The majority of the overtures brought to the 220th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) from the Committee on Church Polity passed perfunctorily – without discussion.
There were, however, three exceptions.
An overture from Baltimore Presbytery was approved, with some amendment, to give presbyteries the ability to place a teaching elder on administrative leave when he or she faces allegations of sexual abuse.
“This will allow a presbytery to place a teaching elder on leave for all cases of sexual abuse against any person,” explained committee moderator Emily Anderson, a teaching elder from Tennessee. “I speak for Committee 6 in saying that we would like to see the PC(USA) lead the way on protecting victims and break the cycle of abuse.”
Another of the issues causing discussion in the committee report was an overture from the Presbytery of Middle Tennessee to add special consideration for membership of the families of pastors serving yoked churches. Current polity only allows for spouses of pastors of yoked churches to be active in one of the congregations.
After speculating, in jest, if this would mean paying double per capita, Anderson explained that the Advisory Committee on the Constitution had recommending not approving the overture – advice the assembly followed.
But the overture that caused the most discussion, and required time for constitutional clarification by the Advisory Committee on the Constitution, was brought by the Presbytery of Santa Barbara regarding church property. That overture proposed amending the PC(USA)’s constitution to state that property of individual congregations would be held by that congregation, not in trust by the denomination. Congregations which withdrew from the PC(USA) for theological reasons or disagreement with PC(USA) policies would be able to take their property with them.
The committee had recommended that the assembly disapprove the overture. But
Jeff Garrison, a teaching elder from Lake Michigan, introduced a substitute motion, saying “it is my hope that we can learn to be more gracious with one another, and that it may provide a path toward future reunion.”
The Advisory Committee on the Constitution raised concerns about the wording of the substitute motion and the assembly voted it down.
Near the close of the committee’s report, in a review of minutes submitted by presbyteries, Greg Roth, a teaching elder from the San Francisco Presbytery, brought to the assembly’s attention the failure of Redwoods Presbytery to rebuke Jane Adams Spahr, a teaching elder brought up on disciplinary charges for performing a series of same-gender weddings in California. In February, the General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission, the PC(USA)’s highest court, instructed the presbytery to follow through with a rebuke that had been imposed by a lower court for Spahr – but Redwoods Presbytery this spring declined to do so.
“I’d just like to offer the observation that our elders say that when it comes down to church property, everything is legal and tied down tight,” said Roth. “But in other areas it does not seem so.”