Transcript of Women in Ministry Study Committee Debate at 2016 PCA General Assembly (Part 1 of 4)

Presbyterian_Church_in_America_logo.jpegI am more inclined to read than I am to watch videos. So, if you are like me and desire to know precisely what was said at last month’s PCA General Assembly regarding the formation of the study committee on women’s ordination, I’ve begun working on a transcription of the audio/video (found here). Written records lead to closer scrutiny, and this discussion on the floor of General Assembly certainly deserves that…

If you find errors (particularly names), would you please post the correction in the comments or send me an email…

(transcript begins at 1:29:10 of “Thursday Afternoon Business” video) 

Moderator George Robertson
Let me remind you of where we are. The permanent committee has recommended the formation of a study committee. The Committee of Commissioners on the Administration Committee is moving a substitute…for their suggestion, for their recommendation, which would be to vote it down. No study committee. In this case, the chairman of the permanent committee is permitted 10 minutes to speak and then the chairman of the committee of commissioners 15 minutes and then 5 minutes for a reply from you. Proceed, Mr. Schriver.

TE Jerry Schriver
Mr. Moderator, I would like to defer my time to the man who was the chairman of CMC subcommittee who are bringing forward this recommendation. Teaching Elder Mike Ross and then, following a rebuttal period by Mr. Barnes, I’m going to ask Teaching Elder Rod Mays to come to the podium.

Moderator TE George Robertson
Proceed

TE Mike Ross
Mr. Moderator, Brothers, I am the culprit. I am the guilty party. If you take a look in your docket on page 373 and 374, you’ll find there five items of study that have been before the CMC for about four years. If I could borrow a phrase from the Apostle Paul, this thing has not been done in a corner. We are not surprising you, hopefully, or launching something new before you this morning. We had brought before you back in 2013…

TE David Coffin
Excuse me, Mr. Moderator. I’m sorry. I didn’t want to lose the moment; I’m not sure how you would rule on it. The recommendation was that there be two speakers in favor of the committee. Our rules only allow for one speaker, and I’d like to make that point of order now just in case, I don’t know whether you’d saying we’d effected that…or…

Moderator TE George Robertson
Yes, that was just pointed out to me. So, we are… Our rules show that the chairman or his representative may speak but the same representative will have the five minutes of rebuttal. So it will not be…um…you are the only one authorized to speak. Bless your heart…

TE Mike Ross
Thank you. Mr. Moderator, do you have any other good news for me today? But there are five, gentlemen, there are five areas, that if you will look at them. One was the study of diversity, increasing diversity in our church. Dealing with sexual brokenness and one of the outcomes of that study was the seminar we had yesterday morning. Increasing leadership participation and positions for the rising generation of leaders in the PCA. Making General Assembly more attractive to ruling elders and younger pastors. And then the role of women in ministry in the PCA. We, when I gave the report in, the CMC report in 2013, we verbally told you these things were coming. Bruce Terrell in 2014, in a written report, reminded you of these things. In 2015, Bryan Chapell actually laid out some outlines of what we were doing in this. And then, of course, at the beginning of this assembly, Jim Wert, our retiring moderator, laid these things out again. So, they’ve been in By Faith Magazine. All this to say, this is not coming in the back door; this has not been done in a corner. We are bringing these things before you because we think they are things that you have communicated to us in a different number of venues that we needed to study and bring some ideas to you.

There are three concerns, and I understand these concerns, and I would share them with you. The first one is, and I think this was even the motion that Brother Coffin brought a few moments ago: Is this a proper way to bring these things before us? As we understand it in the CMC, and we could be wrong, there are five ways to bring things before the General Assembly. Sometimes they come through personal resolutions, like the resolution from Misters Duncan and Lucas that has led to this great discussion and great overtures about racial reconciliation. A lot of times, issues come to us because of presbytery overtures. A lot of the business that we deal with, perhaps the majority, comes from the permanent committees and agencies. We also have business like we are doing today, that comes from the committee of commissioners that review the work of the boards and agencies…and permanent committees. A fifth venue was added in our interpretation in 2010…and that is, in a very limited scope, the issues that we bring before you through the CMC may be brought through a permanent committee, reviewed by the committee of commissioners, and be brought to the floor of General Assembly. All of these people have been elected by you. The complaint that this is a executive order from the CMC is an injudicious statement.  We have not done anything strong-armed or sidewinder to bring this to you. We brought it through the proper channels and we kept you abreast of this thing for over a period of four years. We formed a study committee on these issues. I was graced to be the chairman of this committee. Let me tell you who was on that committee: from the CMC is was Paul Koistra, Rod Mays, Steven Estock, RE David Stewart, and myself. And then I added a number of men and women, some of our younger pastors and ladies, spanning the ages of 70 to 26, and they were: Melanie Cogdil, Ben Cunningham, Ellen Dykas, Karen Hodge, Susan Hunt, Michelle Odell, Peter Rowan, Will Spokes, Jen Stegman, Russ Whitefield, and Joel Belz…to add to this study committee. So, we had people from both genders, all different age groups, different kinds of ministry—campus ministers, church planters, pastors, people who work with our women in the church ministries at the assembly level…and we studied this for a period of almost three years. We are all under the authority of the General Assembly. We are not trying to push anything your way. We are asking you to consider something.

