The 216th General Assembly (2004) has sent sixteen proposed amendments to the Book of Order to the presbyteries for their affirmative or negative votes. Presbyteries may place some or all amendments in a consent agenda or omnibus motion following the instructions in the amendments booklet. Amendments 04-B.1 and 04-B.2 may be voted on as amendment B and amendments 04-E.1a through 04-E.9 may be voted on as amendment E, but presbyteries should follow the instructions for reporting votes.
Brief pro and con arguments are given for each proposed amendment.
Amendment 04-A would allow elders who are former members of the Presbytery’s Committee on Ministry to moderate congregational meetings in churches with vacant pulpits. Such elders could not moderate congregational meetings in their own churches.
The Advisory Committee on the Constitution (ACC) had no objection. The Advocacy Committee for Racial Ethnic Concerns supported it. The Assembly Committee on Church Polity recommended approval by a vote of 57/3/0 (for/against/abstain), and the Assembly approved the committee’s recommendation.
Pro: This would allow congregations one more choice for filling this role. It would take advantage of the experience gained by elder members of committees on ministry.
Con: Experience as a member of the Committee on Ministry gives a person insights into the workings of congregations, but not necessarily expertise in moderating. Choose persons carefully with regard to the business before the congregation.
Amendment 04-B.1 would allow a presbytery to recognize as elders the lay leaders of an immigrant fellowship with roots in the Reformed tradition. This proposed amendment sprang from the experience of the Presbytery of Des Moines and the Presbytery of Missouri River Valley in partnership with their synod and the General Assembly who have shared in a ministry to Sudanese immigrants for five years. Immigrant fellowships are groups who have not been organized into churches and therefore have no sessions.
The ACC recommended disapproval. The Advocacy Committee for Racial Ethnic Concerns supported its passage. The Assembly Committee on Evangelism and Higher Education amended the proposal, and then approved it by a vote of 41/4/1. The Assembly approved the committee’s recommendation by a vote of 385/101/4.
Pro: Having immigrant fellowship elders in addition to immigrant pastors would allow their presence to be seen and heard in Presbytery and other governing bodies, enhancing diversity and inclusiveness.
Con: The ACC pointed out in part, “The foundational bases for this Constitution do not provide for the election and ordination of elders apart from the work and witness of a particular congregation….” Also, this proposal raises concerns about how individual elders serving apart from a session would govern a church. How do they resolve disagreements among themselves? Do they along with an immigrant pastor become a quasi-session? If so, why not form a real session?
Amendment 04-B.2 would allow a presbytery to grant the “designated leader(s)” of an immigrant fellowship voice and vote in the meetings of presbytery.
The ACC advised disapproval. The Advocacy Committee for Racial Ethnic Concerns supported approval. The Assembly Committee on Evangelism and Higher Education amended and then approved the proposal by a vote of 42/3/1. The Assembly approved the committee’s recommendation by a vote of 314/176/3.
Pro: The constitution already allows the presbytery to grant the minister of immigrant fellowships voice and vote. In the interest of parity, immigrant lay leaders should also have voice and vote at presbytery. This would allow a presbytery to give them “hands-on training” for being faithful presbyters.
Con: Immigrant laypersons already may attend presbytery meetings and be given voice by action of the presbytery. It would be a mistake to grant voting privileges to persons who have not subscribed to the “principles of faith, mission and order” of the Presbyterian Church (USA) as required for forming a congregation. Book of Order requirements for forming a congregation are not very demanding (see section G-7.0200), after which officer election and training may be done.
Amendment 04-C would make automatic the termination of a parish associate relationship when the pastor leaves. It would also empower the presbytery to terminate a parish associate relationship when called for by the Committee on Ministry.
The proposed amendment sprang from the request of the stated clerk of the Presbytery of Whitewater Valley. It had experienced a situation in which a session did not wish to terminate the parish associate relationship when the pulpit became vacant.
The ACC commented that the proposed language would clarify “the fate of parish associates when pastors retire or move.” The Assembly Committee on Church Orders and Ministry recommended approval by a vote of 60/3/1 and the Assembly approved the recommendation.
Pro: The parish associate serves at the pastor’s invitation and reports to the pastor. The next pastor may or may not want or need the services of the parish associate, who is to serve without undermining the effective leadership of the pastor. If the relationship turns sour, it needs to be terminated without the politicization that involving the session would bring.
Con: The parish associate sometimes is the glue that holds the congregation together when there is a major conflict in the congregation with the pastor. In cases like this, the congregation might need the parish associate in the interim between pastors.
Amendment 04-D would add a 30-day time limit for filing a challenge to the findings of the moderator and clerk of a permanent judicial commission on the jurisdictional questions regarding a complaint or appeal in a remedial case.
The proposed amendment originated with the Presbytery of San Francisco. The ACC advised approval. The Assembly Committee on Church Polity approved an alternate resolution by a vote of 58/0/0 and the Assembly approved the committee’s recommendation.
