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.