The Church Polity and Ordered Ministry Committee of the General Assembly considers amendments to Foundations of Presbyterian Polity chapters 1 and 3, Form of Government chapters I–IV, VI, and the Rules of Discipline, with the Advisory Committee on the Constitution (ACC) providing interpretive advice. (The Foundations of Presbyterian Policy, Form of Government, and Rules of Discipline are all sections of the Book of Order—“Part 2” of the PC(USA) Constitution.) The committee also considers other matters related to the ACC and the Advisory Committee on Litigation. Amendments, having come out of committee and passed the General Assembly, are sent to the presbyteries for final approval or rejection.
The above description was adapted from the committee description on www.pc-biz.org. The following outline covers all business before committee  in 2018, including the titles of sections being amended in the current Book of Order, available online here.
- Violations of Sexual Misconduct Policies
- Former ministers reentering the church after renouncing jurisdiction when accused
- Disciplinary Trial Proceedings
- Presbytery’s role in advising ministers not serving a church
- Congregational nominating committee membership
- Property held in trust by congregations; state law compliance
- Ministers working outside of their presbytery
- Requiring a two-thirds majority to amend the Book of Order
- Prohibiting Public Endorsement of Individuals Running for Public Office
A&C—Advice & Counsel from a committee or agency of the church.
ACC—Advisory Committee on the Constitution
ACREC—Advocacy Committee for Racial Ethnic Concerns
ACWC—Advocacy Committee for Women’s Concerns
APA—Administrative Personnel Association
COGA—Committee of the Office of the General Assembly
FLP—Family Leave Policy
GACOR—General Assembly Committee on Representation
OGA—Office of the General Assembly
PMA—Presbyterian Mission Agency
Administrative Personnel Association
Context: The Administrative Personnel Association (APA) includes people employed in administrative work in local churches as well as councils and agencies of the PC(USA) and its communion partner denominations. According to the rationale of both 06-03 and 06-10, the relationship between APA and the PC(USA) as been impacted by its lack of official recognition in the Book of Order as a Certified Church Service. Each overture offers an amendment to the Book of Order to include the APA within that category. (Currently, only “Certified Christian Educators” are mentioned specifically within the category of “Certified Church Service”)
[06-03] Adds G-2.1104 to the Book of Order, to recognize APA certification to count as Certified Church Service.
[06-10] Adds G-2.1104 to do largely the same thing as [06-03], but also specifies that GA will receive and transmit names of certified administrative professionals and that those names will be put on the presbytery register. (For these reasons [06-10] is marginally preferred by ACC).
The Advocacy Committee for Women’s Concerns (ACWC) supports 06-03 and 06-10, citing the breadth and depth of the certification standards required by APA and indicating that APA’s membership is 98.1% female.
The Advisory Committee on the Constitution (ACC) opposes both 06-03 and 06-10, among other reasons because it “would establish professional certification neither connected to an office of ministry nor conducted by a council of the church as a basis for participation in the deliberations of church governance.” Of the two, however, ACC prefers 06-10, for the reasons stated below.
Context: Several of these amendments come in the context of perceived loopholes in the current disciplinary system, particularly with regard to sexual misconduct. [06-04] addresses violations of sexual misconduct policies. [06-07] and [06-09] address the process for re-entering the church for a minister who has renounced jurisdiction while standing accused. [06-19] adjusts the legal standard required to find a guilty verdict in a disciplinary trial.
Violations of Sexual Misconduct Policies
[06-04] Amends D-2.0203b to define a violation of a sexual misconduct policy or child/youth protection policy to count as “contrary to the Scriptures or Constitution of PC(USA)” for the purpose of punishment. (This is identical to the definition of an “offense” under D-2.0203b. A disciplinary trial that does not make allegations of such an offense must be dismissed).
Former ministers reentering the church after renouncing jurisdiction when accused
[06-07] Amends G-2.0509 and D-10.0401d to change the requirements for a former minister of the Word and Sacrament who has renounced jurisdiction while accused in a disciplinary proceeding to be allowed to work in the PC(USA) again. The overture requires that the congregation or entity have “thoroughly inquired into the circumstances surrounding the renunciation of jurisdiction, determined that the person is suited to the work proposed to be undertaken, and received concurrence from the next higher council” (Recommendation 1) prior to allowing the work. It also clarifies language to make sure that section D-10.0401d applies, ensuring that no time limit will apply between the original offense and rejoining the church. (Charges may still be brought).