Pro: This simply provides a time limit and removes uncertainty as to when the opportunity for challenge ends.
The amendments in section 04-E emerged from the General Assembly Council’s Independent Committee of Inquiry (ICI) into allegations of sexual abuse of missionary children by mission personnel in the Congo between 1945 and 1985. The ICI found that 51 incidents of sexual abuse had been committed against 22 children and adolescents and three adults in the American Presbyterian Congo Mission of the former Presbyterian Church in the United States.
The scope and pain of this travesty of trust called for extraordinary concern and action on the part of the Church. The amendments seek to improve the disciplinary processes regarding prevention, accountability, and healing. While they may be voted on as a section, their significance and variety calls for individual consideration.
Amendment 04-E.1.a would require a minister to report to church and civil authorities knowledge of risk or harm related to sexual molestation or abuse or physical abuse of a minor or adult who lacks mental capacity under certain circumstances.
The ACC advised approval. The Assembly Committee on Church Polity recommended approval by a vote of 57/0/1, and the Assembly made a small amendment and approved the recommendation by a vote of 468/5/3.
Pro: Action is clearly called for when a pastor (or elder or deacon) learns of harm or the risk of it related to sexual or physical abuse of a child or adult who lacks mental capacity. This proposal calls for reporting while observing the parameters of confidentiality. The tough love of reporting can lead to the end of sinful behavior that damages the offender as well as the victim.
Con: This doesn’t go far enough and should allow, though not mandate, reporting even if it violates confidentiality. The ICI noted, “It is a long-standing principle of confidentiality that confidentiality is automatically waived when a person is in danger of doing harm to oneself, or of doing harm to another person.”
Amendment 04-E.1.b is identical to 04-E.1.a above, except it applies to elders. The same pro and con arguments apply.
Amendment 04-E.1.c is identical to 04-E.1.a above, except it applies to deacons. The same pro and con arguments apply.
Amendment 04-E.2 would allow a “pastoral inquiry” to be held in the event that a judicial proceeding is halted by the death of the accused or the renunciation of jurisdiction of the PC(USA) by the accused. Explanation: in the Congo case, one of the accused persons died during the judicial proceedings, halting the proceedings and leaving victims with a lack of closure. In other cases, the accused person may renounce jurisdiction of the Church, thus giving up their ordination and ending the proceedings. 04-E.2 would allow a non-judicial inquiry to proceed to seek the truth and bring closure.
The ACC advised that the amendment was unnecessary because a presbytery already has the power to do this type of inquiry through an administrative commission or the Committee on Ministry. The Assembly Committee on Church Polity recommended an alternate resolution by a vote of 53/6/0, and the Assembly approved the recommendation.
Pro: The Advocacy Committee on Women’s Concerns noted “This proposed change is especially important in its ability to bring closure for victims….”
Con: The ACC noted, “Although the proposed amendment claims that the proposed inquiry will not be part of the church’s judicial system, the result envisioned is quasi-judicial….” It raises the possibility that the accused could be convicted in absentia and denied due process.”
Amendment 04-E.3 would add four phrases to the preamble of the Rules of Discipline that shifts emphasis from its current focus on the repentance and restoration of the accused and adds a focus on justice, compassion and dignity for the victim and all others involved.
The ACC commented that these changes are clear and consistent with other parts of the Book of Order. The Assembly Committee on Church Polity recommended an alternate resolution by a vote of 55/1/0. The Assembly approved the committee’s recommendation by a vote of 484/1/6.
Pro: The current rules ignore the needs of the alleged victim for justice and restoration while focusing on the investigation and prosecution of the alleged offender. These changes introduce at the very start an awareness of the role this process plays for the alleged victim and her or his cry for justice. The Advocacy Committee on Women’s Concerns supported the changes saying they recognize “that the judicial process within the PC(USA) is about justice, restoration, and reconciliation for all who participate in it.” They also note that the changes enhance “the restoration of the full community.”
Con: The preamble sounds the one grace note in the entire Rules of Discipline, which quickly move into highly complex and detailed legal procedures. Many ministers and elders who participate in the awesome responsibility of investigating and judging their peers do so clinging to this one grace note to redeem the whole legalistic process and give it a Christ-like tone. If justice for the victim equals punishment for the offender, the introduction of these four new phrases sounds a note of justice and punishment, which when added to the legalistic weight of the Rules diminishes the already soft note of grace. The ACC cautions that, “…it remains important to distinguish between the appropriate role of the church’s disciplinary process and the role of secular civil and criminal processes…. Confusion of these roles creates risks to the victim as well as to the church.”
Amendment 04-E.4 would provide a process to determine if an accused minister should be placed on administrative leave when the alleged offense is that of sexual abuse of any person under 18 or who may lack the mental capacity to consent. It is unclear if this is to apply to other employees. The first sentence of the first paragraph mentions only a minister, while the last sentence of that paragraph adds “or other employee.”
