the scriptures we are supposed to adhere to and represent the Body of Christ… would we not therefore… ” do everything to the Glory of YHWH…. doubtful of misinterpretation. Let’s hold what we do and believe up to that light… Shalom

  16. Greg Watson says:

    Advocates of gay marriage within the PCUSA seem to circumvent or employ the constitution as it suits their aims. They become constitutional liberals in avoiding clear language on marriage and purists when enforcing the church property clause of the constitution.

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