Advertisement
Click here for General Assembly coverage

Advice from the Advisory Committee on the Constitution on Item POL-01 

The Advisory Committee on the Constitution evaluates the Olympia overture, POL-01.

Editor’s note: This article is one response to POL-01, the “Olympia overture.” To read more responses, click here.


The overture seeks amendments to the Constitution in F-1.0403 and G-2.0104b. The Advisory Committee on the Constitution has divided the overture into parts A and B and advises on each amendment separately.

A. On inserting “gender identity, sexual orientation” into F-1.0403.

The unity of believers in Christ is reflected in the rich diversity of the Church’s membership. In Christ, by the power of the Spirit, God unites persons through baptism, regardless of race, ethnicity, age, sex, [gender identity, sexual orientation.] disability, geography, or theological conviction. There is therefore no place in the life of the Church for discrimination against any person. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) shall guarantee full participation and representation in its worship, governance, and emerging life to all persons or groups within its membership. No member shall be denied participation or representation for any reason other than those stated in
this Constitution.

The Advisory Committee on the Constitution advises the 226th General Assembly (2024) to approve Item POL-1. A.

While the Advisory Committee on the Constitution has expressed its aversion to unnecessarily creating lists of requirements and rubrics, in this present situation, the list affirms the mission of Christ’s Church. Because a list is deemed exhaustive unless it states otherwise, an omission is regarded as exclusionary, not permissive. We believe the witness of scripture and the Constitution testifies to the full inclusion of persons as members of the Church (universal), as noted not only in F-1.0403 but also reiterated in G-1.0302 regarding the church particular: “No person shall be denied membership for any reason not related to profession of faith” (see also the “Confession of Belhar,” The Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.): Part I The Book of Confession (2016), 10.3). A positive affirmation of this principle through constitutional amendment is consistent with this witness.

B. On inserting “and in the principles of participation, representation, and non-discrimination found in F-1.0403” into G-2.0104b.

Standards for ordained service reflect the church’s desire to submit joyfully to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in all aspects of life (F-1.02). The council responsible for ordination and/or installation (G-2.0402; G-2.0607; G-3.0306) shall examine each candidate’s calling, gifts, preparation, and suitability for the responsibilities of ordered ministry. The examination shall include, but not be limited to, a determination of the candidate’s ability and commitment to fulfill all requirements as expressed in the constitutional questions for ordination and installation (W-4.0404) [and in the principles of participation, representation, and non-discrimination found in F-1.0403.] Councils shall be guided by Scripture and the confessions in applying standards to individual candidates.

The Advisory Committee on the Constitution advises the 226th General Assembly (2024) that Item POL-1. B. presents the following issues that the assembly should consider.

Inserting the wording “and in the principles of participation, representation, and non-discrimination found in F-1.0403” into G-2.0104b adds a requirement for acknowledgment of F-1.0403 in the examination of all candidates for ordered ministry before ordination and/or installation.

Under the proposed amendment, a council is required to examine candidates to be ordained and/or installed, to

  1. determine the candidate’s ability and commitment to fulfill all requirements as expressed in the constitutional questions for ordination and installation (W-4.0404), and
  2. determine the candidate’s ability and attentiveness to fulfill the principles of participation, representation, and non-discrimination of church members found in F-1.0403 which pertains to
  3. the foundational principles of unity in diversity of the Church (universal), and
  4. the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), as a particular church, guaranteeing full participation and representation in its worship, governance, and emerging life to all persons or groups within its membership, and no member shall be denied participation or representation for any reason other than those stated in this Constitution.

The proposed amendment, in effect, would require the candidate to acknowledge, by some means, during the examination, what F-1.0403 states regarding the unity in diversity of the Church universal when it comes to non-discrimination, and church particular when it comes to participation and representation related to membership in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

The Authoritative Interpretation of the General Assembly GA (1987, 151, 15.252, Com. 17-87) states that the determination for church membership is different from the determination for ordination and/or installation to the ordered ministries of deacon, ruling elder, and Minister of Word and Sacrament. Furthermore, the General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission in 1985 determined that the right to elect deacons, ruling elders, and Ministers of Word and Sacrament is not absolute but is bound by the constitutional framework of the larger church (Minutes, 1985, Part I, pp. 118-23, Union Presbyterian Church of Blasdell, New York, et al. vs. The Presbytery of Western New York).

When a council is prayerfully discerning and examining candidates to be ordained and/or installed, the council is required to act with due diligence on behalf of the whole church in accordance with the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). As stated in G-2.0204b,

Standards for ordained service reflect the church’s desire to submit joyfully to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in all aspects of life (F-1.02). The council responsible for ordination and/or installation (G-2.0402; G-2.0607; G-3.0306) shall examine each candidate’s calling, gifts, preparation, and suitability for the responsibilities of ordered ministry … Councils shall be guided by Scripture and the confessions in applying standards to individual candidates.

Where membership within the greater church is to be inclusive, demonstrating unity in diversity, ordination and/or installation into an ordered ministry of the church does require candidates to determine their ability to uphold the Constitution and principles of Presbyterian Polity.

In Book of Order G-2.0105, “in entering the ordered ministries of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), one chooses to exercise freedom of conscience within certain bounds. His or her conscience is captive to the Word of God as interpreted in the standards of the church so long as he or she continues to seek, or serve in, ordered ministry. The decision as to whether a person has departed from essentials of Reformed faith and polity is made initially by the individual concerned but ultimately becomes the responsibility of the council in which he or she is a member” or to become a member (i.e. a session or a presbytery).

