From the Worldwide Faith News archives

'Supermajority' are measures voted down

Date 19 Jun 2002 13:00:31 -0400

Note #7276 from PCUSA NEWS to PRESBYNEWS:


'Supermajority' are measures voted down

by John Filiatreau

COLUMBUS, OH-The Assembly Committee on Church Polity has voted down a set of overtures that would have made it more difficult to propose and enact amendments to the constitution of the Presbyterian Church (USA).

The amendments, known collectively as the "supermajority" overtures, would have required two-thirds votes at the presbytery level to forward proposed amendments to the Assembly; at the GA level to forward them to the presbyteries for approval; and of the denomination's 173 presbyteries to enact them. Simple majorities are required at all levels now.

During hearings on June 18, the committee also voted not to recommend a measure that would have limited consideration of proposed amendments to the Book of Order to every fifth GA.

Advocates of the changes argued that they would help preserve the peace and unity of the church by preventing conflict over divisive issues. Opponents said they would mute the voices of minority groups and were partly intended to "lock in" measures that have prevailed in previous church disputes, including the constitutional provision (G-6.0106.b) that forbids the ordination of sexually active gays and lesbians.

Evelyn Kelly, representing the Commission on Racial-Ethnic Concerns, said that if the constitution had required a supermajority vote to include African-Americans, "I would not be here."

"We are all brothers and sisters striving to be heard," she said. "If you establish a two-thirds vote, you are closing the doors to a lot of people."

Advocates of the measure said more than 71 percent of the Assembly's decisions on the constitution since reunion in 1983 actually passed or failed by margins of two-thirds or more.

The Rev. David VanDyke of Scioto Valley Presbytery responded: "I wonder, with such a high percentage of amendments passing or failing by two-thirds, why do we need this?"

Elder John Burrough of Redwoods Presbytery argued that passing a two-thirds requirement would confer "incredible power" on any group that could muster "one-third plus one vote" on any issue. "You can freeze anything if you can get one-third and one vote to oppose it," he said, meaning that a relatively small group can always "frustrate the majority."

Margaret Suttle of Sacramento Presbytery argued that requiring only a simple majority provides "more voice for the people in the pews."

In the debate on the measure that would permit consideration of amendments only during every fifth Assembly, one critic of the idea pointed out that, if the GA goes to biennial assemblies, it might be possible to offer amendments only once every 10 years.

The committee also rejected, without comment, an overture from a Pennsylvania presbytery that would have had the Assembly intervene in a judicial case by requiring the Presbytery of Northern New England to act against a Vermont session that issued, then "set aside," a statement of dissent from G-6.0106.b. 

The committee also voted to recommend to the Assembly measures that would:

* Have the Office of the General Assembly add an index of Scriptural allusions to the Book of Order, beginning with the 2003-2004 edition;

* Approve an "authoritative interpretation" (AI) on the process through which church officers accused in judicial cases are assured of receiving copies of documents involved in the case;

* Issue an AI defining when the taking of testimony by deposition in such cases is appropriate and proper; and, 

* Require that a church officer against whom an allegation of misconduct has been made be advised of his rights of due process, including the right to remain silent and to be represented by counsel, at the start of any meeting with an investigating committee or any member of such a committee.

The commissioners voted down a measure that would change the formula for assigning voting rights at presbytery, to increase the representation of large churches.
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