GA 2010: Overture advocates urge end of New FoG

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn.—The Form of Government Revision committee began hearing from overture advocates today at the 219th General Assembly meeting here. Criticism of the proposed FoG included “consider the cost,” comparisons to an uncooked, diseased pig and the prospect that the new FoG will be a “litigator’s dream.”

In speaking against the new FoG, overture advocate Joan Johnson of Santa Barbara Presbytery said that the proposal is “not so much missional as o-missional.” And that the current form “hasn’t stopped ministry but has stopped stupidity.” She then shared a video with the committee, produced by Bel Air Church in California. She introduced the video by saying that it represents concerns that the committee may not hear at General Assembly, a voice from a concerned congregation.

The video depicted a male clergyperson in a robe in a boxing ring with a masked man who claimed to be Christian, Muslim, and Buddhist. They were boxing and the masked man used a frying pan to beat the clergy-man. When a woman questions the ref about this unfair behavior the ref responds, “I’m going to allow that.” The implication being that if presbyteries have too much freedom, as they might in the new FoG, this is the kind of thing that will happen.

For some on the committee, this was too much. Commissioner Bill Capel, elder from Southeastern Illinois Presbytery, objected to the video.

Advocate George McIrath of Tropical Florida Presbytery likened the new form to the tower of Babel, urging commissioners to “consider the cost.” He noted that the church can make necessary changes to the current FoG without adopting the proposed new one.

Advocating for overture 07-07, Rich McDermott of the Presbytery of the Plains and Peaks boldly compared the proposed FoG to an uncooked, diseased pig that may be wearing lipstick. “We need to cleanse this of bad parts, cooking it thoroughly. Friends, we don’t want to eat uncooked pork! I propose this new FoG will be a litigator’s dream.”

Michael Herrin, minister from Mississippi Presbytery, advocating for overture 07-12, encouraged commissioners to read the rationale of the overture carefully, saying that they would find a lot of information there, including a “walk through each chapter, comparing the language and problems in each. If you are not fully convinced that the new FoG is better than what we have, just don’t accept it,” he said.

These overture advocates followed the report of the task force which was represented today by task force members Paul Hooker, a minister from St. Augustine Presbytery, and Diana Barber, an elder from the Synod of Lakes and Prairies. Barber urged the commissioners to delve into the polity noting that “any polity is an imperfect vessel in which we seek to hold the perfect will of God.” Hooker likewise urged commissioners to “become deeply engaged in the polity of our church because it is life-giving.”

They reviewed the proposal, noting that it is divided into two sections. The first is Foundations of Presbyterian Polity, which is meant as a teaching tool to aid in understanding the roots of our polity. “This is especially important to the church now when so many people are joining who do not have a Presbyterian background,” observed Hooker.

The second part is the Revised Form of Government, written in constitutional language rather than as a manual of operations. “We have retained the standards that are currently in our polity,” said Barber. And the FoG is intentionally written in such a way that it moves away from more corporate language and toward more relational, community-oriented language. “It is meant to provide the church with standards for living the joyful life of the faithful,” explained Hooker.

Is there enough trust within our denomination to adopt such a Form of Government? The task force believes that “trust will grow as we develop standards together that will work for (the governing) councils of the church. We learn to trust by working together,” Hooker noted.

The committee also considered the overture from Foothills Presbytery which calls for an “enabling constitution” for the church with a first step being the adoption of the proposed new FoG. Merwyn Johnson served as the overture advocate for overture 07-05. According to Johnson, Foothills Presbytery believes that the current FoG, what they call a “manual of operations constitution,” contributes “to the environment of mistrust and negativity that we find in the church today.” The overture urges the adoption of an “enabling constitution.” An enabling constitution is meant to use rules to enable rather than restrain, “returning to the foundations of the church: we put our trust in Jesus Christ,” noted Johnson.