nFOG Approved; Updated FAQs

Trinity Presbytery in Western South Carolina cast the 87th affirmative vote on the Foundations of Presbyterian Polity and Form of Government earlier today (Tuesday, June 7).  The vote was 56-48-5.  Four more presbyteries will vote on the issue: Tres Rios (6/10), Riverside (6/11); Mission (6/17), and Detroit (6/28).  (Midwest Hamni and Dakota are not expected to vote on any pending amendments prior to the voting deadline.

Confirmation by the presbyteries means that the the new sections of the Book of Order will be effective one year after the adjournment of the 219th General Assembly, or July 10, 2011.

Here are some updated Frequently Asked Questions concerning the ratification of nFOG:

What has changed with the adoption of the new Form of Government?

The same basic polity that has defined the core work of the councils (governing bodies) of the Presbyterian Church continues with the new Form of Government.  This revision is not so much about the “what” that councils do – our essential polity – as it is about the “who” and the “how.”  Increased flexibility in structures and procedures in a less regulatory environment is the major change that has occurred.  The new Form of Government allows councils to increase their focus on God’s work and how the church can most effectively participate in that work in each situation, rather than being focused on an increasingly lengthy and burdensome list of requirements.

Will a council need to immediately revise its manual of operations?

Existing manuals – already required of presbyteries, synods, and the General Assembly, and also in use by many sessions – remain in force until changed by a council.  Revisions do not have to be made immediately, affording a council time to determine what structures and procedures will work best to carry out its identified mission for Jesus Christ.   The “Advisory Handbook for Councils” identifies policies and procedures required by the new Form of Government for each council, most of which should already be in place and would be revised only if and when a council deems it necessary.

What about sessions that have no manual?

Sessions will need to create a manual of their policies and procedures, which will at the least need to define certain discretionary powers now given to them.  These are described in the Advisory Handbook, and include such things as quorums, adequate notice for special meetings, any changes to the nominations process, etc.  Many of these might already exist as standing policies (prior actions) of the session.  The size of the manual will depend on how detailed the structure is that the session has in place.  [See “Those Pesky Manuals!”]

What happens to existing Authoritative Interpretations under the new Form of Government?

Authoritative Interpretations (AIs) of the Constitution can only be made or rescinded by the General Assembly. All current AIs remain in effect until changed by a future GA, which is precisely the situation that has always existed with any amendment to the Form of Government that has been previously interpreted.  A task force is currently working to make recommendations to the 220th GA (2012) on the continuing status of all AIs, based on guidelines provided by the Advisory Committee on the Constitution to the 219th GA (2010).  [See “The Proposed Form of Government and Interpretive History” and “The GAPJC White Paper Redux”.]

How will accountability be enforced in the new Form of Government?

The new Form of Government continues the long-standing Presbyterian principle of right-of-review of one council by the next higher council (F-3.0206, G-3.0108).  Emphasis is also placed on the need for consultation between councils on mission  strategy, structures, and procedures.  Enforcement of administrative and judicial directives relies even now on trust and mutual accountability, undergirded by our belief that all church power is ministerial and declarative (F-3.0107).  [See “The Loss of “Separate and Independent Governing Bodies?”]

Our work together as Presbyterians gathered in congregations and councils of the church will continue to be guided by this important declaration: “The polity of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) presupposes the fellowship of women, men, and children united in covenant relationship with one another and with God through Jesus Christ.  The organization rests on the fellowship and is not designed to work without trust and love” (new G-1.0102; compare to current G-7.0103). No Form of Government can legislate this trust and love, but by answering the new Form of Government’s call to work cooperatively and collegially to identify and implement the mission of each council of the church, we may find a deepened sense of commitment and connection to Jesus Christ and each other as the journey progresses.

What impact will the adoption of Amendment 10-A have on the text of the new Form of Government?

The passage of Amendment 10-A amending the text of current G-6.0106b will also change the text of the same passage in the new Form of Government, G-2.0104b. The new language of the amendment will replace the current language in G-2.0104b. The same is true for several other amendments adopted this year. At the end of each amendment in the booklet published by the Office of the General Assembly (Booklet #3), there is a statement that indicates the impact of the adoption of the amendment on the new Form of Government.  [Amendment Booklet #3]

Those Pesky Manuals!

