Moving Forward in the PCA
It remains to be seen whether the unity displayed at this year's General Assembly represents an ecouraging trend or something fleeting. There are times when I wonder whether our differences are largely pragmatic or whether they represent something more fundamental. If our differences are more pragmatic then a greater unity is quite possible. However, if our differences are deep and fundamental in nature then such unity may well be beyond our reach. I am praying for the former.
I chose to not attend General Assembly this year since my beloved congregation graciously gave me a sabbatical. But I did watch rather closely through some of the means made available to the various debates and votes.
For the most part I was left encouraged by the reports coming from GA. Of particular interest were the votes on overtures 13 and 24. I am thankful that a version of overture 24 was approved overwhelmingly by the assembly and that overture 13 was not sustained. These are good signs. In my previous post some of the details concerning the approval of overture 24 were either incomplete or not accurate. So, let me offer an insider’s view of the process…
These Are My Recollections from inside the committee for the curious, A more general account of the whole process I am sharing elsewhere, but this is for the procedural-minded (I hope this can help inform on questions some have asked):
After the Assembly sent the Overtures Committee back, the debate was started by a motion that the Minority Report become the majority recommendation of the committee. (Later RE Howie Donohoe would insist we also must "vote to reconsider," though some of us believed the action of the assembly did this, we voted on that to make sure we were doing everything according to procedure.) Debate ensued with a few people formerly in opposition voicing support to Overture 24 if it was cut down to 59-1, 59-2, and 59-3. But a few men voiced continued opposition due to the content of 59-1 and 59-2. One elder objected that the language of 59-1 was perhaps not sufficient for civil disobedience. Another elder objected to 59-2 for its assumption that Reformed ministers would necessarily be performing marriages (as in our tradition some have said the church should not perform weddings, the civil government only should). It seemed like they would be in the minority to vote against it, but still a significant minority.
At this juncture, TE James Kessler introduced a substitute limiting the constitutional status just to 59-3, and retaining all the old language of the rest of the Chapter. This was attractive to many who had wanted to retain the old language because it was historic and had been useful to them. RE Melton L. Duncan and TE Guy Waters spoke in favor of it.
A few members, including myself, still had opposition. I voiced opposition to making just 59-3 constitutional because 59-1 as binding had use for religious liberty and civil disobedience reasons. 59-2 was also useful as binding due to the instructions on not marrying those unequally yoked. And finally, those instructions in the BCO would be important even if these are in the Westminster Confession of Faith, because the BCO gives us our PRACTICE, and 59-3 at the time only concerns belief (59-3 was merely a restatement of the WCF).
A final motion was made to amend 59-3 by TE Daniel Schrock, adding the line about restricting the practice of ministers who marry. (he deftly worded it as “minister who solemnize marriage” so as to allow that we may have ministers who refuse to perform weddings)
A short time of discussion followed, but soon TE David Hall called all questions before the house. We voted. The amendment about the practice of ministers passed. Then the vote to make the substitute the main motion passed. (at this point I voted yes, with the addition of the sentence of practice and having been convinced by the speech of TE Sam DeSocio that this was not only what could pass on the floor, but also presbyteries, and could be our overwhelming recommendation to the Assembly). The Substitute of the now revised 59-3 became the main motion and the vote was 104-1-1. One other note: without revealing identities, I knew the man voting against it, and he formerly supported the Minority Report, so I assume voted against the final because he did not believe 59-3 was enough.
To close the session, it was suggested and agreed we should sing the doxology. Another note, there exists a man on Overtures with perfect harmony to the doxology that is indeed goose-bump producing. This is not exhaustive, but as well as I can remember.
The overwhelming vote on overture 24 is something for which we should be encouraged. Now, why so many of the commissioners chose not to vote I cannot say. But that is disconcerting. Commissioners to GA need to be present for votes. Period. But I rejoice that we can say as a denomination that there is no move to create a path toward the solemnization of homosexual marriage.
This is worth giving thanks for. And I thank everyone of the brothers who labored in Overtures to give us something that is truly helpful and unifying.
I would encourage you to read Rick Phillips’ reflections on this year’s General Assembly.