The officers of the Standing Judicial Commission (SJC) of the Presbyterian Church in America have ruled the case against John Wood out of order. In a letter dated November 29, 1999, this judgment was communicated to three of the four presbyteries which have filed charges against the Knoxville pastor.
The officers found that the case was administratively in order, in that it had been timely filed. However, they also determined that it was judicially out of order, and cited two points in doing so.
First, they state that the Session is responsible for the conduct of worship (Book of Church Order, 12-5e), and they reason from that that any charges with regard to a woman preaching from the pulpit of Cedar Springs Presbyterian Church should be directed against the Session. Secondly, they declare that Tennessee Valley Presbytery has not refused to act, in that at its October 1999 stated meeting, that court vindicated the Session of Cedar Springs.
In making their determination, the SJC officers gave a Statement of Facts. At least several of the alleged facts appear to be erroneous.
For example, it is stated that at its Spring 1999 meeting, the Tennessee Valley Presbytery (TVP), "having been advised about Western Carolina Presbytery's concern, appointed a committee to investigate this matter." There is no indication in the minutes of the Presbytery that a committee was appointed at the Spring 1999 meeting.
The SJC officers further allege: "There was further discussion on this matter at TVP's Summer 1999 stated meeting." However, the discussion that had been scheduled for and was conducted at the Summer 1999 meeting was completely informal, and was on the theoretical question as to the propriety of women teaching in public worship. The "matter" of the allegations with regard to Cedar Springs was not on the agenda.
Thirdly, the SJC officers state: "There is no record of TVP formally responding to Western Carolina Presbytery until August 3, 1999 by a letter from TVP's Stated Clerk." However, in point of fact, TVP did not adopt a motion, introduced at the Summer meeting, that would have formally communicated with Western Carolina Presbytery.
Fourthly, the SJC officers maintain: "At its Fall stated meeting (October 12, 1999), TVP heard the report of its investigative committee. . . ." However, there is no record of Tennessee Valley Presbytery having appointed an investigative committee.
Normally, the SJC officers would have no ability to determine if a case is judicially in order: that responsibility usually falls upon the judicial panel to which the case is committed. However, when the officers decide that the importance of the case mandates that the full Commission hear it, then the officers must decide that case's judicial as well as administrative orderliness.
The three presbyteries to which the communication has been sent-Ascension, Calvary, and Western Carolina-have thirty days from the receipt of the notice to put the case in order, if possible. According to informed sources, Ascension and Western Carolina will consider the matter at called meetings in December.
The SJC officers are John White, Chairman; Dominic Aquila, Vice Chairman; Robert Ferguson, Secretary; and Ben Konopa, Assistant Secretary.