Outcomes of the 215th G.A. (2003), Denver, CO pertinent to PPL Supporter PDF Print E-mail

May 31, 2003
To: PPL Board, G.A. Team, and Friends

From: Presbyterians Pro-Life, Research, Education, and Care, Inc.
Terry Schlossberg and Carol Shanholtzer

Re: Report of Some outcomes of the 215th G.A. (2003), Denver, CO pertinent to PPL Supporters

We in PPL know that the General Assembly's decisions on matters that appear to be well beyond PPL concerns nonetheless affect our work in one way or another. Also, we are Presbyterians with broad interests in and concerns for our Church. The whole theology and polity of the church matter to us and we mean to be full participants in the whole life of the Presbyterian Church (USA). Our focus on matters of life and death only reflect our understanding that the Christian Church faces challenges to the proclamation of the Gospel in every age. In this period of history the greatest challenge to the Church is its witness on the meaning and value of human life. So our calling is to take our stand in defense of all those for whom Christ died, born and not yet born.

Nearly forty Presbyterians came to the General Assembly to work with PPL during the week. They gave a witness throughout the Assembly by providing hospitality, offering materials in our exhibit booth at the convention center, testifying in committee, sponsoring a dinner event for commissioners and visitors that featured professor and author J. Budziszewski and a conversation event between Budziszewski and Youth Advisory and Theological Student Advisory Delegates; producing and hand-delivering our Daily Delivery (our G.A. newsletter); extending an offer of ministry to those at the Assembly who were dealing with pregnancy decisions and offering assistance to commissioners in any way we could be helpful.

This year's big issues from our perspective included issues related to late term pregnancy and abortion, challenges to the Church's standards for ordination, families, election to G.A. entities, and a number of procedural items that affect how our denomination carries out its work.

Below is a summary of key items of business. Click for our full report on a number of important items of business.

Late Term Pregnancies and Abortion: The unborn achieves status of "baby"

The General Assembly of 2002 had adopted a statement on late term pregnancy and abortion. It said that even when a baby is developed enough to be able to live outside the womb, the church should approve aborting that baby in cases of health, fetal anomaly, and for rape and incest. Four presbyteries sent up overtures asking this G.A. to support the live delivery of late term babies instead of abortion.

This General Assembly revised last year's statement by adding language from those overtures, but it kept the original exceptions. The major impact of the revision is that this General Assembly moved the beginning of a human life from birth to inside the womb by calling the unborn a "baby." This acknowledgment of the presence of a human life in the womb prior to birth constitutes a significant advance in the official position of the PC(USA) on abortion.

However, because the "health" exception is so broad, the statement therefore advises both the preservation of babies late in pregnancy and gives moral approval to ending their lives.

In other actions in this area, the G.A. rejected an overture asking for the removal of "incest and rape" from the statement on late term abortion, and refused to exclude procedures of "grave moral concern" from the denomination's medical benefits plan coverage.

Ordination Standards

This Assembly dealt with a number of items related to our denomination's ordination standards. An overture from the Presbytery of Des Moines wanted to send out to the presbyteries the wording of "Amendment-A" that was overwhelming rejected by our presbyteries in 2001. The G.A. rejected that request. An effort to refer the overture to the Theological Task Force was also defeated. While that task force has the subject already on its agenda, it has no request from a G.A., including this one, to overturn our standards. The final vote on this business that served to reaffirm once again the "fidelity and chastity" standard, was 82% of the house (431-92).

Following this vote, Moderator Andrews, expressed from the podium "great sadness and pain in my heart for many in this room who continue to feel left out."

An overture from Redstone Presbytery sought direction from the G.A. in developing a clear process in our synods for dealing with incidents of non-compliance with our church constitution. The G.A. opted to give general admonition in place of clear steps that our lower governing bodies ought to take in order to correct the problems of non-compliance that threaten to render our constitution ineffectual.

The effect of this Assembly's action appears to be a strong affirmation of the constitutional standard and a reluctance to enforce that standard.


A policy proposal from the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy (ACSWP), brought to the Assembly on the recommendation of this same committee, was referred back for more work. Family and church scholars of widespread renown wrote public critiques of the paper, one of which appeared in the Wall St. Journal just prior to the G.A. The policy paper was released just weeks prior to the Assembly, and only the members of the National Issues committee received the full report in advance of the Assembly. Most commissioners had not read it. Having seen and discussed the full policy proposal, the committee brought an alternative statement to the plenary floor. The body, showing its confusion over the problems in a paper they had not seen, referred the paper back for more work.


The General Assembly elected Presbyterians to more than 100 open slots on its national level entities. The General Assembly Nominating Committee (GANC) presents the G.A. with a slate naming one person to each position and providing the commissioners with little information regarding each candidate. Commissioners may ask no questions and make no comments prior to the vote. But they do have the privilege of nominating an alternative candidate from the floor.

At this Assembly three candidates for the General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission (GA-PJC), our highest church court, were presented as alternate floor candidates for those offered by the GANC. When alternates are presented, the rules provide that the nominator may give a three minute speech in defense of the floor candidate. A GANC representative then gives a three minute speech in support of the nominating committee candidate. The body then proceeds immediately to a vote.

One floor candidate replaced one GANC candidate this year. Fred L.Denson was elected instead of James Conklin Moore as the GA-PJC member from the Synod of the Northeast.

Procedural decisions

A commissioner's resolution to allow for a minimum of one hour of plenary time when commissioners could ask questions about candidates of the GANC or of the candidate, if present, was defeated.

Overtures to set aside last year's decision to hold biennial assemblies were rejected, leaving next year's meeting in Richmond, VA as the last annual G.A. It will end a period of 216 years of annual G.A.s of this denomination.

An effort to reduce the number of staff present at G.A. was rejected. Currently the number of staff equals or exceeds the number of commissioners at an Assembly.

The denomination's Open Meeting Policy was amended by this Assembly to allow the Theological Task Force to meet in closed session.

Watch the Fall issue of the PPL News for more analysis of the actions of this G.A. Contact PPL if you wish to discuss overture possibilities for the G.A. next June in Richmond.




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