Friday, September 12, 2014

A Remedial Case Against the ACC.

In case you are wondering if this blogpost is going to be about college football, the ACC in this instance refers to the General Assembly's Advisory Committee on the Constitution.

The Remedial Complaint, refers to the complaint that was just filed against the ACC by Cherokee Presbytery, three churches in Michigan, and one from Wisconsin.    The complaint is about this (all quotes in orange are from the remedial complaint itself):

That the ACC acted to instruct Assembly Committee 10 and then the plenary of the 221st General Assembly (2014) that the General Assembly had the authority to make an authoritative interpretation that effectively changes the plain and ordinary meaning the Directory of Worship and took other irregular actions after having previously instructed the General Assembly in writing that changes of that type cannot be done.  The outcome of the advice given by the ACC was that Assembly Committee 10 and General Assembly approved an authoritative interpretation that was and is in conflict with the provision of the Constitution being interpreted.
What that paragraph says is that the ACC reversed itself from the time it gave written guidance about the AI overture, to the time it was asked about the constitutionality of such a move at the Committee and at Plenary.

OK, so you're asking yourself why not just go after the AI if its felt to be unconstitutional.   Well, you see there's a slight problem.     There is no way to bring a remedial case against the General Assembly except by bringing one up to the NEXT General Assembly.    

That's right, there is no higher body to appeal to, unlike the US Government, where there's always the Supreme Court to go to in case the Legislative Branch overreaches when it writes a law.   In the Presbyterian System, the General Assembly is the final council/judiciary.     However, you may say, what about the GA Permanent Judicial Commission?    Ah yes .. what about it?      Note the very last work of the name of the GAPJC - Commission .    The GAPJC is, of itself, a commission of the General Assembly.    It, therefore, has no authority over the Assembly that created it.     It does have authority over the other commissions and committees that are created by the General Assembly, such as the Advisory Committee on the Constitution.

The complaint has a number of points, or irregularities, I'll cover two :
  • The actions of the ACC, that included and/or resulted in, the giving certain oral advice mentioned (previously in the complaint) to the Assembly Committee and/or plenary of the 221st General Assembly (2014) on item 10-03 constitued an irregularity.    Actions of the ACC that are alleged to be erroneous are proper subject for judicial review -- See Exhibit C1 - PJC 2008, 303, 218-03, Session of Palos Park v. ACC ("the propriety of the ACC's actions ... if alleged to be erroneous, are subject to judicial review by this Commission.") Alleged irregularities in Constitutionally mandated process are also proper subjects for judicial review. Id.
    Basically says that any meetings that may have occurred after the issuance of the written advice on the overture to the GA and before the oral advice given at the GA are irregular.  
  • The ACC committed irregularit(ies) when it acted to provide advice to the Assembly Committee and/or plenary of the 221st General Assembly (2014) on item 10-03 (and related items) that was contrary to existing Authoritative Interpretations and/or the sound and important principles of Church polity recited by the Report(s) of the Swearingen Commission (Exhibit A).  The ACC, for example, determined that the text of statements in the Constitution were "clear and unambiguous".  The ACC was also required by an existing AI to "exercise great care  to ensure that any interpretation remains true to the plain meaning and context of the provision interpreted."  See Exhibit I.  And, the ACC advised the Assembly Committee and plenary of the General Assembly that the Assembly may adopt an AI contrary to the "clear and unambiguous" meaning of the text.  Under such circumstances, the ACC's advice is a proper subject for judicial review.   To permit the ACC to act otherwise is tantamount to allowing the ACC to advocate for an amendment by indirection of the organic law of the Church.   Actions of the ACC that are alleged to be erroneous are proper subjects for judicial review. .... 

    What they're saying here is that the ACC violated an AI that required it to issue advice based on the existing text of the Constitution.  It also alleges that this also violated Presbyterian polity that had been in place for decades, and reiterated in the 1925 Swearingen Report.

There's a lot more to the complaint, and I can't include it all here.  Especially since its protected from standard cut and paste procedures.  I will be adding more information in later blog posts.    The full complaint text can be found here on ChurchandWorld.com.

