Church & World: Classis Rejects Overture Banning “Non-Deliberative” Delegates from Advisory Committees

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. RBPS – After completing its deliberations on women in office, Classis Grand Rapids East rejected a proposal from Neland Avenue CRC to exclude “publicly outspoken proponents and opponents on a controversial matter” from the synodical advisory committees studying such matters.

However, according to Neland Avenue council president Dr. Andrew Bandstra, the church will be sending the overture on to synod with one change from the form in which it was presented to classis—deletion of a paragraph noting that “a delegate whose adamant opposition to ratification [of women in office] was shown in public, speeches vividly reported in the public press, was not only appointed to that advisory committee, but was permitted to become an advisory committee reporter, and to use the leverage of that power position to heavily influence the direction of what may have been the most divisively polarized synod in our history.”

The reporter for the Synod 1994 advisory committee on women in office was Dr. W. Robert Godfrey, president of Westminster Theological Seminary in California, who has been widely credited in the conservative media with persuading Synod 1994 not to ratify women in office.

After recounting the history of the current advisory committee system in which the officers of the previous year’s synod propose “tentative appointments” to advisory committees, the overture argues that placing “publicly outspoken proponents or opponents of controversial positions” on advisory committees has the result of “virtually assuring quick polarization and the death of the deliberative process.”

“While a healthy deliberative process could bring healthy consensus building, quickly polarized advisory committees tend to leave synod. with only a choice between highly partisan and divisive positions,” the overture said. “Then synod looks more like a shootout than a body of believers seeking the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

Among its four recommendations, the overture asked Synod 1995 to “review the process by which delegates to Synod are assigned to advisory committees, noting especially the importance of maintaining the deliberative character of advisory committees” and “adopt a clear guideline for the Program Committee that requires the committee to promote and protect the deliberative character of advisory committees by selecting, to the best of their ability, delegates open to the deliberative process on the items assigned.”

Ironically, two delegates from churches with women elders voiced the strongest opposition to the Neland Avenue overture.

“I think we had a problem at the last synod, but I’m not able to favor this overture,” said Rev. Roger Van Ham of Grace CRC. “This overture asks someone at synod to decide who is deliberative and who is not. I think we ought to assume that deliberative people get elected to synod.”

Elder Dave Schuyler of Madison Square CRC went even farther. “The prophetic gift is not necessarily very cooperative all the time,” said Schuyler. “A Jeremiah, an Isaiah, an Amos might not make people comfortable on one of our consistories.”

Speaking in defense of his church’s overture, Neland’s elder delegate argued that the overture “wouldn’t appoint someone to be God to decide who is deliberative, but simply exclude those who have been so publicly adamant that they couldn’t possibly be deliberative.” In the end, Neland’s reasoning was unpersuasive. Classis Grand Rapids East voted down the overture by a wide voice vote margin, leaving Neland Avenue with the decision on whether to send the overture to synod on its own.

“To the extent that I am the one example offered, I am very much offended because as a scholar I believe one must remain deliberative on all the arguments brought forward and I’ve worked very hard to do so,” said Godfrey, who noted that he makes a point of reading each new theological defense of women in office as it appears.

According to Godfrey, “the central problem [of the overture] is that it assumes that those who have studied an issue and taken a public stand cannot be of service to the synod and listen carefully and thoughtfully to arguments on the other side.”

“I would also note that there was at least one publicly outspoken advocate of women in office on the committee, but the overture doesn’t mention him, which would lead one to believe that their objection is only to outspoken conservatives,” said Godfrey. “I think George Vander Weit had every right to be on that committee, and I do think it’s ironic that for many years when conservatives complained that synodical committees and study committees were stacked with people who were not open to conservative views, such overtures were not coming from churches such as Neland Avenue.”

Darrell Todd Maurina, Press Officer Reformed Believers Press Service