GS 2010 art 62

GS 2010 Article 62 – Appeal from Kerwood re: Women’s Voting

1.         Material

  • 1.1       Acts of previous synods.
  • 1.2       Appeal from the church at Kerwood re: Article 136 of Synod Smithers (8.5.W).

2.         Observations

  • 2.1       Kerwood appeals the decision of Synod Smithers 2007, Article 136 on the following grounds:
    • [a .]       We believe Synod 2007 erred in declaring the letter from Hamilton admissible (CO art. 30). Churches should not send overtures directly to General Synod when they have not first been dealt with by the church’s local classis and regional synod. (General Synod Neerlandia 2001, Article 101 – 2.3 “The Church at Langley brought its overture to a classis: however, it was defeated. Therefore, this overture is declared inadmissible on the basis of CO Article 30”). In addition, we also believe that the lack of consistency in practice when declaring material admissible/inadmissible is unwise and does not give clarity in proper procedure to other congregations and members for making overtures to General Synod.
    • [b.]          The church at Kerwood also wishes to express concern about the fact that Synod appointed the same church that asked for a study to do a study. It certainly gives an impression of bias in a particular direction.
  • 2.2       The adopted motion of Article 136 of Synod Smithers reads concerning admissibility:
    • [2.1]     This item is admissible because it comes from one of the churches and deals with a matter that has been perceived as one belonging to the churches in common” (p.149).
  • 2.3       One of the defeated motions of Article 136 of Synod Smithers reads concerning admissibility:
    • [2.1]        This item is not admissible” (p.145).  This same motion gives as considerations for this judgment a summary of the decisions of previous synods as follows:
      • [3.6]        General Synod 1995 was approached to establish a new committee to study the matter of women’s voting. Synod declared these requests “inadmissible on the grounds: A. that according to Article 33 CO matters once decided upon may not be proposed again unless they are substantiated by new grounds; B. a new matter which has not previously been [sic] presented to that major assembly may be put on the agenda only when the minor assembly has dealt with it (Article 30 CO).”
      • [3.7]     General Synod 1998 received appeals from the Ebenezer church at Burlington, the Fellowship church at Burlington, as well as overtures from the church at Aldergrove and the Fellowship church at Burlington. The appeals challenged the decision of Synod 1995 and called for a new committee. The overtures go the route of arguing that this matter should not have been declared inadmissible on the ground of Article 30 CO (see Acts 1998, Arts. 109,110,111,112).”
  • 2.4       Synod 1998 gave the following considerations in Article 110:
    • [B.]      It is also true that previous General Synods have dealt with matters even when minor assemblies had not dealt with them. The appellants are also correct in their assertions that synods have, on occasions, defended this course of action on the basis that these matters ‘belong to the churches in common.’ This is not normative, however, because it is contrary to the adopted Church Order.
    • [C.]      It is unfortunate that these precedents have given the appellants the impression that when matters belong to the churches in common, it is no longer necessary for the minor assembly to deal with them first. The fact that Article 30 CO was not always applied properly in the past, however, does not mean that we should violate the adopted order today.
    • [D.]          It is also true, as the appellant observes, that the request was not within the province of a common assembly. This does not mean, however, that these minor assemblies do not have to deal with them first. On the contrary: it is first necessary that a consistory place a matter on the agenda of classis; and only if a classis is convinced of the validity of the proposal will it be placed on the agenda of Regional Synod. If Regional Synod is convinced that the proposal is valid, it will place the matter on the agenda of General Synod.
  • 2.5       Synod 1974 received as admissible a submission from Toronto concerning the matter of women’s voting (Acts, Article 84). Synod 1977 received as admissible individual submissions from two churches on this same topic (Acts, Article 27). Synod 1992 received as admissible an overture directly from one church concerning the matter of relations with a new federation of churches (Acts, Article 36).
  • 2.6       Article 30 of the Church Order adopted by Synod 1968 and in force until 1983 reads, “In these assemblies no other than ecclesiastical matters shall be transacted and that in an ecclesiastical manner. In major assemblies only such matters shall be dealt with as could not be finished in minor assemblies, or such as pertain to the Churches of the major assembly in common.”
  • 2.7       Article 30 of the Church Order adopted by Synod 1983 reads, “These assemblies shall deal with no other matter than ecclesiastical matters and that in an ecclesiastical manner. A major assembly shall deal with those matters only which could not be finished in the minor assembly or which belong to the Churches in common. A new matter which has not previously been presented to that major assembly may be put on the agenda only when the minor assembly has dealt with it.”