The second criticism that’s been raised is that we have already done this. And unless I’ve missed something, I think that’s incorrect. There was an overture, back at the 37th or 36th General Assembly, I think from, I believe it was overture 10 from Susquehanna, to form a study committee. That overture was voted down. So we have never had a study committee, to our knowledge, on the issue of women in ministry. So, the grounds from the committee of commissioners that this has been well studied and well understood, I beg to differ…humbly so. I happen to know, over the past three and a half years, as I’ve talked to literally hundreds of you through personal conversations, and on the telephone, and emails, and in committee meetings, that there is a great deal of confusion and a great diversity of opinion about what women can do in the different churches. We have wonderful study reports, like the one on Creation and the one on Marriage, Divorce, and Re-Marriage that the churches have used as a valuable resource to guide the pastoral care of people in the hands of their sessions. That’s all we are suggesting here…is another study committee report that will be a resource for us. It will not dictate anything to us, but it certainly will help us deal with some of the issues. It won’t surprise you for me to say that there is a rising tide of egalitarianism, not only in our culture, but in the younger generation. And I have found among our younger pastors and our younger women in the churches, a great deal of confusion about what women can and cannot do. I have the privilege of teaching the pastoral ministry class at Reformed Theological Seminary, and every year, the number one and two questions I face from the men in seminary, and the young women there, are: How do we relate to people with same-sex attraction, and What can women do in the church. And it’s growing over time.

Thirdly, there is the complaint, and I know it looks like this, if you look at our actual motion, the original motion, uh, recommendation, is that we are being to specific in directing the committee to study the issue of ordination. We are not directing the committee to do anything. We are asking them to do that…and the reason we singled that out, in addition to everything else, is that in our own denomination there is a great diversity of opinion about ordination, believe it or not. We have churches that ordain men to the office of elder and deacon; we have other churches that ordain men to the office of elder and deacon and then commission women as deaconesses; we have churches that ordain men to office of the elder and then they do not ordain male or female deacons, they, I think contrary to the Book of Church Order, commission them. And we have certain churches that, if you go on their website, they show pictures of men and women and list them as their officers. So there is some question, again, among younger people about what ordination is and what we should do with it. And we’re simply asking this General Assembly to approve a study committee to look at that. We are not, gentlemen—now I’m either lying at this point or I’m telling you the truth—we are not recommending that we ordain women. We are asking the General Assembly to appoint a very diverse and well-qualified committee of men and women to study the issue of women’s role in the church and the ministry. And to touch upon, with greater clarity for us, what ordination is and how it’s to be conducted. My friend Ligon Duncan—I’m quoting him not necessarily because he’s endorsing everything I say—but he told me at the beginning of this process, I said Ligon what do you think about this, he said Michael, we’re either going to study this and do it well or  we’re going to ignore it and have a disaster. This issue, brothers, is not going to go away. And I think that we know what to do. I think our complementation position of men and women in marriage and in ministry is the way we went ahead. But I think we’ve got to come together and use our best minds and resources to give us some information to educate a younger generation, encourage our sessions, to bring us more consistently together in this and that is all we are asking for. And I hope that you will trust me that we are asking for nothing else and, ah, that you will go ahead and vote down this substitute motion and give permission for the General Assembly to form a study committee. Thank you.