Since the passage of nFOG earlier today, the Twitter universe has seen  numerous tweets asking whether sessions are ready to write their required manuals, that a huge task lies ahead of them, etc.  This may not be as fearsome as some think.

We have a definite hierarchy of authorities within the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).  The Bible sits at the top, followed by the Book of Confessions and Book of Order, parts one and two of our constitution.  The latter book defines the most recent edition of Robert’s Rules (RONR) as the parliamentary authority.  A manual of operations sits on the shelf between the constitution and RONR, and is a compendium of the standing policies and procedures of a council, be it a synod, presbytery, or session.

Many sessions have a developed structure that is already expressed through a manual of operations.  Some do not.  However, this does not mean that these sessions are starting with a blank slate.  What a manual does is bring together into one place the standing policies of the session as to its mission, structure, and procedures.  Every session already has a “manual” that contains their existing standing policies.  We call that book the minutes.  If you want to quickly find a policy of the session, would you rather search through all of the minutes, or a manual that has compiled them all in one orderly volume?

Coming up with a session manual gets into the first question of every Jr. High writing assignment — how long does it have to be?  (How about session manuals for Twitter — 140 characters or less!)  The answer is, how detailed is your session structure?  If your session has few committees, few written policies, and few organizations under its umbrella, then the manual will be rather short.  The more detailed the structure, the more detailed you will want the manual to be — but this is not to create busy work.  In the end, it is for everybody’s protection and guidance, spelling out clearly and in one place how the session has determined that the congregation will be organized and function.  We never will be able to purge the old “decently and in order” DNA from our system!

Here are some questions that probe at the issue of items that might need to be in a session manual:

  • Does your congregation have bylaws?  Put them in the session manual for easy reference, but understand that they are policies of the congregation, and not the session.
  • What is the congregation-approved size of the session?
  • Does the session operate as a unicameral board; that is, do the elders also serve as trustees?
  • Does the congregation use the ordered ministry of Deacon?  Are the Deacons organized into a board?
  • Does the session have standing committees?  How has the session structured them and defined  their responsibilities?
  • Which of the current options for the work of the nominating committee does the congregation use?  Are there any local rules limiting who may be nominated, such as, no two members from the same household at the same time?
  • Does the session have personnel policies?  (NOTE: current G-10.0102n has for years required all sessions to have personnel policies.)  Position descriptions also fit in here.
  • What other policies does the session have?  Use of the building? Funeral policies? Flower policies?  Wedding policies? Procedures for the counting of offerings?
  • Are there organizations within the church that need to be defined?

A helpful resource for this task is the Companion to the Constitution, which may be found online here.  In this resource you will find Appendix S, Sample Bylaws, and Appendix T, Manual of Administrative Operations, which provide helpful guidance for the areas that need to be covered in a manual, although not everything on this latter list needs to be in every session manual.  Add to this the guidance from the Advisory Handbook for Councils, and you will be on your way to compiling or updating your session manual.

Other helpful resources include your presbytery, which already may be gearing up to assist sessions in this process, and neighboring churches.  Neighboring churches can be a resource as well.  Frequently one of the other Presbyterian churches in the area will call and ask for a copy of our Building Use Policy, or Church Educator position description, or Wedding Policy, to refer to as they work on updating their policies.  It is not necessary to reinvent the wheel in this task!

This process need not take a tremendous amount of time; I have been through manual revisions with two presbyteries and two sessions, and both my current session and presbytery have been putting off projects to revise their manuals until issues like the nFOG vote were determined.  A  small group can coordinate the project, seek input from the various committees and organizations of the church, and put together a proposal that the entire session can then study and perfect.  The whole world need not stop while this is done, and there is no timetable that says it has to be done immediately.  In fact, the average manual is always a work in progress, always changing with the changing needs of the congregation.

One final question: does the need to address this task create the opportunity for taking a comprehensive look at the congregation’s current mission, and how any changes to this might impact on session’s current structure and procedures?  Our sense of mission should always inform our structures employed.  Maybe this is an opportunity to begin this sort of conversation.

Dan Williams, Second Presbyterian Church, Staunton, VA

Quorum in a Congregational Meeting

Questions have been raised about the impact of the possible adoption of the proposed Form of Government on the establishment of a quorum in a congregational meeting. The passage in the proposed FoG that is pertinent here is proposed G-1.0501, which states, in pertinent part:

“…Congregations shall provide by rule the quorum necessary to conduct business.”

