Two presbyteries submitted identical overtures that would vindicate the claims of the 40-5 document filed against the NWGP by 13 ordained Midway members.
The two overtures (25 and 27) are asking the General Assembly to amend BCO sections 15-1 and 15-3 to clarify the role of judicial commissions at the presbytery level. These sections are confusing and lead to frequent violations by presbyteries, they claim.
The Northwest Georgia Presbytery allegedly violated BCO 15-3 in its January 2021 meeting.
The overtures state that the “current provision in BCO 15 that requires a Presbytery to ratify the decision of a judicial commission formed under BCO 15-3 is an anomaly that has been a source of confusion and misapplication by Presbyteries.”
The overture explains that presbyteries often violate the rule’s requirement that they vote on the judicial commission’s ruling without debating it. “Presbyteries have not infrequently violated the BCO 15-3 mandate to approve or disapprove of the commission’s judgment ‘without debate,’” the overture claims.
The overtures also propose deleting the language that allows a presbytery “to refer, (a debatable motion), any strictly constitutional issue(s) to a study committee.”
This is the clause the Midway Session, under David Hall’s leadership, attempted to exploit to frustrate the process of the Presbytery judicial commission who ruled against the Session multiple times regarding the controversial congregational meeting of July 2020.
Remember the 40-5 Report Against NWGP Actions
Three ruling elders at Midway Presbyterian Church are currently on trial by the Midway Session for signing a 40-5 credible report against NWGP actions that occurred at its January 2021 meeting.
Their 40-5 report specifically identified the same violation being alluded to by these two overtures. The 40-5 report stated:
On Friday, January 15, 2021, the respondents from the Midway Session circulated the court by distributing a motion to the Presbyters of the NWGA Presbytery 24 hours in advance of the upcoming Presbytery meeting asking the presbytery to take an action that would misapply BCO 15‐3 by sending the complaint to a study committee in lieu of voting up or down on the judicial commissions judgment.
The 40-5 report was submitted to the Office of the Stated Clerk on February 14, 2021. Eight months later, on October 21, 2021, the SJC determined the report was credible and worthy of investigation, advising “the Stated Clerk that the matter should be referred to the General Assembly’s Review of Presbytery Records Committee.” That decision will be published in the minutes of the 2022 General Assembly as case 2021-02.
Finding Problems in Presbytery Records
The Review of Presbytery Records (RPR) committee is a special committee whose purpose is to ensure “Presbytery minutes shall be examined for conformity to…The Scriptures and the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church in America…” (Ref. BCO RAO 16-6)
There are three types of findings the RPR may cite: exceptions of substance, exceptions of form, and notations. Exceptions of substance are the most severe, as explained in Section 16-6 of the Rules of Assembly Operations (RAO) in the back of the BCO.
Exceptions of substance are “Apparent violations of the Scripture or serious irregularities from the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church in America, actions out of accord with the deliverances of the General Assembly, and matters of impropriety and important delinquencies, and any non-compliance with RAO 16-3.e.5” that should be reported under this category.
The RPR will use the 40-5 report as a guideline to examine NWGP’s minutes for exceptions of substance, form, or notations.
If any are found, then they will be included in its report that will be presented to the General Assembly.
The confusing wording in BCO 15-1 and 15-3 regarding the role and authority of presbytery commissions has evidently led to many presbyteries over the years violating them. Sometimes it may be out of ignorance or misunderstanding of the rules. Sometimes, the violations may be intentional.
The two overtures are attempts to clarify judicial process at the presbytery level and make the process more equitable to all parties.