The Twittersphere was abuzz as General Assembly convened last week in Nashville, and the tweets weren’t coming only from commissioners. I’d say that people who get so excited about watching GA on their computer screens probably need some counseling or at least a new hobby, but I was one of them! I started attending GA when I was just a kid, accompanying my dad around the country as he and other denominational leaders met to do the important work of churchmen. I love the PCA, and so watching her leaders sharpen each other as iron sharpens iron is something I want to experience every year.

Of course, the big topic this year was the vote on the Strategic Plan the Cooperative Ministries Committee (CMC) put together and which was presented to the assembly by the Administrative Committee (AC). After much debate and parliamentary maneuvering, all but one item of the plan was approved. But does that tell the whole story? Was a significant portion of the assembly in favor of this plan or did it pass only by slim margins?

The Myth of the Close Vote

It didn’t take long after the SP passed for doom and gloom predictions to disseminate across the blogosphere. Much of the restlessness came from those who claimed that the plan passed by only slim margins. “How could we move forward with such an important plan when such a sizable minority opposes it?” they asked. Can forcing such a plan on so many who don’t like it really be wise? They suggest we shouldn’t move forward with this strategic plan even though it technically won the majority vote. When reading this I can’t help but wonder:

  • If the vote(s) would have gone the other way, would the same voices be as concerned with the sizable minority whose views were denied?
  • If this is their deep conviction and not simply the moaning of the defeated, why have they not offered up amendment overtures to the Book of Church Order (BCO) requiring a supermajority for all “important” votes?
  • Speaking of the BCO, when these commissioners were ordained did they express their disagreement with our BCO on this point?
  • And why didn’t they express this concern before the SP vote was taken (or any other vote for that matter)?

Beyond even these questions, though, we have to ask: were the votes really that close? The assembly voted on nineteen separate Strategic Planning items (not counting procedural motions). Of these nineteen, seventeen weren’t even close. Of the remaining two votes, one failed and one passed.

Now you might ask, “Tim, you weren’t even there. How can you possibly know that most of the votes weren’t close?” Remember when I said earlier that I’ve attended my fair share of assemblies in my lifetime? One thing I’ve noticed, particularly on items of great importance, is that commissioners always call for “division” (a numerical counting of votes by the floor clerks*) when they perceive a vote is close. The moderator’s pronouncement isn’t good enough. We’re Presbyterians. We want precision. If the vote is close, someone (usually several loud voices) will insist that the votes be counted to be sure their side isn’t cheated, and who can blame them? The fact that division was not called for on most items shows that those in attendance could see by the raising of voting cards that the votes weren’t even close. Any idea to the contrary is simply a myth promoted after the fact.

To criticize the CMC and other SP proponents for not rescinding their work ex post facto is far-fetched and unheard of.  How big a minority is “large enough” to make the assembly undo what it has approved? Fortunately, we don’t have to argue about this. We have established rules for this very reason. The work of the CMC was lawfully approved. Let’s focus now on how best to implement it to God’s glory.

*It’s been pointed out to me that the call for division results in a standing vote, not necessarily a counted vote. I apologize for any confusion I may have caused by using the term incorrectly.*