[06-09] Amends G-2.0509 differently, to address the same issue as [06-07]. The overture requires the former minister to apply “to the presbytery in which he or she renounced jurisdiction for restoration to office, in which case the provisions of D-10.0401d and D-12.0200 shall apply.” D-10.0401d is the section specifying that no time limit will apply to the initial charges. D-12.0200 is the standard for restoration in the case of “a person under the censure of removal from ordered ministry…”, which is that the council must be “fully satisfied that the action is justified and the person makes a reaffirmation of faith … or is reordained…”.
Disciplinary Trial Proceedings
[06-19] Amends D-11.0403a to adjust from the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard to the “clear and convincing” standard for a council to find someone guilty of a charge. Both are legal terms, with “beyond a reasonable doubt” applying to U.S. criminal courts and “clear and convincing” being a higher standard than “preponderance of the evidence,” with the last being typically used in secular civil cases.
Advisory and Advocacy Group Response to Disciplinary Case Proposals
ACWC advises approving [06-09] for its “greater clarity of language in amending the Book of Order,” along with Recommendation 1 of [06-07]. ACWC also states that, in spite of its support of the changes, they are inadequate: “a predator can deliberately wait until after key witnesses have moved on with their lives, perhaps even died, or the original evidence is no longer available” before rejoining the church and facing trial. ACWC also recommends approval of [06-04] and is the group that produced [06-19] and [11-09] (a resolution on sexual misconduct training and transparency that goes before the Social Justice Committee).
ACSWP advises approval of [06-07] and endorsed the research by ACWC supporting [06-19] and [11-09].
ACC recommends disapproving [06-04]’s action of adding language to the Book of Order but affirms its central principle, stating:
“While sexual misconduct is not condoned by Scriptures or the Constitution of the PC(USA), adding this language to the Book of Order is unnecessary. All councils and judicial commissions are admonished to consider sexual misconduct as contrary to the Scriptures and the Constitution of the PC(USA).”
ACC also recommends that the GA disapprove the [06-07] amendment to G-2.0509.1, refer the amendment of D-10.0401d.2 to the Task Force on the Rules of Discipline, and answer [06-09] with its response to [06-07].
The OGA similarly advises that all items amending the Rules of Discipline be referred to the Task Force on the Rules of Discipline.
Language Updates and Corrections
Presbytery’s role in advising ministers not serving a church
[06-02] In 2016, the 222nd General Assembly replaced the phrase “teaching elder” with “minister of the Word and Sacrament”. However, in some places the word “pastor” was used—unintentionally excluding ministers not currently serving a church. This recommendation addresses that concern and reduces repetitive wording in its amendment to section G-3.0307 of the Book of Order.
The recommendation is supported by the ACC.
[06-11] Amends G-2.0401 to clarify the membership of congregational nominating committees for the election of ruling elders and deacons:
Original: Congregations may provide by their own rule for a congregational nominating committee, provided that the committee shall consist of at least three active members of the congregation, and shall include at least one ruling elder who is currently serving on the session.
Proposed: Congregations may provide by their own rule for a congregational nominating committee, provided that the minimum size of the committee
shall consist of is at least three active members of the congregation, and at least one of those three is a shall include at least one ruling elder who is currently serving on the session, and the voting majority is comprised of those not currently serving on the session (members-at-large).
ACREC recommends approval: “Many of our small churches are comprised of people of color. ACREC appreciates the clarity of this amendment and the flexibility needed for small churches.”
ACC recommends approval but proposes alternative language for the amendment: “Congregations may provide by their own rule for a congregational nominating committee. The rule shall meet the following criteria: (1) the minimum size of the committee as specified in the rule shall be at least three persons; (2) at least one member of the committee shall be an elder currently serving on session; and (3) a majority of those persons on the committee who are eligible to vote shall consist of persons not currently serving on session.”
Parental and Family Leave
Context: The current status of parental and family leave differs across the church, with no overarching policy. Different agencies of the church, as well as different midcouncils and congregations, each have their own standards—partially dependent on whether or not their employees are included in the Board of Pensions system.
[06-13] Overtures the Board of Pensions to include 12 weeks paid parental leave (regardless of how the child entered the family) in the package for all employees covered under its plan, including financial assistance to help local congregations pay for a supply pastor and coverage in the case of a miscarriage, still birth, or infant death.
[06-14] Amends G-2.0804 (the Terms of Call) to include paid family leave of at least 12 weeks.
[06-15] Amends G-3.0303c so that the minimum compensation standards for pastoral calls, Certified Christian Educators, and Certified Associate Christian Educators includes Board of Pension participation and paid family leave of at least twelve weeks.
[06-17] Minimum guidelines for Paid Parental Leave
[06-20] (From ACWC) urges synods, presbyteries, and congregations to create a Family Leave Policy (FLP) that includes at minimum 6 weeks paid and 6 weeks leave to be used as parental or family (emergency/caretaking) leave. The resolution also directs the other five agencies of the General Assembly (Board of Pensions, Foundation, Office of the General Assembly, Presbyterian Investment and Loan Program, Inc., and the Presbyterian Publishing Corporation)
to improve their FLPs to match PMA standard, and commends the PMA for its work in improving and expanding its FLP.
Presbyterian Mission Agency Paid Family and Medical Leave Policy Expansion (Effective 1/1/2018)
|Type of Leave:
|FMLA Parental Leave
|4 weeks of leave at 100% of regular pay
|Paid time-off (can keep up to 10 days of vacation)
|Balance of 12 weeks of at 60% of regular pay
|FMLA Family Leave
|4 weeks of leave at 100% of regular pay
|Paid time-off (can keep up to 10 days of vacation)
|Balance of 12 weeks unpaid
|FMLA Personal Medical
|4 weeks of leave at 100% of regular pay
|Paid time-off (can keep up to 10 days of vacation)
|Balance of 12 weeks of at 60% of regular pay
(This chart is included in ACWC’s rationale for [06-20])
Advisory and Advocacy Group Response to Family & Medical Leave Proposals
ACREC supports [06-13], [06-14], [06-15], and [06-20] with the same rationale for each: “many Presbyterian staff of color as well as immigrants serve in smaller and/or financially strapped congregations due to systemic racism and underemployment in communities of color”. It specifically cites short-term disability coverage and support for congregations paying for a supply pastor as top priorities.
The Board of Pensions writes that it supports the underlying values of [6-13], [6-14], [6-15], and [6-17], “urges all employers within the PC(USA) family to adopt appropriate family leave policies as defined by the General Assembly.” However, it advises disapproval of all four items for “numerous practical and technical concerns.” In response to [06-20], BOP writes that it supports family leave, citing historical GA actions and its own compliance with those actions.
ACSWP recommends that the GA answer [06-13] by approving [06-20], which was the ACWC recommendation and covers more of the church. ACSWP indicates that [06-20] will be more comprehensive than [06-14] because “not all employees would be covered by terms of call as defined by the Book of Order.” (Note additionally that 06-20, by including all GA agencies, covers the Board of Pensions—which is what [06-13] addresses). ACSWP acknowledges the Board of Pensions’ concerns, but answers: “Practical and technical concerns are meant to be overcome in the promotion of peace, love, and justice.”
ACWC wrote [06-20] and also supports [06-13] and [06-15]. Select quotes from their comment on [06-13] include: “Quality family leave policies are a clear gender justice concern, as childcare still falls heavily on women,” “Churches are not subject to the Family Medical Leave Act of 2003 (FMLA). Currently, the PC(USA) has no written denomination-wide policy regarding parental leave,” and “This overture provides the PC(USA) an opportunity to be a leader in providing support to new parents.”
[06-08] Amends G-2.0301 so that elected ruling elders “may be individually commissioned or may serve” as members of the session. Previous language said that they “shall serve faithfully” as members of the session.
ACREC advises that the GA disapprove [06-08], stating: “People of color in majority culture churches are at risk of losing voice and given only a title. The full functions of the ordained office need to be preserved.”
GACOR had an alternative interpretation, writing: “Should this overture be approved, it ensures that the responsibility of ordination for ruling elders remains in the local congregation while providing opportunities for greater representation and diversity in higher governing councils, committees, task forces, and commissions.”
ACC advises disapproval, saying elders should not immediately jump to higher governing councils: “The essential functions of ruling elders identified in G-2.0301 (exercise leadership, government, spiritual discernment, and discipline) are yoked to the practice of governance in the context of councils. The Constitution assumes such experience as a prerequisite to exercise governance in higher councils. Removing this requirement would deemphasize the essential governance function of ruling elders and incorporate other forms of service.”
The Presbytery of Newton, in its concurrence to [06-08], points to the rationale’s statement that the amendment is meant to be permissive rather than restrictive. It adds language (bolded below) to the rationale concerning examples of when this may be appropriate.
“It sometimes occurs that congregations or councils beyond the session need the services of particular individuals as ruling elders, but those individuals a
are unable to immediately assume a term on the session. For example, the spouse or child of a pastor may decline to be nominated for a seat on the session that is moderated by their family member—thinking it a conflict of interest to do so or the session bylaws or standing rules do not permit it.”
[06-12] Amends G-3.0201 to read:
“The session is the council for the congregation. It shall be composed of those persons elected by the congregation to active service as ruling elders, together with all installed pastors and associate pastors. All members of the session are entitled to vote. The pastor shall be the moderator of the session, and the session shall not meet without the pastor or designated moderator. In the case of the sickness or absence of the pastor or designated moderator, the pastor or designated moderator may appoint a member of the session to preside, or the session, after having obtained the approval of the pastor or designated moderator, may convene and elect another of its own members to preside. Such an appointment should not be routine and shall only be for a single meeting. If there is no installed pastor,
or if the installed pastor is unable to invite another moderator, the presbytery shall make provisions for a moderator. Presbyteries shall provide by rule for moderators when the session is without a moderator for reasons of vacancy or inconvenience.”
ACREC advises disapproval: “ACREC appreciates the connectional nature of the PC(USA). Churches with majority people of color and immigrant communities risk losing the necessary support needed from presbyteries if this recommendation is approved. Immigrant churches bring cultural contexts that need to be taken into consideration when interpreting the polity of our denomination.”
ACC also advises disapproval, based on the function of the moderator, ending, “The Constitution provides for a remedy (see G-3.0201) for cases where there is no installed pastor to moderate the session, or if the installed pastor is unable to invite another moderator. Emergencies and special circumstances are often those when the presence of the presbytery through its appointed moderator is particularly important. The cases of the sickness or absence of the pastor or designated moderator are ones where the presbytery needs to be involved and informed.”
Property held in trust by congregations; state law compliance
[06-01] Amends G-4.0203 to read:
“All property held by or for a congregation, a presbytery, a synod, the General Assembly, or the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), whether legal title is lodged in a corporation, a trustee or trustees, or an unincorporated association, and whether the property is used in programs of a congregation or of a higher council or retained for the production of income, is held in trust nevertheless for the use and benefit of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.); unless state law requires otherwise.”
ACC recommends disapproval, writing: “The proposed language is inconsistent with the Foundations of Presbyterian Polity and specifically conflicts with F-3.0102, F-3.0201, F-3.0203, F-3.0206, and F-3.0209. The proposed language is also inconsistent with G-4.0203, G-4.0206, G-4.207, and G-4.0208 and is likely to add further confusion and conflict to resolution of church property disputes” and continuing in detail about the constitutional structure of the church.
Ministers working outside of their presbytery
[06-05] Amends G-2.0503 by adding this paragraph after G-2.0503(5):
“When ministers of Word and Sacrament are called to a validated ministry within the bounds of another presbytery, permission to labor outside the bounds of the presbytery of membership and within the bounds of the presbytery where the ministry is located shall be obtained from both presbyteries. Such permission shall be reviewed annually.”
ACC supports the substance of the change, but recommends language to make it at G-3.0306 (dealing with membership of a presbytery) instead of G-2.0503. With its modifications, the fourth paragraph of G-3.0306 would read:
“Every minister of the Word and Sacrament shall ordinarily be a member of the presbytery where his or her work is situated or of the presbytery where she or he resides. The presbytery may grant a minister permission to engage in work that is outside its geographic bounds or which is not under its jurisdiction, but no presbytery shall permit a minister to engage in work that is within the geographic bounds of another presbytery and which is properly within the responsibility of another presbytery without consent of that presbytery. Such permission shall be obtained from both presbyteries and shall be reviewed and renewed annually.”
(Editor’s note: although it is not labeled as such, this measure could be viewed as having a certain valence to the issue of preventing sexual misconduct addressed in several amendments above—requiring review from the minister’s presbytery of origin as part of the approval process for working.)
Requiring a two-thirds majority to amend the Constitution
[06-06] Amends G-6.04e, so that an amendment to the Book of Order will take force 1 year after the Stated Clerk receives written advice that two-thirds of the presbyteries have affirmed it.” (Only a simple majority must approve the amendment for it to take force, as that is the current standard. The 1 year delay is already included.)
“A constitution should provide stability and require broad consensus to change. The current practice of requiring only a majority of all presbyteries to vote in the affirmative treats constitutional change as a simple motion. This does not provide stability or require broad consensus, nor does it adequately protect the unity of the body or the rights of the minority. Requiring two-thirds of presbyteries to vote in the affirmative for a change in the Book of Order would:
1. Better balance the tension between the following parliamentary principles:
a. The unity of the body shall be protected;
b. The rights of the minority shall be protected;
c. The will of the majority shall prevail.