This is a change from the current requirements of G-7.0305, which state:

“The quorum of a meeting of the congregation shall be not less than one tenth of the members unless the particular church upon application to the presbytery shall obtain the consent of the presbytery to a provision for a smaller quorum. A congregation by its own vote may fix a higher quorum. No meeting of fewer than three members shall be considered a congregational meeting.”

Many congregations have bylaws, articles of incorporation, or administrative manuals that specify a quorum for congregational meetings. If such a document is in place, it should in my opinion continue to govern the congregation’s practice and constitute the congregation’s “provision by rule” for a quorum.

Many congregations have bylaws or other documents that specify a quorum by means of reference to the Book of Order, G-7.0305. If such a reference is in place, it is my opinion that the most reasonable interpretation would be that the current language of G-7.0305 (one tenth of the membership, not less than three) is the intent of the congregation in establishing its rule. The congregation would be wise to make this intent explicit at the next congregational meeting, but that meeting itself would be governed by the G-7.0305 quorum.

Some congregations, however, do not have bylaws, articles of incorporation,  or administrative manuals and therefore have no specification regarding quorum apart from the language of current G-7.0305. In the absence of such congregation-specific language, the provisions of Robert’s Rules of Order, Newly Revised (10th e., hereafter, RRONR) enter the picture.

RRONR, sec. 3 (p. 20) says of a quorum: “The requirement of a quorum is a protection against totally unrepresentative action in the name of the body by an unduly small number of persons. In both houses of Congress, the quorum is a majority of the members, by the United States Constitution. Such a quorum is appropriate in legislative bodies but too large in most voluntary societies. In an ordinary society, therefore, a provision of the bylaws should specify the number of members that shall constitute a quorum, which should approximate the largest number that can be depended on to attend except in very bad weather or other unfavorable conditions” (emphasis added).

RRONR, sec. 40 (pp. 334-35), further defines the establishment of a quorum by relating it to the ability of the deliberative body accurately to assess its membership, if the body has not otherwise specified a quorum. Two pertinent paragraphs:

“2) In organizations such as many churches or some societies in which there are no required or effective annual dues and the register of members is not generally reliable as a list of the bona-fide members, the quorum at any regularly or properly called meeting consists of those who attend….

“4) In any other deliberative assembly with enrolled membership whose bylaws do not specify a quorum, the quorum is a majority of all the members.”

It seems to me that if a congregation’s membership rolls are not necessarily an accurate list of the “bona-fide” membership of the congregation, paragraph 2 above might be argued to apply. But this argument clearly would not stand if a congregation’s rolls are relatively accurate and up-to-date; in this case paragraph 4 with its requirement of a “majority of all the members” would more reasonably be the standard.

This means that there is wisdom in holding a congregational meeting prior to 10 July 2011 to establish a quorum, perhaps by adopting the “one-tenth, but not less than three” language of current G-7.0305, or some other language agreeable to the congregation. Certainly this is the safest course of action if a congregation believes that the “majority of all members” standard is too burdensome.

Nonetheless, historical precedent and an appreciation of the spirit as well as the letter of RRONR have some value. Since 1986, the Book of Order has specified “one-tenth but not less than three.” It is reasonable to assume that, in a good-faith effort to meet the requirements of proposed G-1.0501, a congregation could establish its quorum rule in a meeting governed by quorum requirements that have been in place until the adoption of the proposed new Form. In other words, a congregation that is honestly seeking to meet the requirements of G-1.0501 (if it is adopted) but that cannot do so prior to 10 July 2011, might legitimately argue that “the largest number that can be depended on to attend” (RRONR, p.20) is accurately reflected in the congregation’s historic practice of recent years.  Since that practice will have been defined by the “one-tenth but not less than three” rule, that rule could be reasonably argued to be the proper quorum until the congregation is able to adopt another statement.

Paul Hooker, Presbytery of St. Augustine

nFOG: A polity “reboot”

The following article was originally posted by the Presbyterian Outlook on Tuesday, 21 December 2010.

Long ago, in a presbytery not so far away where I served as stated clerk, I attended what now is called the Fall Polity Conference. During a meal, the conversation turned to the Book of Order, and even though it was only a few years after reunion, a consensus emerged that something needed to be done. The Constitution, particularly the Form of Government (FOG), was growing increasingly larger with each amendment cycle.

