The 220th General Assembly Committee on Authoritative Interpretation Review completed its work Monday, recommending that about 20 percent of the 300+ constitutional interpretations issued since Presbyterian reunion in 1983 be “removed” because they reference sections of the Book of Order that no longer exist.
Authoritative interpretations of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Book of Order are issued by either the General Assembly or its Permanent Judicial Commission (GAPJC). Each authoritative interpretation (AI) continues in effect unless and until the General Assembly or its PJC rescinds it, amends it, or supersedes it with a new authoritative interpretation.
The committee acted on a report of the Special Committee on Existing Authoritative Interpretations created by the 219th General Assembly (2010). During the last two years, the special committee reviewed more than 300 AIs, about half of which were issued by General Assemblies and half by the GAPJC.
“The special committee’s recommendations were approved with minor changes and a comment,” said Assembly committee moderator Barbara Ross (Western North Carolina Presbytery). “We thought their work was pretty good so we did very little wordsmithing.”
The committee recommended to the Assembly that about 250 AIs be retained and about 50 be removed.
Said Assembly committee vice moderator Larry DeLong (de Cristo Presbytery): “The important thing is that if the language being interpreted no longer exists, there’s nothing left for an authoritative interpretation to interpret.”
DeLong said authoritative interpretations “are still part of the official record―they can be valuable as a snapshot of what the church and its highest court was thinking at a particular time.
Ross said none of the committee’s decisions was particularly controversial. “I didn’t know what to expect. I’m delighted with the comments by our committee members and am impressed by their understanding of these (authoritative interpretations).”
“It got a lot easier,” added DeLong, “when the light went on this morning that we didn’t have to retry these cases.”