Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Synod '13: The Final Vote

An insight on the BCO for my RCA brothers and sisters:

As many of you know the so called "conscience clauses" are on the chopping block.  The CC's are provisions in the RCA's Book of Church Order that forbid a couple of things from happening.  First, the clauses forbid those opposed to the ordination of women to obstruct by unconstitutional means the ordination of women in the RCA.  Second, the clauses forbid those who support women's ordination from disciplining those who object due to their interpretation of Scripture. 

There is a three step process for this removal to occur:
The first vote to strike them down occurred this past June at General Synod 2012.  The proposal to remove the clauses from the BCO needed to obtain a 50%+1 vote and it cleared that hurdle with ease. 

Now the vote goes to the classes (see: presbyteries) where 2/3 of them need to vote to approve the removal for this vote to return to General Synod 2013 for another vote.  There are 45 classes so the proposed elimination requires approval by 30 of them.  It is my guess that the 30 vote threshold will be met.  I believe this for a number of reasons, but that's a post for another day.

Then the issue returns to General Synod 2013 for another vote requiring 50%+1.

Here's the insight I wanted to get to.  Let's say for the sake of the argument that the 30 classis requirement is met.  In this case it returns, once more, for final approval at the next General Synod.  This requirement is found in the very last section of the General Synod section of the BCO.  The problem here is that, as of late, there has been a very significant misunderstanding of this final vote.  At this past synod the president of the synod opined that this vote was nothing more than a certification that the proper process was followed and that the two-thirds classis vote was achieved.  However, she was not in-line in making this assertion.  Certainly you can find that mindset stated nowhere in the BCO itself and Dr. Allan Janssen speaks directly contrary to that in his commentary on the BCO.

"The second synod's action is a 'declarative resolution.'  Too often, that has been taken to be little more than a ratification of the broader church's wisdom as reflected by the vote of the classes.  The declarative resolution should not, however, be viewed as a mere formality.  The wording of this section makes clear that the second synod's action is taken 'at it's discretion,' and that it 'may' make its declarative action.  Thus, the order allows for second thought on the part of the synod.  The final vote remains the responsibility of that assembly and ought not to be taken lightly."  (p.260)

If, as I expect, the classes vote to approve it would serve us well to keep this in mind and to come prepared ready to make a full (and better!) defense of the clauses at General Synod 2013.  At the very least we should be prepared to set the record straight on the responsibility of the second synod in the decision making process.


  1. Ben,
    I know you and I are in different camps on the issue of women ordination. However, this is not one of those issues I would be willing to stake my salvation on, if you know what I am mean... I am in favor of keeping the conscience clauses and intend on speaking to that effect in WI Classis. I would appreciate dialogue on the subject, so that I and as many others as possible will come with our elders prepared for that vote, and able to make sound arguments against it. While your article focuses the battle front at GS, I believe that if the issue is decided by a 2/3 majority, the vote at GS, might as well be a simple formality. I for one think that this would have a very harmful long term effect on the RCA.

  2. Technically, you are right -- as is Al. But Al could tell you (again, the disclaimer that he is my brother) that he has fought this one at the GS level, and lost. Not lost in principle, but lost the argument from the well of the Synod that the Synod (whichever one it was) had freedom to nullify the 2/3 vote of the Classes. You might want to think about strategy a little bit, also. Now that you have publicly stated this strategy, anyone who may be opposed to your position can now read it publicly and prepare for it. Further, what you are suggesting is that a Synod would take it upon themselves to say "sorry, Classes, you're just wrong." Is this a tool that you would like to have used by folks who disagree with you on a range of issues?