From the Worldwide Faith News archives www.wfn.org
ROLE OF ADVISORY COMMITTEE ON THE CONSTITUTION
04 May 1996 20:53:40
95379 ROLE OF ADVISORY COMMITTEE ON THE CONSTITUTION
AT GENERAL ASSEMBLY DISPUTED
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
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 PCUSA.NEWS@pcusa.org Web page: http://www.pcusa.org
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