The assembly’s approval of the report of the New Form of Government Task Force, with some amendments, means that the proposed new FoG now will go to the presbyteries for their consideration. To make this kind of change to the constitution of the PC(USA) would take the approval from a majority of the denomination’s 173 presbyteries.
The assembly voted 468-204 to approve the new Form of Government – giving it approval by about a two-thirds margin (a simple majority was required.).
A Form of Government Task Force has worked on the proposal for four years, with two years of effort from the original task force; consideration by the General Assembly in 2008; then another two years of work by a second task force with many of the original members along with some new ones.
Tim Beal, a minister from San Diego Presbytery and moderator of the assembly’s Form of Government Revision Committee, introduced the recommendation to the assembly on July 7. Beal explained that the committee had reviewed the proposed Form of Government and made 30 amendments, and that the committee’s changes “included some fairly substantial issues, including theological implications of the language.”
The assembly discussed at some length — but did not approve — a motion to send the Form of Government proposal to the presbyteries for further study, but no action.
That substitute motion, made by Al Sandalow, a minister from Central Washington Presbytery, generated significant discussion. The idea was to send the proposed new FoG to the presbyteries, along with a request that they study it while taking no formal action on it. Sandalow questioned whether the PC(USA) needs a new Form of Government – saying “I have heard no great cry in the church for a new constitution to set us free for ministry.”
In response to this argument, Eric Nielsen, a minister from the Presbytery of Northern Waters, pointed out that the request for a new FoG came from the church and that “we have had four years to study this. The task force was begging us for out input. (The substitute motion) gives the impression that this is being rammed down our throats.”
Another repeated concern was that the new FoG allows a creeping universalism. John Sweet, a minister from Philadelphia Presbytery, referred to the first sentence of the new FoG, arguing that a “universalist creed is inserted into our Book of Order.”
Committee member Susan Zencka, a minister commissioner from Winnebago Presbytery, noted that the committee had heard from the task force, from six overture advocates opposed to the new FoG and from a number of presbytery executives and stated clerks who favor the idea. She went on to quote one “self-identified conservative minister from Shenandoah Presbytery who said ‘I think what people fear is losing control and power. This is not our church; it is the church of Jesus Christ.’”
The substitute motion failed.
Prior to voting on the recommendation to accept the new FoG, Vice Moderator Landon Whitsitt paused for prayer. “This is your church, not our church,” he prayed. “Regardless of our Form of Government, this is your church, not our church.”