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Conscience and the Benefits Plan

Presbyterians have long found conscience at the center of our conflicts. Acknowledging this — and recognizing inherent conflicts between the rights of majorities to govern and the rights of minorities to hold their beliefs in good conscience — the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) time and again looks to this time-tested counsel:

"When any Matter is determined by a Major Vote, every Member Shall either actively concur with, or passively Submit to Such Determination; or, if his Conscience permit him to do neither, he Shall, after Sufficient Liberty modestly to reason and remonstrate, peaceably withdraw from our Communion, without attempting to make any Schism: Provided always, that this Shall be understood to extend only to Such Determinations, as the Body Shall judge indispensable in Doctrine or Presbyterian Government.” (Minutes, Synod of New York and Philadelphia, 1758, p. 341, as quoted in Historic Principles, Conscience and Church Government, approved by the 195th General Assembly (1983).)

This statement, which has remained part of Presbyterian governance through the first adoption of a Form of Government and Discipline by the Synod of New York and Philadelphia in 1788 and then its placement in Chapter I of the 1821 Form of Government, lives today as a footnote to G-2.0105 of the Book of Order, where it provides important guidance to our life together as a church.

Historic Principles, Conscience and Church Government, the document approved by the 195th General Assembly (1983), also concludes both that,

"The right to withdraw peaceably protects individuals from having their consciences bound by decisions of the governing bodies of the church,"

and

“Individuals have every reasonable right to press their case to try to persuade the majority of the church of their point of view and, having failed, they still have the right to enter a formal dissent or protest on the records of the governing body to which they belong.”

With those rights in mind, the Board of Pensions maintains both a roll of churches that have been granted relief of conscience by their presbytery and those that have filed statements of objection to the decision of the Board of Pensions to extend benefits to the same-gender partners of plan members.