By a vote of 23 – 12, the Interchurch Relations Committee (IRC) of Commissioners rejected a 2011 overture calling for the PCA “To withdraw from the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE).”

The 39th Assembly, having “received” Overture 12 from Central Carolina Presbytery last year, directed the IRC permanent committee to study the PCA’s participation in the NAE and to report to the 2012 Assembly. In developing its report, the Committee was instructed to consider written comments from “the lower church courts regarding the NAE.” However, of the 1,445 sessions and 81 presbyteries, none weighed in on the issue.

Citing Chapter 31 of the Westminster Confession of Faith, the overture stated that synods and councils are not to “intermeddle with civil affairs which concern the commonwealth, unless by way of humble petition in cases extraordinary; or, by way of advice, for satisfaction of conscience.” It then charged that the NAE had, among other things, intervened in public affairs by endorsing the idea of climate change, testified on Capitol Hill in support of the Comprehensive Immigration Act, and urged the White House to negotiate the Arms Trade Treaty.

In response, the permanent committee noted that the NAE is not a synod or council, but an association of evangelical denominations, local churches, and other Christian institutions. The permanent committee further argued that by its participation in the NAE, the PCA has greater influence in civic engagement, shares in worldwide mercy ministries, participates in world evangelization, and broadens relationships with other evangelical organizations.

Debate seesawed for more than two hours, with proponents arguing against political “intermeddling,” while opponents saw the advantage of expanding the PCA’s influence and participating in the beneficial acts of the NAE: championing the defense of marriage, advocating for the liberty of evangelical military chaplains and campus ministers, fighting to reduce international sex trafficking, and promoting religious liberty in areas where Christians are persecuted.

Teaching Elder Henry Smith may have bridged the divide with a “friendly amendment” that supported the permanent committee’s recommendation, but also asked the Assembly to direct the permanent committee “to be alert for and report to the General Assembly any action or position taken by the NAE.”

The recommendation of the permanent committee and the committee of commissioners, to answer 2011’s Overture 12 in the negative, will now go to the General Assembly.