Suffice it to say that this complaint covers what I was talking about here when I wrote my blog post about the voting on the AI at the General Assembly, and what the Stated Clerk of the Presbytery of Detroit, Ed Koster, had to say about it here.

I'll continue this on the next rock.

... and so it goes!

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Day 7 at GA

This was a very long day, which ended just before midnight.    We caught up on some business that was postponed on day 5 & 6, but only after the afternoon session on the Middle East overtures for divestment, etc.

Let me just say that there was an overt bias to the entire day.  

The ecumenical delegate or visitor allowed to bring greetings, was from the church of Syria & Lebanon, and while not mentioning the persecution of Christians in Syria, did mention the poor Palestinians.

Later on, some of the discussions were tilted with some speakers allowed to finish their talks while out of time, and questions from the floor that turned out more like advocacy speeches than questions.

The final straw was after the advisory vote from the YAADs, TSAD, MADS, and EADs, the Moderator called for us to gather around in a group and pray and say out loud the name of a Palestinian who was hurt because of the issues in the Middle East, and a Jewish friend who was hurt.

After that the vote was taken, and divestiture passed by only 7 votes.   A body of over 620 or so, and it only passed by 7 votes.    This says that the church is not of one mind on this at all.

After this passed the rest was anticlimatic, except for one overture which asked the PMA to create a study on the safety of children of both sides in Israel & Palestine.

The overture asked that the PMA, in association with the IPMN,  create this study.   The same IPMN who created the Zionism Unchained study that reeked of falsehoods, innuendo and outright anti-Semitism.       The same commissioner that rose up on the marriage AI, rose up with an amendment to strike any mention of the IPMN from that overture.    His rational was basically, we've already put a knife in our Jewish friends, why do we want to twist it too.    This amendment passed overwhelmingly.

The rest of the evening was spent tweaking a lot of stuff on social justice and polity, but I was fried by that time, and two days later, would rather concentrate on recovering from the daily push and spiritual warfare of the GA.

.... and so it goes!!

Day 5 & 6 at the GA

It has been a very busy week, marked by long days and nights, and a profound sadness.

I left off the blog at Day 4, Tuesday, but without listing most of the details.     Suffice it to say that we were not able to sidetrack the Authoritative Interpretation, but were surprised at the gracious conscience clause that was added to the Book of Order amendment by someone who did not agree with our stance.   While it did not change our minds about the amendment, it may make it easier for some to stay in the PC(USA) a bit longer.

The work against the AI was based on the fact that:

1.   The AI is contrary to everything on marriage that is currently in the Book of Order, and
2.   As such, should have been ruled out of order under Robert's Rules by the Stated Clerk before it even reached the committee, then
3.  Since it did reach the committee, it should have been ruled out of order there. 

The fact is that Robert's Rules say that no motion is in order if that motion goes against the body's governing rules, constitution, etc.    If any such motion is not ruled out of order and is passed, the fact is, the motion is still against the rules, and as such is Null and Void!

The ACC representative to the committee kept trying to point to the fact that the 'body' needs to fix the tension, or in other words, the fact it contradicts the constitution, while the point of order was based on the ACC's own comments in the overture that the motion contradicts the constitution, and as such is, in of itself, out of order.

That point was conveniently glossed over.

Day 5 began with the continuation of the Plenary meetings.    Lots of business was not done, as we saw plenty of rah-rah videos and features that were obviously biased to how great we are as a denomination.    It appeared, at least to this  GA commissioner, that it was all playing to the Internet live-stream viewers.     We had started the day thinking that the Committee 10 business would be brought up on Friday morning.   At the beginning of the afternoon session (I believe) Bills and Overtures moved it to Thursday afternoon.

Didn't help those who were trying to craft a minority report, but they got it done for Thursday.  The rest of the day was spent on other committees, but some business was then postponed to Friday, as there wasn't enough time for commissioners to instruct themselves on some of the details brought before them.

