Update on Overtures to the 51st General Assembly
By Larry Hoop
Overtures to 51st General Assembly

In the PCA, an overture is ordinarily a proposal from a lower church body to a higher body requesting the higher body to take some particular action. We reviewed the first eight overtures sent to the 51st General Assembly here. Since that time, 11 more have been sent to the Assembly.

Overtures Bound for MNA Permanent Committee

Two of those overtures relate to presbytery boundaries, both sent to concur with overtures that had been received earlier. In Overture 11, Mississippi Valley Presbytery expresses its agreement with Overture 8 to receive Choctaw County, Mississippi, from Covenant Presbytery, in its bounds.  

Overture 12 from Catawba Presbytery agrees to an adjustment of its boundaries with Piedmont Triad Presbytery, already set forth in that presbytery’s Overture 5. 

As was the case with Overtures 5 and 8, Overtures 11 and 12 have been referred to the Mission to North America Permanent Committee for their recommendation to the Assembly. 

Overtures Heading to the Overtures Committee

All of the following overtures have been referred to the Overtures Committee. Overtures calling for a change in the Constitution (“The Book of Church Order” and the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms) or the “Rules of Assembly Operation” are also referred to the Committee on Constitutional Business which advises the Overtures Committee as to their compatibility with the rest of the Constitution.

Metro Atlanta Presbytery has sent Overtures 9 and 10. These overtures would add brief insertions to two paragraphs of the BCO. Overture 9 calls for an addition to BCO 12-5e, which falls in the section of the BCO that outlines responsibilities of the local church session. The proposal would modify the session’s responsibility “to determine the best measures for promoting the spiritual interests of the church and congregation” by adding the phrase “including living in obedience to the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20).” Metro Atlanta argues that this is “an important and necessary addition, and also well established in the PCA as a definitional and common standard.” 

Overture 10 would add a phrase to BCO 13-9g, part of the BCO paragraph enumerating the powers and responsibilities of presbyteries. The overture would call for each presbytery “to order whatever pertains to the spiritual welfare of the churches and each teaching elder under its care” [the proposed additions in italics].  Metro Atlanta notes that the BCO does not currently require presbyteries to plan for the spiritual care of the teaching elders on their rolls, an oversight this proposal would correct.

Overture 13 from Calvary Presbytery addresses the letter drafted by the commission established by the 50th GA to humbly petition leaders of the United States Government to protect the lives and welfare of minor children from the physical, mental, and emotional harms associated with medical and surgical interventions for the purpose of gender reassignment, and to call upon government leaders to use their positions to promote the health, bodily integrity, and wellbeing of minors who are suffering from gender dysphoria and related conditions. The overture calls for the 51st GA to commend the letter as biblically faithful and to encourage sessions and presbyteries to communicate this to their local and regional governments. In recent years, GA has made similar declarations about the Nashville Statement on Biblical Sexuality from the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood and the report of its own Ad-Interim Committee on Human Sexuality. 

Overture 14, from Northwest Georgia Presbytery, would add a paragraph to RAO 14-21.d to require detailed enrollment data from a committee or agency that is a higher education institution. The institutions (currently Covenant College and Covenant Theological Seminary) would be required to include in their minutes the following data by degree program: total student enrollment, student enrollment by status (full-time or part-time), gender, and modality (in-person, online, hybrid), and certify that the data has been reviewed by their Board or Committee. Northwest Georgia argues that this information is necessary for the GA commissioners to provide sufficient oversight to these institutions. In addition to the Overtures Committee and Committee on Constitutional Business, this overture has been referred to the boards of Covenant College and Covenant Theological Seminary,   

Both Overture 16 from Warrior Presbytery and Overture 17 from Ohio Presbytery call for the amendment of BCO 13-6, 21-4, and 24-1 to require background checks for potential church officers. The proposals offered by the two presbyteries are identical and would require the background checks to be administered under “the specific rules and policies” of the presbytery or session as part of the examination of the candidate’s Christian experience (in the case of a candidate transferring from one presbytery to another or of a candidate for ruling elder or deacon) or acquaintance of experiential religion (in the case of a candidate for ordination as a teaching elder or so a man transferring from another denomination).  

Both presbyteries included possible session and presbytery policies, though the overture does not call for these to be mandated. The policies would give the candidate an opportunity to respond to the results of the background check. They also contain provisions to limit access of the background checks to the proper bodies and have provisions to ensure their confidentiality. While the rationale supporting the proposals are presented in different forms, they are nearly identical, except for Overture 17 providing answers to anticipated objections. These overtures represent an effort to perfect an overture from South Texas Presbytery to the 50th GA that proposed similar changes, which the Assembly returned to the presbytery for further work.

Ohio Presbytery also authored Overture 18, another attempt to perfect a proposal rejected by the 50th GA. Overture 18 proposes amending BCO 35-1 and 35-8 regarding witness eligibility and also offers an alternative to a proposal on the same subject offered by Piedmont Triad Presbytery in Overture 1. Ohio’s proposal identifies all people as competent witnesses who must either take an oath or affirm that they will testify truthfully. In administering the oath, the moderator is to “inform the witness that regardless of whether he believes in God or in a future state of rewards or punishments, his oath or affirmation is made in the presence of God, and God will judge him on the truthfulness of his answers.” The moderator would ask the witness to swear an oath before God as to the truthfulness of his testimony or, if the witness “does not have the Christian faith necessary to invoke the name of God rightly” or “he conscientiously objects to swearing an oath,”  to affirm a promise to declare the truth. 

Ohio argues that this proposal properly changes the focus of a witness’ testimony from his competency (which under the present BCO can only be challenged on very limited grounds: improper age, improper intelligence, and “not believing in the existence of God or of a future state of rewards and punishments”) to the his credibility.

Overtures From a Session and an Individual

When a session or an individual asks a presbytery to send an overture to the GA but the presbytery rejects it, the session or individual may still send the proposal to the GA (thus the word “ordinarily” in the first paragraph of this article). However, such an overture must be accompanied by an extract from the minutes of the presbytery showing its rejection. Such an overture must be presented to the GA in the same form in which it was rejected by the presbytery. 

Two such overtures have been proposed to the 51st GA so far. 

Overture 15, from the Session of West End Presbyterian Church in Hopewell, Virginia, and Overture 19, from the Session of Fountain Square Presbyterian Church in Indianapolis, Indiana. 

Overture 15 would amend BCO 7-2, which identifies the offices of the church as elder and deacon and currently says that, “in accord with Scripture, these offices are open to men only.” West End’s proposal would insert the word “biological’ before men and argues that due to the gender confusion experienced in our culture today, such a change is necessary. 

Overture 19 would amend BCO 41 on References to allow a “change in venue” of a disciplinary case to “an adjacent court of the same gradation.” Currently, References can be made only from a lower court to a higher court.  The proposal adds to the reasons for a Reference that the originating court “cannot maintain impartiality.”  The proposal would require the originating court “to assist with any logistical or financial burdens which may ensue upon acceding to the reference request.” The session argues that this would allow, in certain circumstances, a small presbytery or session with resources too limited to carry out an investigation or trial effectively, to transfer a disciplinary case to a presbytery or session better equipped to do so. 

The full text of each of these overtures may be found here. For information about how these overtures originate and are brought to the GA floor, click here.  This article will be updated regularly to reflect new overtures received by the GA.  

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