Because of this and other stresses from our way of “doing church,” the 1989 General Assembly created the Special Committee on the Nature of the Church and the Practice of Governance. This was the start of a two-decade process that culminated in the approval of the FOG now before the presbyteries. Along the way, the Directory for Worship (1988) and the Rules of Discipline (1995) were completely revised, but the task of revamping the FOG was never completed. The current FOG is still 1983’s Plan for Reunion, as amended.

The work of the FOG Task Force built on the work of these past 20 years. Among the reasons for adopting this proposal are three that the Task Force has identified as most important:

1. This revision does a better job than our current Book of Order in connecting what we believe about the church with how we accomplish the church’s mission. The Foundations of Presbyterian Polity lays out in a single, well-organized document the basic ecclesiological and historical commitments undergirding our polity. The Foundations takes most of current G-1.000 – G-4.000 and reorganizes it by theme, using the Nicene Creed’s Marks of the Church (one, holy, catholic, apostolic) and the Scots Confession’s Notes of the Reformed Church (proclamation of the word, administration of the sacraments, ecclesiastical discipline).

2. This revision clarifies standards for the whole church. It reduces the amount of regulatory “manual of operations” language but retains what is important – the standards that guide the whole church in carrying out God’s mission at every level.

3.  This revision provides flexibility appropriate to each context. It allows sessions, presbyteries, synods, and the General Assembly to create, reorganize, or dismantle structures as needed without having to amend the Book of Order to do so. This flexibility makes the church more nimble as it seeks to adapt its ministry to the changing contexts of our world. It removes the one-size-fits-all requirements of our current FOG.

Over the past several years, an interesting phenomenon has occurred in Hollywood. New films described as “reboots” have revived many long-standing movie franchises.

In a sense, the proposed FOG is a polity reboot. Many of the “characters” are familiar — sessions, presbyteries, ruling elders, teaching elders, deacons, etc. The story is basically the same: “The mission of God in Christ gives shape and substance to the life and work of the Church” (F-1.01). Whereas the current FOG predetermines what much of that “shape and substance” is to be, the new FOG enables the church to dream and discover together what shapes to keep, and how to give substance to the new things God might lead us to accomplish together.

We commend the new Form of Government to the presbyteries, and urge an affirmative vote.

DANIEL S. WILLIAMS is pastor of Second Church in Staunton, Va., and was co-moderator, Form of Government Task Force (2008-2010), and vice moderator, Assembly Committee on Form of Government Revisions (2008).

Learning to Trust

One of the criticisms of the proposed new Form of Government being raised by some in the church concerns the issue of trust. It usually is stated something like this: Do we trust each other enough to change our Book of Order in such significant ways?

A few days ago, Robert Austell phrased it this way in an editorial piece critical of the proposed Foundations and Form of Government, cited on the Presbyterian Coalition’s website:

And so my great concern is that in a denomination where we have staked out every bit of the theological, political, financial, and practical territory that we can, this is an effort to clear the table and reset. We are trying to reset according to a new ideal – God’s mission – but I am realistic enough to recognize that rather than reset in that way, we will just scramble madly to re-stake all the same territory. Every changed word or phrase and every potential crack for gaining or losing ground will be pounced upon. And that will actually get in the way of participating in God’s mission in the world.

Robert Austell is absolutely right.

If we as a church adopt the new Foundations and Form of Government, and then proceed to “scramble madly to re-stake all the same territory,” we will all have wasted a colossal amount of time and energy.

Austell’s comment goes to the heart of the problem posed by a regulatory polity. By relying on an ever-expanding web of rules that constrain the behavior of those we don’t like or don’t agree with, we have taught ourselves not to trust ourselves. We have designed a polity in which we relate to each other through a network of regulations, and then fight with each other over the meaning and parameters of those regulations. We have learned to relate to rules, not to people.

The proposed Foundations and Form of Government is not merely an editing of our existing Form of Government. It is an invitation to the church to learn to trust each other. By inviting sessions, presbyteries, synods, and the General Assembly itself to think through the way we structure ourselves for mission, we invite each other to talk with and listen to each other. We create the opportunity to learn from each other, and to experiment with new systems and entities for bearing effective witness to God’s grace. We offer the chance to see each other as we are – real, multifaceted people with varied experience and insight – rather than as two-dimensional “pro” or “con” partisans in the fight over the hot button issues of the moment.

