This year’s proposed 30-day notice requirement does not abridge any congregational right – it actually protects one. It ensures, for example, a Session can’t hustle a church out of the PCA without the clear consent of a well-prepared congregation. 30-day notice doesn’t restrict a congregation’s liberty; it restricts a Session’s liberty. This important distinction is missed in the editor’s article.
This is a response to Reasons to Defeat Overtures 10, 12 and 17 at the 46th PCA General Assembly , with which I respectfully disagree. I think five clarifications are warranted and I appreciate the editor’s willingness to allow this rejoinder. Hopefully, these will help demonstrate the reasonableness of the change proposed by Overtures 10, 12 and 17 to this year’s PCA General Assembly.
- The Overtures propose 30-days’ prior notice for a congregational meeting where there will be a vote to disaffiliate with the PCA, and thus are different than last year’s Overture that sought to revise the quorum requirement for such a meeting. The rationale is different, as are the filing Presbyteries.
- The editor’s article asserted, “The Presbyteries rejected the [quorum] amendment resulting in a clear statement of “NO.” That’s accurate to a point, but it’s not the complete story. As of May 14 (per the PCA Stated Clerk’s report), the vote was 44-30 in favor of last year’s proposed quorum change. Granted, that falls 14 short of the 58 required to pass, but it still shows that a 59% majority of those who voted, were in favor of the change. (Twelve Presbyteries did not report votes.) Last year, the Overtures Committee recommended the change by a 91-5 vote, and the Greensboro GA adopted it by a 79% majority (706-183) and sent to the 86 presbyteries with its recommendation.
- This year’s proposed 30-day notice requirement does not abridge any congregational right – it actually protects one. It ensures, for example, a Session can’t hustle a church out of the PCA without the clear consent of a well-prepared congregation. 30-day notice doesn’t restrict a congregation’s liberty; it restricts a Session’s liberty. This important distinction is missed in the editor’s article. Many presbyters could relay stories, for example, of how a minister, upon being investigated or facing indictment, has persuaded his Session to promptly call a meeting to “take the church” out of the PCA.
- The editor’s article seems to misidentify the “solemn covenant” of BCO 25-10. The “covenant” doesn’t apply to the entirety of Chapter 25. For example, the PCA revised BCO 25-2 in 1988 and BCO 25-4 in 2013. The covenant specifically pertains to property, not meeting notice. The promise of BCO 25-10 is simply, “the Church as a whole promises never to attempt to secure possession of the property of any congregation against its will” (Emphasis added.). This specific emphasis is reflected in a note written by a founding PCA father, G. Aiken Taylor, who proposed this paragraph in 1973 (http://pcahistory.org/bco/fog/25/09.html).
This year’s Overtures don’t touch a congregation’s right to its property, and any assertions to the contrary are mistaken. The 30-day notice would prevent a Session from calling a short-notice meeting to take a congregation out of the PCA, when that might not be the will of the broader congregation. The 30-day notice would help ensure such a decision is the will of the congregation, rather than just the will of the Session. A congregation can still withdraw from the denomination for any reason it deems sufficient.
- The editor asked a fair question: “Is a particular church considering withdrawing from the PCA weightier and more important in its life than calling a pastor or purchasing property, both of which require a notice of only 7 days?” In one sense, it certainly is. And while the other two matters are certainly important, and perhaps more notice should be provided, they also involve different details. When a congregation votes on the call of a pastor, they’ve already elected a search committee. And often, a congregational vote must occur prior to a Presbytery meeting where the candidate or minister will receive an ordination or transfer exam (and he cannot “move on to the field” without Presbytery approval). Similar timeliness is often involved when purchasing or selling property. And if the congregation is a corporation, their state law probably requires between 10 and 60 days’ notice for a special meeting of the non-profit corporation, which would be required for approval of buying, selling or mortgaging property (BCO 25-7, final sentence). And per state laws on non-profit corporations, such notice usually must be individually delivered to every voting member of the corporation, and not just announced on a Sunday at the church. Likewise, a special corporation meeting would be needed if disaffiliation involved changing the church’s basis for their 501(c)3 status, which would happen if it had been under the PCA’s IRS “umbrella.” Finally, the 30-day notice rule is used in BCO 24-1, which requires 30-days’ notice of elder-nominee names prior to the meeting at which a congregation votes on their election.
What could be a Session’s rush for taking a church out of the PCA? When many generations of PCA-loving members have contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars of the Lord’s money to a particular PCA church, one would think it’s only fair, reasonable, and honorable to make sure the church is not quickly ushered out of the denomination by a meeting called on very short notice.
The congregation loses no power or property rights if more notice is required for a disaffiliation meeting. Only the Session loses power. The goal, and our covenant with our brothers and sisters in the PCA today and in the past, should be to ensure any disaffiliation is the decision of the broader congregation, and not just the Session and a small part of the congregation. And 30-days’ notice will help achieve that goal. Thus, the PCA General Assembly should answer Overtures 10, 12 and 17 in the affirmative.
Howard Donahoe has been a ruling elder in the PCA for 32 years, in four Presbyteries, and currently lives near Seattle. He has served on the PCA’s Standing Judicial Commission for the past 19 years.