New Overtures for a Pressing Concern
The Overtures Committee’s task is to evaluate the overtures submitted this year by the presbyteries, to revise the overtures (if and where needed), and to make recommendations to the whole of the Assembly as to how best to handle each overture. The OC will present its report and recommendations on Thursday June 23, 2022.
How has the failure of last year’s proposed Book of Church Order (BCO) amendments regarding sexuality affected the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) so far? Some effects are more obvious than others. The most obvious effect to date is the attempt on the part of some presbyteries to offer fresh alternatives to last year’s proposals.
Several presbyteries have produced new overtures to address the ongoing controversy surrounding ministerial qualifications (or disqualifications), so-called Side B Gay Christianity, and the influence of the Revoice Conference. The deadline to overture the 49th General Assembly (GA) to consider amending the BCO passed on April 20th. So far, 31 overtures have been submitted for consideration at the next GA. Six of these overtures seek to amend the BCO in response to the aforementioned controversy. Five proposed amendments seek to replace the 48th General Assembly’s Overture 23 (i.e., Item 2), which failed to pass the 88 presbyteries of the PCA by around 4 votes. One of the new overtures replaces last year’s less popular Overture 37 (i.e., Item 4), which failed to pass the presbyteries by around 11 votes.
It is safe to say that the authors of these new proposed amendments hope that the improved language of these latest overtures will succeed where last year’s proposals have failed. The 49th GA in Birmingham, AL will meet on June 20-24, 2022 to consider these overtures from the presbyteries.
Overture 12 was submitted on March 5, 2022 by Hills and Plains Presbytery, which covers Northwest Arkansas, Southwest Missouri, and all of Oklahoma. It is notable that Hills and Plains Presbytery voted down both Overture 23 (Item 2) and Overture 37 (Item 4) earlier this year at its winter meeting. This year’s Overture 12 proposes an amendment to BCO 16 by adding the following paragraph (underlining indicates language which is proposed as an addition to what is already in the BCO):
16–4. Officers in the Presbyterian Church in America, though sound in the faith and living lives according to godliness, are well served when they can be honest about both their present fallen realities and their hope for sanctification. Their goal is not just consistent fleeing from, and regular resistance to, temptation, but the diminishment and even the end of the occurrences of sinful desires. Desires that are inconsistent with God’s design are to be resisted and mortified, not celebrated or accommodated. To juxtapose identities rooted in sinful desires alongside the term Christian is inconsistent with biblical language and undermines the spiritual reality that they are new creations in Christ. Sometimes there are disagreements about language even when the underlying doctrinal commitments seem to be the same, and how persons express themselves is not finally determinative of their identity.
This overture proposes to amend BCO 16 by adding language from the Report of the Ad Interim Committee on Human Sexuality (AIC). Since the PCA has voted almost unanimously to commend the AIC report, this amendment seems to be an effort to achieve denominational unity by rallying behind the AIC Report. This amendment addresses the issue of sanctification and identity for ordained officers in the PCA.
Overture 15 was submitted on March 12 by Westminster Presbytery, which includes Northeastern Tennessee and Southwestern Virginia. This overture is notable in that it seeks to amend BCO 7 (the general classification of church officers) instead of BCO 16 (the doctrine of vocation). Westminster Presbytery passed both of last year’s proposed amendments. This year’s Overture 15 requests an amendment to BCO 7 by adding the following paragraph:
7-4. Men who identify as homosexual, even those who identify as homosexual and claim to practice celibacy in that self-identification, are disqualified from holding office in the Presbyterian Church in America.
This amendment would disqualify men from office that identify as homosexual. The authors of this amendment argue that ministers of the gospel are to be above reproach in their Christian character and self-conception. This amendment would disqualify a man from serving in ordained office in the PCA if that man identifies himself in terms associated with the LGBTQ+ movement or has a Gay self-conception.
Overtures 20 & 23
Overture 20 was submitted on April 5, 2022 by Northwest Georgia Presbytery. Southeast Alabama Presbytery subsequently sent up Overture 23, which is similar to the overture submitted by Northwest Georgia (differences between the overtures are indicated in boldface, below). Both presbyteries passed the previous round of overtures on sexuality. Overtures20 and 23 recommend an amendment to BCO 16 by adding the following paragraph: