Follow-up Letter

Robert Listou to C. Fred Jenkins


May 3, 1997

Mr. C. Fred Jenkins
Associate Stated Clerk
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
100 Witherspoon Street
Louisville, KY 40202-1396

Dear Mr. Jenkins:

I greatly appreciate your April 25 response to my earlier correspondence. Given all the mail about Amendment B that the Stated Clerk is presumably receiving, I expected no response. I am impressed by your providing one.

You acknowledged my concern regarding Amendment B. Unfortunately, I appear to have understated my primary concern: the erosion of the authority of presbyteries. You wrote: "It is difficult to see how there would be any effective governance of the church if the elected officers and staff were left to pick and choose according to their individual preferences which instructions to ignore." I totally agree. But consider the quote you were kind enough to furnish from the Standing Rules of the General Assembly that require the Stated Clerk to "preserve and defend the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), and support the decisions, actions, and programs of the General Assembly."

That rule carries, in my view, a clear presumption that the "decisions, actions, and programs of the General Assembly" will in fact in every case, without exception, accord with the Constitution. If they do not, then one elected officer, the Stated Clerk, does indeed have, in my mind, the duty to "pick and choose" which has primacy: the Constitution or the General Assembly. We do admit (G-1.0307) that governing bodies err, but who decides? How do those bodies then come to know they have erred?

My lay analysis starts with the understanding that our presbyteries determine our law, i.e. they adopted the Constitution and have the final say, by voting, on changing it. Yet in two instances that power has been usurped. First was the "definitive guidance" that was perceived by many as law or pseudo law, created without the authority of the Constitution and without a vote by the presbyteries. Then came "authoritative interpretation" that gives the General Assembly the power to create law without a vote by the presbyteries.

Now, with Amendment B, the majority of presbyteries have exacerbated what I consider a constitutional crisis by more blatantly ignoring consistency and compatibility. The obvious conflict between Amendment B and many other parts of our Constitution makes a mockery of the notion of Presbyterian "order."

From my perspective the Stated Clerk has several options. The first is to decide that his duty, cited above, gives primacy to the Constitution and means that Amendment B must be voided because G-18.0300a was ignored, regarding consistency and compatibility, while that amendment was being developed and acted on by the General Assembly. The next option is advising the General Assembly that the Constitution has been gravely injured by Amendment B. I believe that to do less than that is unconscionable. I trust I have made clear that my concern about polity is broader than my concern about Amendment B. I am now ashamed of my denomination on both counts. I expect no reply. Unless, that is, you feel I have misunderstood the authority of the presbyteries regarding the contents of our Constitution.

Yours in Christ,

cy: John Buchanan, Clifton Kirkpatrick


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