At the General Assembly level, when at least one-third of the Standing Judicial Commission’s (SJC) members disagree with a SJC decision, those members may notify the stated clerk of the General Assembly that they intend to file a minority decision. That decision, if filed in the specified timeframe, becomes a minority report.
As the SJC reports to the General Assembly, both the minority report and the majority decision are presented according to a procedure outlined in the Book of Church Order (BCO). The Assembly then has four options: approve the majority decision, approve the minority report, reject both of them and hear the case itself, or refer the case to a special commission appointed by the Assembly.
Overtures aimed at instituting a similar procedure at the at the presbytery level have been sent to the two previous Assemblies. In both cases, the overture was returned to the originating presbyteries — Chesapeake and Pacific Northwest — for “perfection of deficiencies” identified by the Overtures Committee and approved by the Assembly.
This year, Chesapeake Presbytery has submitted Overture 11, a modified version of its earlier proposal. This proposal, like the previous one, parallels the SJC procedure for handling minority reports.
According to ruling elder Ed Wright, one of the authors of the overture and a member of the Chesapeake Presbytery Judicial Commission, this year’s overture retains more of the language currently found in the BCO concerning presbytery judicial commissions. The other main modification was the inclusion of more specific deadlines for submitting minority decisions.
“One of the issues that led us to send our original overture was a case in our presbytery where a minority report was desired but not allowed,” Wright says. He believes that allowing fuller expression of minority opinions will result in fewer cases being taken to the SJC, thus lightening its case load.
Teaching elder Arch Van Devender, also a member of the Chesapeake Presbytery Judicial Commission agrees.
“This proposal addresses the tension in our polity with the idea of a judicial commission itself,” he says. “A non-judicial commissions acts in the full name of presbytery and their action is just received and recorded. A judicial commission requires that the presbytery act, but it cannot act with deliberation. I think that uncomfortable tension is relieved at least in part by a minority report produced by a sizeable minority, which gives the presbytery something to consider as it decides.”
The overture has been referred to the Overtures Committee (OC) and the Committee on Constitutional Business, which has advised the OC that this proposal is not in conflict with other parts of the constitution.