Moderator TE George Robertson
Thank you, Dr. Ross. Mr. Barnes you will have fifteen minutes. While you are coming, let me say to the assembly, if you wish your vote in favor of the point of order, that is, if you wish your…I probably put it the wrong way…I asked if you would sustain the chair or if you did not sustain the chair…the other way to put it is do you affirm the point of order, that is, the one that Mr. Coffin brought. If you wish your vote to be recorded along with Dr. Coffin’s, there is a place for you here so to record your vote. Mr. Barnes, you may proceed…

TE Roland Barnes
Thank you, Mr. Moderator…

Perhaps the recommendation that comes from the permanent committee through CMC has not been well constructed. If I look at the actual recommendation itself, and if you’ll look at page 306, the instruction is given to this committee were it to be approved and formed, that the committee should give particular attention to the issues of, one, the Biblical basis, theology, history, nature, and authority of ordination; two, the Biblical nature and function of the office of deacons; three, clarification on the ordination or commissioning of deacons/deaconesses; and, four, should the findings of the study committee warrant BCO changes, the study committee will propose such changes for the General Assembly to consider. It seemed to the committee of commissioners that these scopes of study were very broad and not well-defined and thus could leave the door open for the consideration of many things, many of which we would not like to pursue. So, I’d like to offer several reasons for why, and perhaps in these categories summarize the concerns of the committee of commissioners that were expressed in our debate.

First, it appeared to us that it was unnecessary. The statement has been made that this issue has not been studied. A study committee has not been formed, but the issue of office in the church and of what the nature of ordination is and what is the authority of office in the church, has indeed been studied. Indeed, we studied these things in our seminary courses and every one of the commissioners of this assembly, I assume, have already studied this issue in preparation for their ordination vows, whether ruling elders or teaching elders…which vow included this statement: Do you approve the form of government and discipline of the Presbyterian Church in America in conformity with general principles of biblical polity. And there is a chapter in our book of church order, chapter 17 which is entitled “The Doctrine of Ordination.” BCO chapter 7 is entitled “Church Officers: General Classification.” BCO chapter 8 is a chapter on the office of elder. And BCO chapter 9 is a chapter on the office of deacon. And BCO chapter 7, paragraph 2 makes this statement: “In accord with Scripture, these offices are open to men only.” And BCO 9-7 was amended in 2010 to make this statement about assistance to the deacons, men or women: “These assists to the deacons are not officers of the church and, as such, are not subjects for ordination.” That was adopted in the 2010 General Assembly and ratified by our presbyteries. The doctrine of ordination has been thoroughly studied and well-established in the life of the church, not just for centuries but perhaps for millennia. Thus, we see it as not a necessary thing for us to have a study committee that has as part of its pursuit, the study of what is ordination and what is its authority.

Secondly, not only do we think it is unnecessary, we think it is also redundant. Study committees have been requested on numerous occasions over the past several years. Yes, we have never established one (skip in video)…for us on several occasions, and has been repeatedly rejected, preferring to leave the matter to the opportunities available to women for ministry to the local church being pursued within the bounds of the restrictions and limitations of Scripture itself as set forth in our standards. In 2008, the General Assembly responded to overture 9, asking to erect a study committee on deaconesses. It answered it in the negative with the following statement: “That appropriate ways to bring these issues before the General Assembly or through presbytery overtures to amend the BCO.” In 2009, again, the General Assembly responded to overtures 5 and 10 and answered again in the negative with reference to the action taken in 2008 with respect to overture 9…”that appropriate ways to bring these issues before the General Assembly or through the presbytery overtures to amend the BCO.” In 2010, response to Overture 7 from Evangel Presbytery adopted this explicit statement with respect to BCO 7-2, “to affirm that godly men and women who assist the diaconate are not to be ordained.” So, it is redundant.

Besides being unnecessary, in our opinion, and redundant, it is also, in our estimation, not helpful. Study committees are questionably helpful, do not often resolve issues, but have the real potential of disturbing the peace of the church. The resulting paper that was established on…if we have the study committee, will not have constitutional status and cannot be cited as such in church courts. And that is why you may have noted that in the recommendation from the permanent committee, there is a request to consider possible BCO amendments, to put those aspects of the study committee into place. So, we consider that it is not necessary, it would be redundant, and it is not helpful.

