From the Worldwide Faith News archives


Date 04 May 1996 20:53:40


                          by Alexa Smith 
LOUISVILLE, Ky.--Debate about proper procedures for considering 
constitutional changes in General Assembly committees will be the crux of 
ongoing conversation between the Advisory Committee on the Constitution 
(ACC) and the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly (COGA). 
     The ACC has asked COGA to support changes to the "Book of Order" and 
to the Assembly standing rules requiring committees to vote on ACC's advice 
on overtures proposing constitutional changes. 
     The ACC believes such a rule ensures its advice will at least be 
considered by Assembly committees, acknowledging those committees have the 
right to accept, reject or amend it. The Office of the General Assembly 
(OGA) has said that voting on an ACC recommendation while an overture is 
still pending confuses commissioners, which is why this procedure was 
dropped in 1990. 
     A report on the matter by senior OGA staff is due at the next COGA 
meeting (Feb. 6-8) in Chicago. 
     "[The ACC] wants to ensure the constitution is going to be followed 
with regard to printing and distributing recommendations and ensuring the 
recommendations of the ACC will be heard and dealt with in committees," ACC 
chair the Rev. R. Richard Baldwin of Memphis, Tenn., told the Presbyterian 
News Service. 
     One of the ACC's proposed changes to the standing rules explicitly 
states that its representatives "shall be entitled to speak" -- 
strengthening, as Baldwin says, a procedure already followed. 
     Baldwin says Assembly committee moderators vary widely in how clearly 
they instruct commissioners about ACC recommendations and in the access 
they give ACC representatives in committee.  "ACC had to fight like crazy 
just to be heard," said Baldwin of the last Assembly, adding that some ACC 
material was distributed late to committees.  "The differences," he said, 
"were not generated by anybody being underhanded ... the Assembly was a day 
short and commissioners were under such pressure." 
     While OGA staff concur that better training of Assembly commissioners 
is necessary, outgoing associate stated clerk the Rev. J. Scott Schaefer 
says some confusion about distribution of materials occurred in Cincinnati 
because of a change in the format of OGA publications -- a problem that 
will be remedied. 
      But interpretation of "Book of Order" chapters G-13 (on the creation 
of the ACC) and G-18 (on amending the "Book of Order") is where more 
complex questions emerge -- on what the ACC calls "inconsistent language" 
within the "Book of Order" itself. The ACC told COGA in a written statement 
that it "considers that G-13 is the basic statement of authority for the 
working of the ACC, with G-18 being subsidiary thereto, as dealing with a 
subset of the ACC's work." 
     Schaefer told COGA at its closing session that rationale is "isogesis 
of the worst sort," since the two chapters are not uniform and deal with 
two separate processes:  the creation of the ACC and its processes for 
interpretation of the constitution and amending the constitution.  He also 
said the Cincinnati Assembly, despite some acknowledged confusion, followed 
the ACC's advice on every piece of business but one -- a higher percentage 
of concurrence than in the past. 
     But Baldwin told COGA the ACC wants to remedy G-18 so the process for 
handling overtures is given the same specificity G-13 gives to the Assembly 
vote on constitutional questions and so it also ensures a hearing.  "Some 
people believe," Baldwin told the Presbyterian News Service, "that by 
putting the report of the ACC [first] ... it gave it precedence.  That is 
not our intention at all." 
     That is exactly what Schaefer objected to in the joint session between 
COGA and the ACC: Requiring a vote on ACC advice before voting on the 
overture under debate gives the ACC advice primacy.  It gets, he said, "our 
priorities wrong."  He said the ACC's role is ensuring the Assembly 
committee gets advice before taking action, and, in a memo to COGA, said 
any committee voting on a recommendation/overture to change the 
constitution must hear from the ACC when discussing the issue.  But, he 
added, ACC representatives' status is the same as that of other overture 
     Citing the confusion at the last Assembly as the cause of the ACC's 
frustration, Stated Clerk James Andrews described the work between OGA and 
the ACC as "cooperative." 
     COGA chair the Rev. Oscar McCloud of Teaneck, N.J., asked COGA to 
consider developing a one-page set of concise instructions for Assembly 
committee members about procedures.  McCloud said such simple guidelines 
may help reduce confusion for commissioners. 

For more information contact Presbyterian News Service
  Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Louisville, KY 40202
  phone 502-569-5504            fax 502-569-8073  
  E-mail   Web page: 


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