Monday, June 25, 2012

Thoughts on the 2012 PCA GA (2)

The Standing Judicial Commission

In addition to the Committee on Overtures, and the Committee on the Review of Presbytery Records, the other body that does a great deal of work for GA is the Standing Judicial Commission (SJC). The difference between a committee and a commission is that the former "is appointed to examine, consider, and report" while a commission "is authorized to deliberate upon and concluded the business referred to it" (Book of Church Order [BCO] 15-1). As one might assume, the SJC deals with any judicial case that makes its way to the denominational level. The work of the SJC is summarized in BCO Chapter 15 and the Rules of Assembly Operations (RAO) Article 17. Except in certain specified circumstances, the SJC decisions are the decisions of the GA, end hence are not reviewed of voted upon by the GA. Thus, while the members of the SJC do a great deal of work, they generally receive no attention for it. For example, this year there were 28 cases before the SJC. Two of those were dismissed. Five were ruled out of order for various reasons. Seven were still in the process of adjudication by the time GA met, and four cases were waiting to be assigned to a panel for adjudication. The remaining  ten, with their decisions, were reported to the GA this year (Pp 2003-2051 of the Commissioner Handbook) and will be in the published minutes of GA. If you know anyone on SJC, thank them for their hard labor for the church.


This is one of the regular frustrations of GA. The GA meets annually and "shall consist of all teaching elders [TEs] in good standing with their Presbyteries...and ruling elders [REs] as elected by their session" (BCO 14-2). The number of ruling elders eligible is a minimum of two per church, with additional ruling elders depending on the number of members in a church (specified in BCO 14-2). Given that there are 1,466 churches in the PCA, and 4,256 TEs, the theoretical attendance at GA this year was a minimum of 7,188. Actual attendance, however, was 797 TEs and 278 REs. That means that fewer than one in five TEs attended GA, and no more than one in five churches were represented by REs. A lot of this has to do with expense. Registration this year was $400.00 per elder (less in some special cases). When you add to that the cost of travel, the expense of hotels, and meals for most of a week, the cost becomes prohibitive for many churches, as it can easily reach $2,000.00 per commissioner. The total number of commissioners this year, 1075, is the lowest since at least 2005. In short, the GA is hardly a representative assembly. But a further difficulty is that many commissioners do not attend the GA that they attend. On many of the counted votes at GA this year, the total number of votes cast (yea + nay) was less than 800, and in some cases less than 700. In other words, 200-300 commissioners simply were either not in attendance at that particular session, or abstained. Since abstentions are ordinarily not counted, it is hard to tell which is the case. But undoubtedly many commissioners do not, for whatever reasons, attend the business sessions.

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