Then, fourthly, we wonder if it is also appropriate to bring it to the floor in this manner. Mention was made of five different ways by which business could come to the floor of the General Assembly. It is our conviction that the preferred way to change our constitution is by amendments presented through the church courts and this matter is not coming to you from a session that was wrestling with these issues and overtured their presbytery and then from the presbytery to the General Assembly. Indeed, as we have already noted, when that route was taken the Assembly voted no. But rather, this is coming from the top down. It is coming from a subcommittee of a committee that reports to another committee. It doesn’t even come directly from a committee but by way of recommendation from a subcommittee of CMC and then to CMC and then from CMC to the AC and then from the AC to the General Assembly. So we wonder if this is the preferred way that we want to do business or address issues of this manner that could be disturbing to the peace of the church.

And, lastly, I might say that it could be also dangerous. Just a personal note. Many of you here today may have had a similar experience to my own when you came into the PCA. In 1977 I was a student at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, IL. I’d come to embrace the reformed faith and presbyterian church government, and I was trying to decide what would I do when I graduated from my seminary studies. I was seeking the Lord’s guidance as to where to affiliate. I grew up in the United Methodist Church which was decidedly liberal even then. I became saved through the high school ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ. I began to look for churches that preached the Word of God and adhered to the truth of the Word of God. Mostly, I ended up in Southern Baptist Churches where a man would stand behind a pulpit and preach as though he believed what the Bible actually says. When I was in the University of Georgia, I attended a Missionary Alliance Church. I then went the Trinity Evangelical Divinity School which was the seminary of the Evangelical Free Church. While I was there I was a member of a Baptist General Conference Church. I am a walking ecumenical movement. But I was looking for a denomination that held to the infallibility and inerrancy of the Scripture and that was resisting the effects of the culture to press it into its mold. Resisting the effects of the culture of liberalism, of evolution, of feminism. A father of our faith, a father to this denomination in particular, the late Francis Schaeffer wrote a book in 1984 entitled The Great Evangelical Disaster. He was prophetic about the dangers of accommodating to the world-spirit of this age. In light of the recent developments in our culture with respect to homosexuality and same-sex marriages and feminism, running rampant in many of the denominations, mainline denominations and even some that were not considered mainline, I think his comments are appropriate. In a section on marriage, divorce, and sexuality, Dr. Schaeffer writes, “There is one final area that I would mention where evangelicals have, with tragic results, accommodated to the world spirit of this age. This has to do with the whole area of marriage, family, sexual morality, feminism, homosexuality, and divorce. But under the guise of love, much of the evangelical world has abandoned any concept of right or wrong in divorce and any pretext of dealing with divorce according to the boundaries established in the Scriptures.” He goes on to say, “The key to understanding extreme feminism centers around the idea of total equality or more properly the idea of equality without distinction. The Bible does not teach the inequality of men and women. Each person, man or woman, stands equally before God as a person created in His image and at the same time as a sinner in need of salvation. But at the same time, this equality is not an equality of monolithic uniformity or sameness between men and women. It is an equality which preserves the fundamental differences between the sexes and which allows for the realization and fulfillment of these differences. To deny the truth of what it means to be male and female as taught in the Scriptures is to deny something essential about the nature of man and about the character of God and His relationship to man. If we accept the idea of equality without distinction, we logically must accept the ideas of abortion and homosexuality. For if there are no significant distinctions between men and women, then certainly we cannot condemn homosexual relationships.”

When I was considering coming into the PCA, I was told I needed to study the Book of Church Order, carefully, and the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Larger and Shorter Catechisms. I studied them carefully and was thankful that the PCA was holding fast to the Word of God on the role of women in the church. I came into the PCA because of its position on the role of women in the church, particularly with regard to the offices of elder and deacon.

So, the committee of commissioners is opposed to this recommendation and urges you brothers, hold fast, do not be conformed to the image of this world. Do not recommit this. We spent three and one half hours addressing this matter. We heard every side of the equation from both the Administrative Committee as well as those who agreed with them as members of our committee of commissioners. Let our Presbyterian system of government work. Let sessions and presbyteries address the practical matters about what women (skip in video)… And let us affirm our time-honored and Biblical and well-established principles concerning church office and the teaching ministry of the church.

Thank you, Mr. Moderator.

Moderator TE George Robertson
Thank you, Mr. Barnes. Please, no demonstration. Dr. Ross. Point of order, microphone number eight…

TE Chuck Hickey
Teaching Elder Chuck Hickey, Ohio Vally Presbytery. I’d like to draw the assembly’s attention to line six, page 320 of the AC report, the yellow sheet that was passed out.

