From the Worldwide Faith News archives

[PCUSANEWS] GA votes down Shenango overture

Date 22 Jun 2002 09:04:37 -0400

Note #7327 from PCUSA NEWS to PRESBYNEWS:

GA votes down Shenango overture
June 21, 2002

GA votes down Shenango overture

Vote is 388-112 against intervening in case of dissenting session

by John Filiatreau

COLUMBUS, OH - The General Assembly on June 21 disapproved an overture asking that the Presbytery of Northern New England (PNNE) be ordered to act against a Vermont session that issued, then "set aside," a statement of dissent from a provision of the PC(USA) constitution.

The commissioners' 388-112 vote came after a protracted debate.

The Assembly Committee on Polity had recommended disapproval of the overture, from Shenango Presbytery in Pennsylvania, but six members filed a milder minority report that would have the Assembly "ask" PNNE to "continue to 'exercise pastoral and administrative oversight'  to assist Christ Church 'in fulfilling its obligation to comply.'"

The case arose in 1998, when the session of Christ Church, in Burlington, VT, adopted a resolution of dissent from the constitutional provision (G-6.0106.b) that forbids the ordination of sexually active gays and lesbians. In 2000, the GA's Permanent Judicial Commission (PJC) directed the presbytery to "work pastorally" with the session to help it fulfill its obligation to comply."

After such consultations, the Christ Church session announced on June 2 that it had "set aside" its statement of dissent. Shenango's overture (02-59) urged the Assembly to find its compliance "inadequate" and force it to "rescind" the resolution.

The polity committee's vice moderator, the Rev. Thomas Are Jr., of St. Augustine Presbytery, argued that the Assembly's choice was "between punishing and pastoring."

"The presbytery has said that they (the session) now are compliant," Are said, arguing that no further action was warranted. "It might perhaps be appropriate to celebrate, but that is all."
Elder John Somerville Jr., of Lake Michigan Presbytery, one of the signers of the minority report, argued that "our covenant needs to be strengthened" by a statement that all governing bodies must abide by the constitution - not just in response to Christ Church's alleged defiance, but also to "other well-known expressions of disregard" for the constitution.

Helen Templeton, an elder from Ohio Valley Presbytery, objected to the substitute measure on procedural grounds. "Is it common for the General Assembly, a legislative body, to comment or get involved in a judicial matter?" she asked.
The Rev. Lisa Johnson, of San Diego Presbytery, argued that the minority report, because it "commended" PNNE and Christ Church for "making significant progress toward compliance," was "consistent with what I have perceived to be the pastoral spirit of this Assembly."

The Rev. David Van Dyke, of Scioto Valley Presbytery, wasn't buying that argument. "Make no mistake," he said, "this is not pastoral in any way." And Carl Hilton-VanOsdall, of PNNE, said that, in his presbytery, "the commendation  (would) continue to be heard in the non-conciliatory tone in which that (original) overture came to us."

The Rev. Jane Johnson, of Pittsburgh Presbytery, favored the minority report. "I've heard a lot this week about love and grace," she said. "(But) love  does not constitute a lack of boundaries.  What is the point of having a constitution, if we will not be governed by it?"

Mieke Vandersall, a Theological Student Advisory Delegate, said the "softening" of the overture "makes the report no better, in my mind, nor more loving." She said it made her "fear the possibility of judicial action against me and my church in the future," and she said she looks forward to the day in the church when gays and lesbians will be seen "not as an issue, but as people."

The Rev. Julie Adkins, of Grace Presbytery, said the more "pastoral" tone of the rewritten measure "does not change the fact that it is still not our business.  It belongs in the judicial process."

The Assembly also:

* Disapproved a series of "supermajority" overtures that would have made it more difficult to amend the PC(USA) constitution by requiring two-thirds votes (rather than simple majorities) at various stages of the process. The Polity committee had recommended disapproval of the measures, which were proposed as ways of preventing disputes and safeguarding the "peace, unity and purity" of the church;

* Disapproved a measure that would have limited efforts to amend the constitution to every fifth Assembly;

* Directed the Office of the General Assembly to add an index of references to Scripture and to the Confessions to future editions of the Form of Government;

* Approved changes in the Rules of Discipline to: guard the rights of church officers accused of misconduct; affirm the discretion of PJCs in deciding when dispositions are to be taken; ensure that documents in such cases are physically delivered with proof of service; urge that all possible be done to protect victims of child sexual abuse, remove perpetrators from office and guard against repeat offenses; and retain a one-year time limit on efforts to reach agreements resolving cases short of trial.

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