Day 6 began with more of the same, a few more things were pushed to Friday evening, Friday afternoon would be the great divestiture debate.

I'm going to skip to the real meet of the day, the Marriage issues.     When the committee business was brought forward, the minority report was put out as an answer to the rest of the overtures.     The matter was discussed, back and forth, and a vote taken, based on that vote, I knew that the votes to defeat any marriage overture was not there.

There was no mushy middle any longer, or at least not at this GA.


When the AI overture was brought up, the same commissioner on cmte 10 who raised the point of order there, brought it up again hoping to get a better answer.   Unfortunately the same ACC resource person gave the same answer as in committee.     The commissioner pressed that this was not a point of order on the constitutionality of the overture, that the ACC had already pointed this out in its advice on the overture, but again, that was glossed over.   He asked for vote to overturn the ruling, soundly defeated.     The point of order tactic was done.

The same commissioner came back to the mic speaking against the motion on the AI, talking about how he joined the PC(USA) because of its bottom up approach to polity, and this was something new, a top down instruction that what it says in the BOO is not what it says it does.

The AI was overwhelmingly approved, probably due to the feeling of the commissioners who, as one YAAD said, felt we were sent here to do something.   

And here I thought we were sent here to listen, understand, consult Scripture, and listen for the Holy Spirit, not do something.     Doing nothing is doing something ...

After that there wasn't a reason to keep on bringing motions in opposition, the commissioner kept the session moving by calling the question on each of the others if and when necessary.   The votes weren't there, some people had drunk the Kool-Aid.  

The funny part of all this is after the AI passed, another commissioner stood up on Point of Order to make sure that the Moderator only calls on a commissioner once on a motion, saying that one commissioner had risen to speak three times on a motion. 

In reality the commissioner had risen once to raise the Point of Order, once to question the ruling and ask for a vote on overturning the ruling, then once to the actual motion.   

This was just one of many incidents that show that many commissioners did not understand how Robert's Rules actually works.

... and so it goes!!

Friday, June 20, 2014

Special Report from GA

On an article about the GA actions on the Marriage & Civil Union committee, the Stated Clerk of the Presbytery of Detroit had this to say.


In both cases the Moderator asked for the opinion of the Stated Clerk, who referred the matter to the Advisory Committee on the Constitution. The ACC said that the General Assembly itself has the authority to determine what the Constitution says, and that therefore the point of order was not well taken. The Stated Clerk deferred to the opinion of ACC, and the Moderator declared the objection was overruled. On appeal, the Moderator’s decision was sustained by the Assembly.
This was a significant and momentous event. We have covenants that lay out how we shall govern ourselves. The Constitution gives authority of the General Assembly (by resolution or judicial decision) to interpret what our governing documents say. But that authority was predicated on the notion that an interpretation would be necessary because of an ambiguity. (A 2004 AI approved by the GA says: “The process of authoritative interpretation should be used sparingly, and for the purpose of defining potentially ambiguous words or phrases in the Book of Order, rather than for setting forth detailed procedures or advice as to how the provisions of our Constitution should be administered.) The ACC, Moderator, Stated Clerk, and the Assembly itself today declared that the General Assembly has the power to say that the plain words of our governing documents (Book of Order and Book of Confessions) can be “interpreted” to say things that they do not in fact say.
This action constitutes a significant shift away from the notion that we are a church governed according to the covenant we have adopted. In this covenant, the only rules that apply to the entire church are contained in the Book of Order. The GA has used its power to interpret to make a rule that is not in the Book of Order. And where trust in the authority structure of our denomination is a significant problem, this adds one more bit of evidence for those who claim the “GA” cannot be trusted to follow the rules.


You can read the entire comment here.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Day 4 at GA

We started off the day with Worship and Communion.  Mark Labberton preached a great Sermon, unlike the previous day's sermon which was reported in the daily GA paper as "Post Christendom is cool, says UCC pastor", or some such.

Had to be in committee by 9:30am, however, at 9:20am I was still at Worship, and had to leave as the TE leading the Communion liturgy was talking as if she was giving a eulogy.    Luckily,  by the time I reached the back of the hall, the servers were ready so I was able to partake.