Robert Austell is right about another thing: no polity – including both our present Form of Government and the proposed Form – can work without trust and love. And that, of course, begs the question: if we do not trust and love each other now, how do we learn to trust? What sort of polity makes it more likely that we will learn to trust?

The proposed Foundations and Form of Government are built on the notion that people learn to trust and respect each other through mutual engagement with each other around a common goal and task. As we sit together to hammer out the structures of presbytery that will help us bear more effective witness to the love of Christ in our context, we simultaneously learn to trust and respect our partners in that effort. That’s what the members of the Peace, Unity, and Purity Task Force learned in their work together, and it’s what the Form of Government Task Force experienced as well. We resolutely believe that this pathway – slow and small though the steps along it may be – is the path that will make us a better community of faith.

No polity can make people more trusting. People are more trusting because they are moved by God’s Spirit to be more trusting – it’s really that simple and clear-cut. I either make myself vulnerable in relationship to others, or I don’t. I either receive another person in relationship, or I don’t. In the end, each one of us has to decide whether we are willing to risk the vulnerability that is an indispensable part of trust for the sake of building a better faith community.

Mission Support and Per Capita

This post will serve two purposes:

  1. It will address a concern communicated to me by another within my presbytery (Shenandoah) about the effect of nFOG on per capita and other mission support.
  2. It will provide an example of an area where, because the current and proposed Forms of Government are essentially the same, current Authoritative Interpretations (AIs) will continue to be in force.  This issue was touched upon in two previous posts: The GAPJC White Paper Redux and The Proposed Form of Government and Interpretive History.

Recently, someone wrote to me about a contention made in another publication that under nFOG, “sessions will be REQUIRED to pay per capita assessments and to support the denomination’s mission budget.”  This is a variation of the “nFOG equals the loss of interpretive history” argument dealt with in the above-referenced posts.  That argument essentially says that the adoption of nFOG will wipe the slate clean of all authoritative interpretations (AIs), and it will not be known for at least one year where the church stands on issues previously interpreted by action of the GA, either in session or through its Permanent Judicial Commission.

Sometimes its seems that objections to nFOG arise out of a lack of knowledge of our existing polity, and how it has been interpreted by the General Assembly.  A section in nFOG appears to be new and different from what we understand our current polity to be, until the two are compared.  The above contention perhaps is an example of this.

Consider what nFOG and the current FOG say about mission support and per capita.  In nFOG, here is what G-3.0205 says about the session’s role in overseeing the finances of a congregation:

… the session shall prepare and adopt a budget and determine the distribution of the congregation’s benevolences. It shall authorize offerings for Christian purposes and shall account for the proceeds of such offerings and their disbursement. It shall provide full information to the congregation concerning its decisions in such matters.

Compare this to existing G-10.0102 h and i, part of the session’s “responsibility and power”:

…  to challenge the people of God with the privilege of responsible Christian stewardship of money and time and talents, developing effective ways for encouraging and gathering the offerings of the people and assuring that all offerings are distributed to the objects toward which they were contributed;
… to establish the annual budget, determine the distribution of the church’s benevolences, and order offerings for Christian purposes, providing full information to the congregation of its decisions in such matters;

The nFOG section combines the two sections of the current FOG, and neither adds to nor takes away from the session’s power and authority to develop the congregation’s budget and direct the distribution of benevolences collected. [NOTE: the first part of G-10.0102h, about challenging the people in their stewardship, finds its nFOG parallel in the middle of G-3.0201c.]

The issue of per capita is similar between the current FOG and proposed FOG.  Here is what current G-9.0404d says about per capita:

Each governing body above the session shall prepare a budget for its operating expenses, including administrative personnel, and may fund it with a per capita apportionment among the particular churches within its bounds.  The presbyteries shall be responsible for raising their own per capita funds, and for raising and timely transmission of per capita funds to their respective synods and to the General Assembly.  The presbyteries may direct per capita apportionments to the sessions of the churches within their bounds.

Here is nFOG’s G-3.0106:

Each council above the session shall prepare a budget for its operating expenses, including administrative personnel, and may fund it with a per capita apportionment among the particular congregations within its bounds. Presbyteries are responsible for raising their own funds and for raising and timely transmission of per capita funds to their respective synods and the General Assembly. Presbyteries may direct per capita apportionments to sessions within their bounds, but in no case shall the authority of the session to direct its benevolences be compromised.

A comparison of these two paragraphs shows that they are essentially identical, save for the terminology change between “governing body” and “council,” and the use of ‘shall’ versus ‘are’ in the second sentences.   The only major difference is found at the end of the nFOG paragraph, which expresses the essence of several decisions of the GAPJC in the “but in no case shall the authority of the session to direct its benevolences be compromised” language.  These cases include:

  • 217-2, Johnson, et. al. v. Heartland Pby;
  • 204-1, Minihan v. Pby Scioto Valley;
  • 1992, Session of Central Church v. Pby Long Island;
  • 1986, Buonaiuto v. First Presbyterian Church, Greenlawn, NY
  • Two antecedents from the UPCUSA prior to reunion.  (See the online annotated Book of Order for links to these references.)

This phrase was added by the Assembly Committee to remove any doubt about the session’s authority in the area of per capita.

It is clear that the session retains final authority over the distribution of all of its benevolences, including per capita (previously interpreted by the GAPJC to be included in the understanding of ‘benevolences’), and that the session cannot be compelled to pay per capita or otherwise support the mission budget of the presbytery, synod, or General Assembly.  More on that, below.

Here, then, is the connection to the previous post which touched on the issue of the continuance of Authoritative Interpretations (AIs), or, the so-called loss of interpretive history that is alleged will happen if nFOG is adopted.  Since the language concerning mission funding and per capita is essentially the same between the two versions, and the language in nFOG about per capita includes the interpretation about the session’s final authority to oversee the congregation’s benevolences in the form of per capita, as established by the above-referenced GAPJC cases, why would the existing AIs regarding these matters be discontinued should nFOG be adopted? The Advisory Committee on the Constitution (ACC), in answering a request about the effect of a complete revision of the Book of Order on existing authoritative interpretations (Item 07-11), identified five standards for determining whether an AI will continue.  The second guideline states:

If language is approved that is identical to, or essentially the same as the language of constitutional provisions that have already been interpreted, current authoritative interpretations would continue in force.

The ACC went on to state their belief that this guideline would apply to AIs regarding current G-6.0106b (ordination standards), G-6.0108 (e.g., “PUP #5)”, G-8.0201 (the property trust clause), and G-9.0404d (per capita).  As the ACC is always quick to say, only the General Assembly can finally determine the status of its interpretive statements.

One other paragraph of nFOG might contribute to the concern regarding the session’s authority over the congregation’s benevolences.  In proposed G-3.0106, the paragraph immediately before the one included above about per capita says the following:

The funding of mission similarly demonstrates the unity and interdependence of the church. The failure of any part of the church to participate in the stewardship of the mission of the whole church diminishes that unity and interdependence. All mission funding should enable the church to give effective witness in the world to God’s new creation in Jesus Christ, and should strengthen the church’s witness to the mission of God.

Some might interpret this paragraph to create a scenario where a presbytery could compel a session to pay per capita or other support to the denomination.  (i.e., “your failure to pay your share of per capita diminishes the unity and interdependence of the church.”)  Two things should be noted in regards to this:

  1. The language in the paragraph is “ministerial and declarative” (see current G-1.0307), and counsels as to what would be in the best interests of the whole church.  However, it stops short of using mandatory language.  The third sentence uses the word “should,” and not “shall.”  “Should” is defined in the preface to the Book of Order as “signif(ying) practice that is strongly recommended.”
  2. We already live under the guidance of this paragraph, as it expresses decisions of the GAPJC in matters related to per capita and mission funding.  For instance, in Remedial Case 216-01, Minihan v. the Presbytery of Scioto Valley, the GAPJC said:

… the theological heart of this case is the covenantal nature of the Church. Indeed, both parties refer to per capita as a high moral obligation and as one of the sinews that binds the covenant community together. This is consistent with the historic nature of Presbyterian order that we have shared power and responsibility (G-4.0302).  Therefore, while our Constitution does not technically permit presbyteries to make per capita mandatory, we are necessarily bound together as a covenant community through our union to God Almighty in Jesus through the Holy Spirit (A Brief Statement of Faith, C-10.4, lines 52-57). Thus, there is a high moral obligation based on the grace and call of God to participate fully in the covenant community … withholding per capita as a means of protest or dissent evidences a serious breach of the trust and love with which our Lord Jesus intends the covenant community to function together (G-7.0103).

Bottom line: nFOG maintains the same standards in the area of mission funding and per capita.  Because the language is essentially the same, interpretations of it offered by the General Assembly, such as the ones cited above by the GAPJC, will undoubtedly remain in force.  Sessions cannot be compelled to pay per capita or otherwise support the mission of the larger church, but we all should think long and hard about what our calling is to be in these matters — sessions and presbyteries as they work together to support and accomplish the church’s mission, and perhaps even the General Assembly, in what they fund through per capita receipts.

Dan Williams

The GAPJC White Paper Redux

Certain groups are still trying to gain traction against the proposed new Form of Government (nFOG) by giving the “ninth commandment treatment” to the so-called General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission (GAPJC) “white paper.”  This paper was addressed in depth by an earlier blog entry on this site, “The Proposed Form of Government and Interpretive History.”

When you encounter this argument, please keep the following things in mind:

  • Even though these groups present the “white paper” as if it were an official report of the GAPJC to the 219th General Assembly, it was not.  Log on to PC-Biz, the online repository of official papers before the General Assembly, click on the Committees tab, and click on Committee 07, Form of Government Revision.  There you will find the eighteen reports, papers, and overtures assigned to the committee that considered nFOG.  You will NOT find anything from the GAPJC, this “white paper,” or otherwise.  The “white paper” was intended as an internal document to advise the GAPJC moderator and clerk on a host of issues before the 219th GA, was never intended to be made public, and certainly is not an official action of the GAPJC.
  • All actions of the GAPJC arise out of appeals generated by the permanent judicial commission system of the PC(USA).  There has been no case before the GAPJC involving nFOG, so there is no “trigger” for the GAPJC to make an official ruling, interpretation, or comment on it.  (Check the listing of the GAPJC’s decisions on the pcusa.org web site; you will not find any cases related to nFOG.)  Absent a such a case, it is the Advisory Committee on  the Constitution’s (ACC’) responsibility, and not the GAPJC’s, to offer interpretation and comment on constitutional matters before a General Assembly.
  • What you will find assigned to Committee 07 is Item 07-11, “Effect of a Major Revision of the Book of Order on Previous Authoritative Interpretations,” a request for interpretation from the General Assembly Committee on Representation.  This request, and the answer to it by the ACC, was developed before the GAPJC “white paper” became public.  This report provides the framework by which decisions will be made as to whether any current Authoritative Interpretations (AIs) will be discontinued if nFOG is adopted.
  • The special committee that is working to identify and classify AIs according to the ACC’s five guidelines from Item 07-11 was a recommendation that was put together by the FOG Task Force and the ACC, in consultation with the moderator and clerk of the GAPJC.  That special committee, which is now at work, is made up of former members of the ACC and GAPJC, and two staff persons in the Office of the General Assembly (OGA).  In other words, the GAPJC is on board with the current process regarding AIs.
  • Yes, the GAPJC “white paper” was given to Assembly Committee 07, because a member (or members) of the committee requested that it be distributed.  Even so, it was not before the committee as an official document requiring the committee or the GA’s action.  Its status was no different from testimony which the Committee received during open hearings.  And, it obviously had little sway on the Committee’s action to recommend nFOG to the GA for adoption, which they did by a vote of 37-5

The next time you see or read of this “white paper” supposedly containing “the General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission’s … advice not to adopt this new Form of Government,” or that their concerns were not addressed by the Assembly, or other such rubbish, see it for what it is: a desperate attempt to confuse the issue before the church, and to discourage you from reading the proposed Form of Government for yourself. When you do read it, you will see that nFOG does not “so [alter] our way of living and working together that we can hardly imagine the differences,” but rather maintains the core principles of Presbyterian polity by which we have been living for the past 28 years, while freeing up the councils of the church from the one-size-fits-all regulatory structures and procedures into which our Form of Government has ballooned.  Our councils will still have the same responsibilities.  They simply will be freed to accomplish them in new, creative, and fresh ways, that best meet the priorities of the mission within their bounds.

Dan Williams