The ACC noted that sexual misconduct in our denomination and others have heightened our concerns about this issue. The ACC had quite a few comments about the matter and noted that this version addresses the issues needed. The Advocacy Committee for Women’s Concerns supported the amendment. The Assembly Committee on Church Polity recommended approval by a vote of 52/2/1. The Assembly amended, and then approved the committee recommendation by a vote of 443/20/6.
Pro: The proposed amendment appears to offer due process before a decision is made. Removing the minister from his or her position may put an end to any immediate abuse, give protection to potential victims, and give the church breathing room.
Con: The ACC, while voicing concern about misconduct, cautioned, “On the other hand, our denomination has a long history of affording its officers due process before decisions restricting or removing officers from the exercise of ordained office. False accusations of sexual misconduct, particularly if given the appearance of being validated by a governing body by placement of the accused on a leave of absence, can irreparably damage the reputation of the accused and deprive the church of that person’s gifts for ministry.”
Amendment 04-E.5 would require an investigating committee to provide the person making an accusation a statement of the procedure and inform them and the alleged victim, if different, of their right to be accompanied by an advocate at all conferences.
The ACC advised the Assembly to approve the recommendation with additional language. The Advocacy Committee on Women’s Concerns supported it. The Assembly Committee on Church Polity recommended an alternate resolution by a vote of 59/0/0, and the Assembly approved the committee’s recommendations.
Pro: Alleged victims should clearly be informed of the process and have the right to be accompanied by an advocate to support and advise them through emotionally difficult and complex procedures.
Amendment 04-E.6 would require a permanent judicial commission or session to make a full report of its proceedings when an alternative form of resolution has been used, including the name of the accused, the accusation or charge, and the censure. It would also require the clerk of session or stated clerk of a presbytery to follow D-11.0701 in reporting to the Presbytery. This says the stated clerk is to read the decision to the presbytery and enter the full decision in the minutes.
The ACC advised approving the change. The Advocacy Committee on Women’s Concerns supported it. The Assembly Committee on Church Polity recommended approval by a vote of 59/0/0, and the Assembly approved the committee’s recommendation.
Pro: Alternative forms of resolution increasingly are using non-disclosure clauses in settlement agreements. This amendment would prevent secrecy in misconduct and abuse cases and enable truth telling and closure.
Con: The amendment removes the option of confidentiality, which a permanent judicial commission may have good reason to maintain.
Amendment 04-E.7 would urge a session or permanent judicial commission to seek evidence of “extent of injury suffered, mitigation, rehabilitation, and redemption,” and allows the victim to make a victim impact statement which could not be cross-examined.
The ACC advised amending the proposed change to allow cross-examination. The Advocacy Committee for Women’s Concerns supported the original proposal. The Assembly Committee on Church Polity recommended an alternate resolution by a vote of 58/0/0, and the Assembly approved the committee’s recommendation, which disallowed cross-examination.
Pro: The Advocacy Committee on Women’s Concerns said, “This change is necessary because it requires the voice of the victim to be part of the censure process whereby it was previously not required. Further, it provides flexible options for procedure that consider the comfort and convenience of the victim.”
Con: The ACC said, “…[I]t is unwise to allow the introduction of a victim’s statement without a corollary cross-examination. The tone and style of the judicial process becomes punitive to the accused and removes from her/him important judicial protections.”
Amendment 04-E.8 would allow a permanent judicial commission to advise a person found guilty of sexual abuse to complete a voluntary act or acts of repentance.
The ACC advised approval of the amendment using the word “repentance” in place of an original word, “restitution.” The Advocacy Committee on Women’s Concerns supported the original word, “restitution.” The Assembly Committee on Church Polity agreed with the “repentance” language of the ACC and approved an alternate resolution by a vote of 59/0/0. The Assembly approved the committee’s recommendation.
Pro: The voluntary acts help provide closure for the victim and the offender. These acts also work toward wholeness in the church community.
Con: Can these acts really be voluntary if they come as advice from the body that convicted the offender?
Amendment 04-E.9 would allow either the prosecuting committee or the person found guilty to initiate an appeal. Currently only the person found guilty may appeal.
The ACC weighed the merits on both sides of this issue. The Advocacy Committee on Women’s Concerns supported it. The Assembly Committee on Church Polity recommended approval by a vote of 57/2/0, and the Assembly approved the committee’s recommendation.
Pro: The Advocacy Committee on Women’s Concerns said, “Opening the initial PJC decision to procedural appeals by the accuser honors both the rights of the accused and of the victim for a fair trial.”
Con: The ACC said, “Whether such appeals are desirable raises several questions. Such appeal rights would be broader than the secular judicial system allows. It would also perpetuate disciplinary cases in a manner that may discourage victims from seeking civil remedies….” The ACC acknowledged, however, that in a voluntary judicial system the potential for error is greater, and therefore there may be a need for appeals on the part of the prosecuting committee.
BILL LANCASTER is associate executive for mission for Foothills Presbytery, Greenville, S.C.