3.         Considerations

  • 3.1       Kerwood rightly highlights the inconsistency of past synods in matters of admissibility as per Article 30 CO. Synod Smithers itself was not unanimous on this point as can be seen by comparing the defeated and adopted motions under Article 136. That this gives rise to confusion and frustration within the churches is understandable and regrettable. Inconsistency, however, is not in itself a valid ground to appeal under Article 31 CO.
  • 3.2.      Synod 1998 was outspoken in its view that previous synods were incorrect in dealing with matters of the churches in common even though submissions on these matters had not been dealt with by the minor assemblies. Synod 1998 worked with a certain interpretation of Article 30 CO whereby all submissions or proposals on matters – whether new or not – must first travel the route of the minor assemblies before being dealt with by the major assemblies. This is clearly a reversal of how previous synods, particularly 1974, 1977 and 1992, understood this Article.
  • 3.3       Synod Smithers struggled with this very matter and gives evidence of a divided opinion over it. The one opinion is that so long as the matter is already a matter of the churches in common (e.g. the Book of Praise, as per Article 55 CO; the Theological College, as per Article 19 CO), it is in itself not a new matter. As such, individual churches ought to be able to directly address general synod. The other opinion is that all proposals and submissions dealing with any matter must first be dealt with by the minor assemblies for their evaluation (appeals and interactions with committee reports excepted). Only if the minor assemblies are convinced of the validity of the proposal will it be placed on the agenda of a general synod. In the end, the majority view of Synod Smithers 2007 concluded in favour of the first view.
  • 3.4        Synod Smithers did not account for its view of Article 30 CO, but neither did Synod 1998. Although Synod 1998 gave elaborate considerations on this point, those considerations amount to assertions and statements which themselves are unproven. Synod 1998 did not prove that earlier synods were wrong in their
  • understanding of Article 30 CO; it merely stated its opinion that they were wrong. In the same way, Synod Smithers did not prove that Synod 2001 or 1998 was wrong in its understanding of Article 30; it merely implied it with its decision to admit Hamilton’s overture. This back-and-forth battle of opinions at subsequent general synods is extremely unhelpful in establishing equity and fairness among the churches as to how matters are received and dealt with at the broadest assembly. A solution to this dilemma must be found.
  • 3.5         It seems that the new sentence added to Article 30 in 1983 is the source of the difficulty. “A new matter which has not previously been presented to that major assembly may be put on the agenda only when the minor assembly has dealt with it” is to some in harmony with the pre-1983 understanding. This view takes it that “new matters” refers to topics or subjects not either historically or by way of the Church Order dealt with as matters for the churches in common. In this view, new proposals under an existing matter (topic) of the churches in common should be sent directly to general synod while only proposals of matters (topics) never dealt with by general synod before should first go through the minor assemblies. The newer view is that all proposals or submissions – whether concerning existing matters (topics) of the churches in common or not – must first be dealt with and supported by the minor assemblies before a general synod can deal with it.
  • 3.6       The benefit of the older understanding of Article 30 is that every congregation has direct access to the broadest assembly on matters which are deemed to belong to the churches in common. This is desirable and healthy in our system of checks and balances whereby the autonomy of the local church is not lost (while it voluntarily binds itself to the decisions of the broader assemblies) and the threat of hierarchy at the broader assemblies is reduced. The benefit of the newer understanding of Article 30 is that it does not give undue influence to any one church who could potentially place a proposal on the agenda of a general synod without any of the other churches having seen it or studied it, much less interacted with it. The desire to have submissions first be tested, evaluated and filtered by the minor assemblies is beneficial in that it will ensure that only proposals which have won the support of a large number of churches reaches the broadest assembly. Such a check and balance helps protect the integrity of the bond of churches in the federation. A blending of these two approaches in a clear direction from synod would serve to benefit the churches and clarify the procedure for churches to address a general synod in the future.
  • 3.7       Kerwood in its second point does not prove that Synod Smithers contravened Scripture or Church Order when it appointed the church at Hamilton to be the Committee that dealt with Women’s Voting. The wisdom of that appointment may be debatable but its illegitimacy according to Scripture or Church Order is not established by Kerwood.

4.         Recommendation

That Synod decide:

  • 4.1       To deny the appeal of Kerwood.
  • 4.2       To add the following to the Guidelines of General Synod: For all matters of the churches in common, individual churches may address proposals or other significant submissions directly to general synod with the requirement that all such submissions are sent also to each church in the federation no later than six months prior to general synod.