2. Restore the threshold for constitutional change to the norms of Robert’s Rules of Order.”
Every A&C written on this proposal opposes it (concurrences from five presbyteries left no comment); nevertheless, I include a section of every response below, because the reasons each group gives are so distinct.
ACSWP “disagrees with this proposal to require a ⅔ affirmative vote to amend the Constitution because it limits the denomination from moving at the call of the Holy Spirit to change, as well as prioritizes the minority voices who might hold the denomination hostage to inertia.”
ACREC recommends disapproval as well, questioning the clarity of the approval process with regard to whether or not the change would then require other amendments before the 223rd (2018) assembly would require a majority of 2/3rd of the presbyteries. It also points out that it would incredibly difficult to get 2/3rd of the presbyteries to adopt this amendment to effectively “freeze” the Book of Order.
(Editor’s note: In its comment, ACREC appears to attribute to this resolution a 1-year delay in constitutional amendments taking effect; in fact, the 1-year delay is already included in the Book of Order. Nevertheless, the irony exposed by ACREC’s core point—that the GA passing this resolution would be restricting a future GA, while itself unbound—applies.)
COGA recommends disapproval, stating: “A change to the Book of Confessions requires a 2/3 affirmative vote of the presbyteries. To require a 2/3 vote to change the Book of Order would, in essence equate our rules and our theology—thus elevating the rules that should always be subordinate to Scripture and theology.”
ACWC recommends disapproval, citing the opinion of ACC, ACREC, COGA, and GACOR on a similar amendment before the 222nd General Assembly, which was disapproved 505-35 (along with other overtures) after a 74-2 vote to disapprove with comment by the Way Forward Committee.
GACOR “reminds commissioners that the church is called to “a new openness to see both the possibilities and perils of its institutional forms” (F-1.0404). Adding an extra barrier to reform will negatively impact that openness we claim as foundational. Closing opportunity for reform is not Presbyterian. Creating a high approval threshold puts limits on changes and will bind and limit future General Assembly’s decisions.”
ACC recommends disapproval, providing historical context and writing that “approval of this overture would invert the historic constitutional rights of the majority and minority.”
Prohibiting Public Endorsement of Individuals Running for Public Office
[06-16] Amends G-3.0104 by adding a final paragraph:
“No congregation, session, presbytery, synod, or national office of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), nor any individual acting on behalf of or in an official capacity for the above institutions, shall publicly endorse or oppose, or otherwise encourage or discourage others to vote for or against an individual running for public office.”
In the context of government consideration of overturning the Johnson Amendment, this overture seeks to re-emphasize awareness about the sensitive balance between advocacy and avoiding political manipulation at the pulpit. In the rationale is written:
“While it is clear that the principles of this overture are present in abundance throughout the Book of Order and Book of Confessions, there is no explicit guidance offered to governing bodies or to those in leadership positions regarding endorsing or opposing candidates running for political office. This amendment to the Book of Order precludes such activity while still allowing for churches and leaders to actively engage with secular issues that touch on the life of faith, to work towards bringing God’s reign of justice and peace ever closer to reality.”
ACSWP advises approval, with the following amendment to the overture:
“[Except in cases of extreme danger to the common good, and even then with cautions against extreme partisanship, no] congregation, session, presbytery, synod, or national office of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), nor any individual acting on behalf of or in an official capacity for the above institutions, shall publicly endorse or oppose, or otherwise encourage or discourage others to vote for or against an individual running for public office.”
ACC advises disapproval, citing a differently balanced wording from a past assembly:
‘The 200th General Assembly (1988) specifically affirmed that: “We recognize that speaking out on issues will sometimes constitute implicit support or opposition to particular candidates or parties, where policy and platform differences are clearly drawn. Since such differences are the vital core of the political process, church participation should not be curtailed on that account; but we believe that it is generally unwise and imprudent for the church explicitly to support or oppose specific candidates, except in unusual circumstances” (God Alone, p. 50).’
This outline was compiled by Henry Koenig Stone, who serves in Louisville, KY as current Managing Editor of Unbound and as Associate for Young Adult Social Witness (staff to ACSWP). Henry holds a B.A. in Economics (2015) from the University of Chicago and an MPP (2017) from UChicago’s Harris School of Public Policy. His past work has focused on policy analyses of healthcare pilot programs and public health systems.