Protesting the Protest at the PCA General Assembly

The PCA GA erred in accepting a Protest that was not against an action of the Assembly, but of an individual member giving a speech.

Therefore, this action of the General Assembly in allowing for such a protest to have been found in order must itself be protested. It is my humble request that the 2020 PCA General Assembly would publicly apologize to the speaker of the minority report for having in effect declared him guilty of sinful speech, and to acknowledge that he was not afforded the right to explain or to defend himself. 

 

On Friday, June 28, 2019, a protest was filed from the floor of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) General Assembly, regarding the discussion of Overture 28 the prior evening.  The reason given for the protest was an allegation of intemperate language on the part of the speaker for the minority report.  This reasoning was challenged from the floor with a point of order that the protest itself was using intemperate language, but the Assembly voted to sustain the moderator’s ruling that the original protest was in order and the second protest was not.

The specific fault alleged by the original protest was that the speaker for minority report attributed the sin of deception to believers in good standing in the church.  The minority report speaker attempted to give an answer to the protest’s allegation against him, but he was ruled out of order by the moderator and so was not allowed to speak.  Another attempt to rule the protest out of order, as it was not in reference to an “action” of the Assembly, as demanded by the Book of Church Order (45-3), was also ruled out of order by the moderator, whose ruling was sustained by the Assembly after being challenged from the floor.

According to the BCO (45-3), “A protest is a more solemn and formal declaration by members of a minority, bearing their testimony against what they deem an improper or erroneous action on any issue before the court, and is generally accompanied with the reasons on which it is founded.”  The chapter also states that any member of a court who had a right to vote on the action in question can join a protest so long as it is filed within 30 days of the court’s meeting.  The protest itself must be “couched in temperate language, and be respectful to the court” (45-5).

In accepting this protest that was not against an action of the General Assembly but a speaker, the perception that was essentially allowed was this: that a member in good standing of its own church court to be declared guilty of using intemperate language without affording that member the right to a trial at which he could defend himself against such an allegation.  This action of the Assembly cannot be allowed to stand as it was an action against one of its own members, which is clearly not the purpose of a protest according to the PCA constitution.

As it is at present, the 2019 General Assembly by a majority vote has declared that this action was in order for the highest court in the denomination to accept a protest wherein one of its own members is declared to have used intemperate language without the member being given the right to defend his good name. If he had been in a civil ourt in the land, he would have been able to defend himself against such an allegation.

Therefore, this action of the General Assembly in allowing for such a protest to have been found in order must itself be protested. It is my humble request that the 2020 PCA General Assembly would publicly apologize to the speaker of the minority report for having in effect declared him guilty of sinful speech, and to acknowledge that he was not afforded the right to explain or to defend himself.

According to the PCA constitution actions of church courts are subject to protests, but not individual speeches of members.  We all have the right to a trial, to legal counsel, and to be considered innocent until proven guilty.  This distinction must be maintained to the protection of all.  Those who accuse others of sinful words or actions must be willing to face those they accuse in a court of justice.  Those accused have the right to face their accusers so that they can give an answer and defend themselves.  Both sides must be allowed to call witnesses and to make their case.  Not upholding these important principles sets a terrible precedent that could lead to repeated accusations against speakers on issue after issue and have an ominous chilling effect on future debates.  We humbly call upon the 2020 General Assembly to redress this matter.

Rev. Dr. Ray E. Heiple Jr., is a Minister in the Presbyterian Church in America is Senior Pastor of Providence PCA in Pittsburgh, Penn.