The rest of the day was somewhat of a disappointment.   Over the years it appears that the conservatives do not do well in committee, but when they reach the plenary, things change.

I'll go give details tomorrow, but suffice it to say, there are a few minority reports from the orthodox side being brought forward.   On committee 10, we had our heads handed to us, but very respectfully.   Evidently at the 220th, there was some bad feelings at that committee, this year everyone understood that any change will cause pain, and potential loss.

However, right now I'm heading for bed, I'm fried and I need to get up at 6am to attend the PFR/Fellowship breakfast.

... and so it goes!

Day 3 at GA

Today began bright and sunny. Skipped worship as it was going to be led by a UCC minister, who turns out, preached about (tada) how the UCC handled when it went to approve same-sex marriage.  Surprise, surprise.     Luckily, Mark Labberton is preaching tomorrow so I'll be able to begin the day in Worship.     And trust me, as an evangelical at this GA, spiritual renewal is a requirement.

Today we started with Open Hearings, with most of the testimony being based on personal experiences, a lots of emotional tugs at the heartstrings.   One person, a PR executive, looks at this issue as the PC(USA) brand is being sullied because of the ban on SSM.  However, there was testimony from a young man who turned his life over to Christ, and that helped him work through his SS attraction, and who is now engaged to a very nice young woman.

Then came the Overture Advocates for amending the Book of Worship.  Again, many personal stories, no biblical support.  We even had one pastor claim that nothing in Scripture stood in the way of SSM.    Another claims that 40% of homeless youth are LGBQT with no supporting documentation.    The Advocates we heard after lunch for the AI, didn't have much more Scriptural support, only that Pastors are not able to be pastoral because they can't perform SSM.

After all the testimony, the Moderator asked to go around the room and have the commissioners give us an idea of where they are standing.       It was sad to hear some of the justifications given for where some of the RE commissioners stood.    I'm sure they are good people, and they are only using the information that they have been taught, but it was more eisegesis than exegesis.     Lots of the 'Jesus I know' type of theology.

One REC stood up and told how he came into the Presbyterian church, that he studied and learned about the doctrine of total depravity, about the Authority of Scripture, how the Book of Order & Book of Confessions both came second to what the Word said about sin.   

There were a few orthodox commissioners there besides this elder.   A TEC told of how we're forgetting the elephant in the room, the fact that an passing an AI would cause pain for many, many others.  He told of how the first church he pastored 30 or 40 years ago moved to the EPC.  How 7 churches left his Presbytery in the past 12 months.    That many more start the process if an AI or redefinition of marriage is passed.

Another TEC told of presbyteries he was in, having to merge as churches left to another, more conservative Reformed denomination.   And so it went down the line... there doesn't seem to be much chance that something will not be passed this time around.    

Tomorrow we start the deliberations.

... and so it goes!

Monday, June 16, 2014

Day 2 at GA

I was going to do this day by day, but the realities of GA have hit.    I'm not as young as I was, and by midnight on the 15th, I was totally beat.   Then I wake up at 6am today, the 16th.

Hopefully I'll catch up on this to add my thoughts.    One thing I will say, commissioners need to keep their wits about them.  We were never notified about a vote on a standing rule change for this GA.  It was brought up for a vote, half the commissioners were voting for it even though we had not gotten an electronic copy of the motion other than that which was displayed on the overhead screens for about 30 seconds or so.

By the time I awoke to what was going on, the vote was over, and all I could do was raise a Point of Order.   The answer was not to my liking, so I asked for a Division of the House, which will force a poll of the commissioners.    That said, research afterwards shows that this change is a debatable motion,  that should have had someone speaking to it and against it.     I have to say, the way this was brought up smells of smokey rooms, good ole boys, and back-room politics.

It may be too late to do anything about it unless I can find someone who voted for it, to request a Motion to Reconsider.    I'll add more about this rule change later, along with the rest of the day in a few hours, I hope.

.... and so it goes!