Several overtures seek to revise the General Assembly’s (GA) judicial procedures, returning to the system judged to be irretrievably flawed some 17 years ago. But one overture, submitted by teaching elder Christian L. Keidel, calls for the revision to work the other way around: Keidel doesn’t want the GA to revert to the old system; he wants presbyteries to adopt the newer one.

When Keidel’s presbytery, Philadelphia Metro West, voted 15-13 to submit an overture similar to Overture 3, Keidel, chairman of the presbytery’s Standing Judicial Commission, submitted his contrary motion. The presbytery rejected it, prompting Keidel to submit it on his own.

In Keidel’s view, presbytery-level judicial procedures would be more effective if they mirrored the General Assembly Standing Judicial Commission (SJC). SJC members are elected by the Assembly and have final authority in judicial cases. Keidel looks to the work of the Ad Interim Committee on Judicial Procedure that was established by the General Assembly in 1993 to recommend improvements to SJC procedures. “They labored for three years on this,” Keidel said, “and one of the main changes they made was to give the SJC final authority to make decisions. That recommendation was overwhelmingly approved. A lot of really good thinking was put into this.”

Keidel points out, “Currently, at the presbytery level, [no] decision [is] final until it’s approved by the presbytery as a whole. … But what you have,” he says, “are 30 or 40 people who weren’t part of any of the judicial proceedings, relying simply on a summary report — not even able to hear a debate on the issue.” It’s no surprise, he says, that presbytery members tend to follow the commission’s recommendation. The final vote, then, is “a mere formality.”

In Keidel’s view the current crop of overtures is regressive and would make the PCA less effective in handling judicial cases. The current model is strong, he argues, and allows the SJC to serve as the Assembly itself. What’s more, he points out, there’s already a built-in safeguard: If one-third or more of SJC members file a minority report, the case goes to the Assembly. That, he says, is preferable to the presbytery system.

The eight overtures are motivated by fear, Keidel believes. Some are panicked that the denomination is losing control over doctrinal error, but, he contends, with one conspicuous controversy in the past 17 years, such fear is unfounded. “What I’m afraid of is that we’re going to jettison the good work that was done in reforming SJC procedures.”

“Denominations do not change overnight,” Keidel says. “And even if they begin to change, the orthodox are usually in the majority and can protect against that drift.” He points out that the SJC is a representative body whose members come from across the country. It’s unlikely, he says, that our SJC would suddenly become “fully liberal.”

To read an article that presents both sides of this issue, please click here.