From June 20-22, the 225th General Assembly’s Rules of Discipline Committee will engage and discern its way through seven items of business. Those items can be found here.
The first item, ROD-01, comes from the Rules of Discipline Task Force. It instructs the Office of the General Assembly to create a resource guide for the church that details the process of dealing with allegations of sexual misconduct. The guide “should reflect the need for sensitivity to the rights of safety, dignity and privacy of all involved in accordance with the purpose of church discipline as defined in D-1.0301 of the Book of Order on Church Discipline.”
ROD-02 is a Rules of Discipline Task Force recommendation to remove time limits for filing allegations in all disciplinary cases where allegations are filed following July 9, 2023. Currently the Rules of Discipline provide there is no time limit for filing charges of, for example, sexual abuse. But most offenses bear a time limit of five years.
ROD-03 is a recommendation from the Rules of Discipline Task Force that the General Assembly replace the current Rules of Discipline with Church Discipline. The task force says the revision is ordered to make it easier to understand and follow, preserves rules that have guided the church for generations and stresses that church discipline is based on Scripture and the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), not on secular standards of jurisprudence. The Advisory Committee on the Constitution advises commissioners to approve ROD-03 with several amendments it proposes.
ROD-04, an overture from the Presbytery of Scioto Valley, amends an accused person’s rights to be notified of an investigation. According to the overture’s rationale, the PC(USA)’s Constitution is silent about the accused person’s right to be notified when, following an investigation, no charges are filed, “even though written notice of this outcome is provided to the accuser.” The ACC advises commissioners to disapprove the overture, saying that ROD-03 would answer this proposed overture.
ROD-05, which comes from New Castle Presbytery, would allow investigating committees, permanent judicial commissions and councils the ability to proceed through the remainder of the judicial process when an accused person renounces jurisdiction of the church.
ROD-06, a recommendation from the Rules of Discipline Task Force, would amend the Form of Government in three ways. One would include a new requirement for decisions with a finding of guilt in disciplinary processes against church members to be reported to the congregation of membership. The second would authorize congregations and committees to hold electronic meetings at the discretion of their sessions and allow one or more people to electronically join an otherwise in-person meeting. The third recommendation states that bodies meeting electronically must ensure that the technology employed allows for all members present to hear and be heard simultaneously. The ACC advises approval of ROD-06.
ROD-07 comes from the Survivors of Sexual Misconduct Task Force, which recommends changes to G-4.03 in the areas of confidence and privilege, mandatory reporting, and trust and confidentiality. “… when talking about confidence and privilege, it is essential that we begin with protecting the vulnerable,” the overture’s rationale states. “Ergo, we recommend reordering this section and placing the language about our mandate to report abuse ahead of language about privilege and confidentiality. Concerns about the need for confidence in pastoral care and to confess sin do not outweigh the need to protect those who’ve been victimized.” The ACC advises against approval, saying, “Eliminating any privilege or protection for clergy who engage in spiritual or other counseling fundamentally changes the role of clergy as pastoral caregivers with parishioners and will have long-lasting consequences for al clergy.” The ACC says the amendment “mandates reporting to ecclesiastical and civil authorities even when there is not a reasonable belief of any imminent harm.”