As stated in the General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission case Maxwell v. Presbytery of Pittsburgh (United Presbyterian Church, 1975, 254), it is the candidate, not the church, who must make the judgment whether in good conscience and with the candidate’s understanding of scripture and the Constitutional standards of this church if the candidate can accept or abide by a constitutional provision adopted by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Then it is the council’s responsibility to approve or deny ordination and/or installation to one who has promised or declined to uphold the principles by which the covenant relationship of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) can declare, as stated in F-3.0201, it is “one church”.

Numerous General Assembly PJC decisions remind councils that oversee examinations for ordination and/or installation that:

  1. Each council has the right and obligation to examine each candidate for ordination and/or installation on a case-by-case basis;
  2. The individual elected members of the councils (session or presbytery), in assessing persons for ordination, have the freedom to vote their conscience;
  3. A resolution that discourages candidates from seeking membership or ordination before a case-by-case evaluation exceeds a session’s or presbytery’s authority;
  4. The decision as to whether a person has departed from the essentials of Reformed faith and polity is made initially by the individual concerned but ultimately becomes the responsibility of the council in which he
    or she is a member or being examined by for ordination and/or installation;
  5. Since 1729 sessions and presbyteries have had full authority to determine whether a candidate for ordination and/or installation adheres to the necessary tenets of the Reformed faith as well as constitutional standards;
  6. Sessions and presbyteries, after due diligence of examination, at their discernment and discretion, act within constitutional authority in making the ordination decision;
  7. Each council that oversees ordinations and/or installations exercises its responsibilities to determine a candidate’s suitability for ordination, and that assessment may be overturned by a higher council on review only for “extraordinary reasons”;
  8. Each ordaining and/or installing council is responsible for determining whether any “scruples” declared by candidates constitute serious departures from doctrine or polity; and
  9. Non-compliance with ordination standards or constitutional requirements by someone already ordained may only be addressed in a disciplinary proceeding

(See GA PJC (UPC 1975, 254, Maxwell v. Pby of Pittsburgh [Kenyon case]; 1981, p. 113, Rankin v. National Capital Union Presbytery; 1999, 211-2, 12.077, Wier v. Second PC; 2003, 215-5, 272, McKittrick v. West End PC; 2008, 218-10, 319, Bush et al. v. Pby of Pittsburgh; 2010, 220-01, 621, White v. Session of St. Paul PC; 2010, 219-09, 384, Davis v. Pby of San Francisco; 2010, 219-11, 390, Naegeli et al. v. Pby of San Francisco; 2010, 219-08, 380, Bierschwale, et al. v. Twin Cities Area Pby; 2012, 221-04, Larson et al. v. Pby of Los Ranchos; and 2012, 220-10, 652, Parnell et al. v. Pby of San Francisco. For historical reference to principles, see also GA (1729, pp 94-95; 1736, p. 126), The Adopting Acts of 1729 and 1736 Explanatory Acts, as well as the reports in 1926 and 1927 from the Special Commission of 1925, known popularly as the “Swearingen Commission” (GA PCUSA, 1910, 191-193, 271-273; 1916, 130-132; 1923, 252-253, 338-339; 1925, 88; 1926, 62-87; 1927, 56-86).

Much has changed since 1975, including the United Presbyterian Church now becoming a predecessor denomination of the current Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Since 1983 the Constitution has had some form of statement like the current F-1.0403, declaring a foundational principle that those listed will have guaranteed full participation as members of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and access to representation to the decision-making of the church. This includes all active members being eligible to be considered for ordered ministries (see G-4.0403 and G-9.0104, The Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), 1983-1995). From 1983 to 2011, the Book of Order always had the section G-4.0403 which proclaimed,

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) shall give full expression to the rich diversity within its membership and shall provide means which will assure a greater inclusiveness leading to wholeness in its emerging life. Persons of all racial ethnic groups, different ages, both sexes, various disabilities, diverse geographical areas, different theological positions consistent with the Reformed tradition, as well as different marital conditions (married, single, widowed, or divorced) shall be guaranteed full participation and access to representation in the decision making of the church. (G-9.0104).

It is from this section, as a continuation from the United Presbyterian Church, that particular persons were listed and guaranteed full participation and access to representation in the church’s decision-making. When the new Form of Government was adopted and came into effect in July 2011, this section became the basis for F-1.0403. However, the language has changed significantly. The former G-4.0403 spoke about the Presbyterian Church and membership, whereas the new F-1.0403 speaks mainly about the Church universal as it lists the persons who are part of the Church universal’s diversity. Baptism unites all Christians, “regardless of race, ethnicity, age, sex, disability, geography, or theological conviction.” Note the difference in language between this and the former G-4.0403, which states the following people are guaranteed participation and representation: “Persons of all racial-ethnic groups, different ages, both sexes, various disabilities, diverse geographical areas, different theological positions consistent with the Reformed tradition, as well as different marital conditions (married, single, widowed, or divorced).” Section F-1.0403 may not be used to list guaranteed participation and representation as the former G-4.0403 was used.

Therefore, the proposed amendments of POL-01 will not guarantee full participation and access to representation in the church’s decision-making as the former G-4.0403 did from 1975-2011.

F-1.0403 states,

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) shall guarantee full participation and representation in its worship, governance, and emerging life to all persons or groups within its membership. No member shall be denied participation or representation for any reason other than those stated in this Constitution. [Emphasis added]

This section provides greater protection regarding membership and the standards by which candidates are evaluated at examination.

The current examination standards already require a candidate to affirm W-4.0404e, to be governed by our church’s polity and to abide by its discipline. Adding the proposed language to the examination requirements is redundant.

LATEST STORIES

Advertisement