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Gallery Packed at PCUSA Polity Panel's Meeting

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    CALLED OUT INFORMATION SERVICE From the PCUSA News Service. ... June 17, 2002 Gallery Packed at Polity Panel s Meeting Supermajority measures, Christ Church
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 18, 2002
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      CALLED OUT INFORMATION SERVICE

      From the PCUSA News Service.

      -----------

      June 17, 2002
      Gallery Packed at Polity Panel's Meeting
      'Supermajority' measures, Christ Church overture stir passions
      by John Filiatreau


      COLUMBUS, OH - The Assembly Committee on Church Polity got an earful
      from advocates and opponents of several controversial measures during
      a hearing on Monday, June 17.

      A standing-room-only crowd gathered for debates on a set of measures
      that would make it harder to amend the Book of Order of the
      Presbyterian Church (USA), and an overture by which a presbytery in
      Pennsylvania means to force a presbytery in New England to take
      action against an allegedly defiant church session.

      One overture on constitutional change would require a two-thirds vote
      of the General Assembly to forward proposed amendments to the
      denomination's 173 presbyteries for approval. Another would require a
      two-thirds vote of the presbyteries, rather than a simple majority,
      to enact amendments to the Book of Order.

      Two other overtures would require two-thirds votes at every stage of
      the amendment process, while still another would permit proposals to
      amend the Book of Order and the Book of Confessions only every fifth
      year. (Amending the Book of Confessions already requires a two-thirds
      majority of presbyteries.)

      These measures are known collectively as the "supermajority"
      overtures.

      The other overture attracting "supermajority" interest, submitted by
      Shenango Presbytery in Pennsylvania, would have the GA intervene in a
      case in the Presbytery of Northern New England (PNNE) by declaring
      "inadequate" a Vermont congregation's compliance with a two-year-old
      Permanent Judicial Commission decision.

      Shenango wants the GA to require the Synod of the Northeast to order
      PNNE to create an administrative commission to "assist" the session
      of Christ Church of Burlington, VT, in complying with the
      constitutional provision (G-6.0106.b) that forbids the ordination of
      sexually active gays and lesbians. The provision has been upheld
      three times in votes of PC(USA) presbyteries.

      On June 2, the session of Christ Church issued a statement advising
      the presbytery that it had "set aside" the resolution of dissent it
      adopted four years ago, in an effort to "clarify and strengthen our
      statement of present conviction." Conservatives argue that "set
      aside" and "rescind" may not be the same.

      During Monday's hearing, Mike Becker, a commissioned lay pastor from
      Wabash Valley Presbytery, appeared before the committee to speak in
      favor of the "supermajority" measures. He pointed out that the U.S.
      Constitution has been amended relatively few times, while the
      Presbyterian constitution "is amended 200 times every 30 years," with
      the result that it's a growing volume that must be republished every
      year, while "you can still mail the U.S. Constitution with a single
      U.S. stamp."

      An opponent of the measures pointed out that "in recent decades
      absolutely nothing has been passed (by the presbyteries) by this
      supermajority, with the exception of reunion." Among the measures
      passed by narrower margins, she said, were those that invited women
      and people of color into the full life of the church. "If this rule
      had been on the books, you might not be here right now," she said.

      Kent Grimes, an elder from the Presbytery of Memphis who favors the
      amendments, pointed out that it takes two-thirds votes of both houses
      of Congress to amend the U.S. Constitution. However, he said
      two-thirds is "too super of a majority" for Presbyterians; he urged
      the committee to consider recommending 60 percent.

      A Mississippi elder, invoking the memory of literacy tests for voters
      in the Deep South ("some asked to spell 'chrysanthemum' and others
      asked to spell 'dog'"), said, "Let us not raise the bar when our
      denomination is divided, when one side is holding sway."

      Jim Colby of Newcastle Presbytery said: "Our votes are always close.
      �This is an attempt to lock in a provision added to the Book of Order
      by very small majority." He said the denomination "is weary of
      dealing with G-6.0106.b, and wants to make it difficult to remove or
      even to debate controversial provisions" in the constitution. He
      noted that G-6.0106.b "did not itself pass by the suggested
      majority."

      Regarding the Shenango overture, the Rev. Phil Moran from Boise
      Presbytery, who opposes it, said: "Our constitution is not based on
      the power of coercion; it's a covenant that we share together. The
      constitution is not God's law, it's human law, and that covenant
      protects all of us."

      Earl Arnold, the stated clerk of Cayuga-Syracuse Presbytery, argued,
      "Our best process is to deal with matters like this � at the lowest
      possible level of middle governing bodies." He added, "None of our
      churches appreciate it � when they are instructed about what to do or
      not to do by someone they don't know."

      The Rev. Tim Hart-Anderson of Twin Cities Area Presbytery told the
      committee: "The question is whether the presbytery has complied with
      that order (from the Permanent Judicial Commission) that it engage in
      'pastoral counseling' with Christ Church." If the GA passes
      Shenango's overture, he said, it will "come across as a bully, not as
      a connectional church, not as a caring church." He pointed out that
      "'enforce' is kind of a police kind of word."

      One advocate of the measure pointed out, "There are many
      churches besides Christ Church that are issuing statements of
      defiance� There is an alternative: We do nothing. That might seem
      attractive, but I can tell you, that's no solution."

      Don Wick, a Boston pastor, said: "I know many members of
      Christ Church, and they are people committed to Christ, just like all
      of us are. � This is a presbytery that did respond pastorally (as
      instructed). � Hours and hours and hours have been spent in trying to
      bring about peace and unity. � I appreciate Shenango's concern, but I
      have to say it's not their business."

      Janet Wilson, the stated clerk of Chicago Presbytery, said:
      "This measure would order the synod to order the presbytery to form
      an administrative commission to order the congregation to rescind its
      statement." She said the Presbyterian way is not "that we order each
      other, but that we cooperate."

      Richard Wyatt, the general presbyter of Northern New England,
      said the overture would be "an injustice to the Presbytery of
      Northern New England." He pointed out that the PJC "did not order NNE
      to punish Christ Church, but to work pastorally with Christ Church."
      And he said the Christ Church congregation's response has been "a
      deliberate, careful rethinking � a remarkable process, a process to
      be commended, not condemned."

      Doug Pratt of Pittsburgh warned that the denomination's
      failure to enforce church judicial decisions may make it financially
      liable. "Courts and judges and juries are finding that policies on
      the books that are not consistently enforced are the same as having
      no policies," he said.

      John Buchanan, the pastor of Fourth Presbyterian Church in
      Chicago, who was moderator of the 208th Assembly, which approved
      G-6.0106.b, pointed out that it was passed "by less than a two-thirds
      majority," and said Presbyterian polity must not deprive minorities
      of hope that "they may one day change the opinion of the majority."

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