At 5:10 p.m. yesterday, Birmingham time, the Ecclesiology Committee of the Presbyterian General Assembly took its first vote on the most disputed section of the Peace, Unity, and Purity report, and the report survived.
The most contested recommendation of the PUP report is #5, the Authoritative Interpretation of the Constitution. The AI proposes to revive the church's custom, dating from the Adopting Act of 1729, of trusting the local governing bodies to make sure that church officers stay within the essential tenets and practices of the Reformed faith. The higher governing bodies can still review the decisions of the lower ones. Unless the locals screw up royally or utterly defy the constitution, the higher bodies will defer to the locals. The locals, after all, know the candidate best, and have to live with him or her.
Conservatives have opposed 5 from the outset. They think it would mean that national standards will not be binding, but will only be suggestions. They disagree with the Task Force that the AI would allow judicial review on the substance, as well as the process, of decisions made by lower governing bodies. Several overtures to the Assembly called for deleting 5, and the overture advocates spoke to the committee in support of this position.
When the committee got to the consideration of recommendation 5 on Saturday afternoon, a member proposed deleting the AI altogether. And the competition was on. The committee spoke, civilly, for hours. Nearly every member of the group spoke, some of them several times. Finally, the vote came.
The motion to delete 5 failed, 23 –37.
The committee continued to debate into the night. A substitute motion, which would have gutted 5, was also proposed, and the long process of considering it, instead of the main motion to pass the rest of the Task Force report, dragged on into the night. Votes on various amendments showed the same split, with roughly a third opposed to the core of the report, and the other two thirds ready to pass it.
At 10:25 p.m. approval of the whole PUP report, with only a few changes, was in sight. However, the last busses back to the hotels were about to leave, and they were exhausted. They recessed, to resume this afternoon.
I believe the writing is on the wall. The Ecclesiology Committee will pass the PUP report by a vote of about 2 – 1. It appears that the conservatives will file a minority report. Both reports will go to the whole Assembly tomorrow. Nothing is certain, of course, but if the whole Assembly is like the committee, I think they will also pass the Peace, Unity, and Purity Task Force report by at least a 2 – 1 margin.