Moderator TE George Robertson
Line…

TE Chuck Hickey
Actually, lines five and six. The statement there is the study committee should be made up of competent men and women representing the diversity of opinions within the PCA. Fathers and brothers, I have not been to every…

Moderator TE George Robertson
Ah, sir…your…it’s a point of order…it’s directed to me.

TE Chuck Hickey
Mr. Moderator, I believe this is requesting or would require the court to appoint members that are not of this court to a study committee to make a recommendation to this court. I believe that’s out of order. I don’t know that we’ve every done that. So, I would ask you to rule this out of order.

Moderator TE George Robertson
Your point of order is that it’s inappropriate to appoint non-teaching elders or non-ruling elders to a committee. Would you please elaborate on what the point is?

TE Chuck Hickey
My…it’s my memory…at times faulty…that in the past this court has only appointed members of the court to study committees. And this would be a deviation from that practice.

Moderator TE George Robertson
Ah…we will…I think we’re going memory (skip in video)…for appointing non-members of the court, non-ruling elders or teaching elders…we do have the precedent so I will…

TE Chuck Hickey
Do we have precedent appointing women to study committees?

Moderator TE George Robertson
Again, memory…and, I can appeal to someone else, but I think, I recall appointing in the marriage and divorce study committee we had a least one woman. Am I…is there a historian here? Is there precedent? Um…it is believed but not…it has not been…this question has been taken up by the CMC, hasn’t been proven. Mr. Neikirk at number 3, are you rising as a historian?

RE Jay Neikirk
No sir, I am rising to ask a question regarding the point of order.

Moderator TE George Robertson
Yes.

RE Jay Neikirk
Would I be correct that a point of order has to cite something in the constitution or our rules as the basis for the point?

Moderator TE George Robertson
You are correct and that’s, I was trying to ask if, just exactly what he was taking issue with. So, if you have a place in our constitution where it makes it inappropriate to appoint non-members of the court or women, as you’ve just elaborated, then you’ll need to bring forth to have a successful contention.

TE Chuck Hickey
I withdraw my point of order.

Moderator TE George Robertson
Thank you. Mr. Ross, Dr. Ross, you are granted five minutes.

TE Mike Ross
Thank you, sir. Gentlemen, just in conclusion. I…um…it is unfortunate that when we discuss the role of women in the church, we always slip down the slippery slope emotionally. No one on this committee…um…is endorsing egalitarianism or homosexuality or same-sex marriage and these other things. I’d like you to look again at page 320, and, brothers, I beg you to react to what is written on the page not what you’re reading into it. The definitive line is the first one. The assembly form a study committee on the issue of women serving in the ministry of the church period. The issue of ordination will come up because we have inconsistent practices about ordaining or installing male and female deacons or deaconesses. That’s why we are raising that. We are not, listen to me gentlemen, we are not asking that the constitution be changed. You’re assuming, many of you, that this study committee will loosen things up. What if it does the reverse? What if it questions about some of the practices we have now about what women do in ministry, about women laying hands on men to ordain them to the office of ruling elder, teaching elder, which happens in our churches, (skip in video), participating in baptism, leading in worship and doing priestly functions. What if it says no, we are going to tighten these things up? Why do we always assume that when we open up discussion it will go from bad to worse? We are not asking that. We are asking for resources. We understand the Book of Church Order. We understand the Rules of Assembly Operation but our people don’t. And a study paper can do nothing more than give us good resources. I’d like you to turn to page 510 in your docket. Would you do that, please, for just a moment? Page 510. Something that you acted on this morning, that you, I think, unanimously approved, or close to it. That was the committee of commissioners report on the committee of discipleship ministries. If you look at recommendation number 11, that recommendation for the certification of women and non-ordained people in ministry came from the CMC to the permanent committee of CDM through the committee of commissioners to the floor and was approved. And it’s hardly dangerous. There’s nothing dangerous about this. We did this and everybody thought it was fine. Now we are simply doing it with a study committee, and we are asking you not to read into it but to give it a chance and to see what they come back with. Remember once they come back with a study committee report, we vote it up, we vote it down, we amend it, we throw it away, we do whatever we want to…so nothing is being taken out of your hands, we are just asking you to give this issue a formal vetting and a more thorough study than we have had in the past. And I thank you for your attention. Ah, Mr. Chairman, thank you for your graciousness and your time allotted us.

(2:02:43)

Part 2 is here.

2 thoughts on “Transcript of Women in Ministry Study Committee Debate at 2016 PCA General Assembly (Part 1 of 4)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *