The Presbyterian Panel is an ongoing survey of the church conducted by the PC (USA) Research Services office. It is, I think, the best denominational research tool in the country. Three times a year they survey a representative group of members, elders, pastors, and other ministers about issues before the church. Before the General Assembly this year the Panel were surveyed about the major item before the GA, the report of the Theological Task Force on the Peace, Unity, and Purity of the Church – the PUP report about which I have written much.
I was involved in that study. Research Services did a heroic job getting the data ready for analysis in time to be useful for the General Assembly. We were just about to start the analysis when the Stated Clerk, the Assembly's highest official, asked that no analysis of the Panel data be published before the Assembly met. He feared that such last-minute information could not be digested in time to be properly considered by the Assembly.
The Stated Clerk, Cliff Kirkpatrick, is a friend and someone I respect. He wrote a generous forward to Leading from the Center. I disagree with his decision not to report the Panel results before the Assembly. But I respect that he made a principled decision.
The Presbyterian Layman, the scourge of the denominational leadership, has reported that Kirkpatrick tried to suppress the Panel report because he didn't like what it would say.
It is true that most Presbyterians do not want to trade the church's purity for peace. They want the constitution as it is to be followed, and don't want local bodies to be making up their own lists of essential tenets of the faith. And most members, elders, and pastors (though not, surprisingly, a majority of specialized, non-pastoral ministers) agree that "a church that is not clear about what it believes is not worth belonging to." The Layman believes these results represent a rejection of the PUP report. I don't, but that is a matter for another day.
But here is the important point I want to clarify: Cliff Kirkpatrick did not withhold the Panel data because he had seen the analysis and didn't like it. No analysis of the Panel data had been done by anyone before the Assembly – you can take that from the horse's mouth. The Stated Clerk decided as a matter of policy that whatever it was the Panel might reveal, it would come too late to really help the Assembly's deliberations.