Overture Recommendations and What They Mean

One thing that can cause a bit of confusion when watching the business of General Assembly is the fact that Commissioners in the meeting aren't really voting on Overtures. Not technically. They are actually voting on whether to adopt a Committee's recommendation about that Overture. More on why that matters in a bit.

Helpful Reading:

There are several Committees that might be asked to make recommendations on Overtures and this article applies to all such cases, but for the sake of simplicity, this discussion focuses on the Overtures Committee, the Committee tasked with making recommendations on the majority of Overtures each year.

Overtures are voted on during the Overture Committee's report to the General Assembly. Here are the recommendations the Committee could give for an individual Overture.

Recommend in the Affirmative

The Overtures Committee may suggest that an Overture be adopted. The Overtures Committee would then "recommend Overture X be answered in the affirmative".

If the Overture has been amended by the Overtures Committee, the language would read, "recommend Overture X be answered in the affirmative as amended".

When the Overtures Committee recommends an Overture be passed, the discussion on the floor and the vote are more straightforward. "Yes" votes mean the Overture should be passed and "No" votes mean it should not.

Yes Vote = Yes, adopt the Committee's recommendation that this Overture pass (pass the Overture)

No Vote = No, do not adopt the Committee's recommendation that this Overture pass (do not pass the Overture)

Recommend in the Negative

The Overtures Committee may suggest that an Overture NOT be adopted. The Overtures Committee would then "recommend Overture X be answered in the negative".

This makes discussion on the floor and voting a little trickier to follow. For example, if the Overtures Committee recommends in the Negative, but a Commissioner wants an Overture to pass, he must vote "No" because he isn't voting about the Overture itself, but about the Overture Committee's recommendation on the Overture.

Yes Vote = Yes, adopt the Committee's recommendation that this Overture NOT pass (do not pass the Overture)

No Vote = No, do not adopt the Committee's recommendation that this Overture NOT pass (pass the Overture)

Answered with Reference

It is common for multiple Overtures to be submitted on the same topic or amending the same section of the Book of Church Order. If the Overtures Committee agrees that one such Overture should be passed, they will choose the best version and usually amend it to incorporate important aspects of the other versions.

For example, if Overtures 3, 12, and 18 all cover the same topic, the Overtures Committee might choose Overture 12, amend it to include the best parts of Overtures 3 and 18, and then recommend Overture 12 be answered in the affirmative as amended.

The Overtures Committee would recommend that Overtures 3 and 18 "be answered with reference to Overture 12." In other words - see Overture 12 which addresses this topic; we don't need to adopt three Overtures on the same subject.

Referred Back

Sometimes the Overtures Committee decides that an Overture is not thorough, specific, or polished enough. Minor changes can be handled by amendments, but when the scope or application of the Overture is unclear, the Overtures Committee may recommend the Overture "be referred back to Presbytery without prejudice".

This means the Overtures committee is asking the Presbytery (or sometimes session or individual) to work on revising and improving the Overture to be resubmitted in the future. "Without prejudice" means that the Overtures Committee is not making any statement about the merits of the proposed change, only the status of the Overture as ready for discussion and voting.

Referred Forward

The Overtures Committee may also refer Overtures forward to the next General Assembly. Sometimes this is done because there isn't enough time to adequately consider and/or amend the Overture. Other time this happens because there is forthcoming information (such as the report of a temporary study committee) that might shed light on the Overture and its wording.

In such cases, the Overtures Committee would "recommend Overture X be referred to the X General Assembly". Sometimes the General Assembly is referenced by date (i.e. "the 2026 General Assembly") and sometimes it is referenced by chronological order (i.e. "the 51st General Assembly).

In Omnibus (in Gross)

This term doesn't refer to the Overture Committee's recommendation about one particular Overture but rather a common practice of voting on a group of Overtures in a bundle.

Some Overtures require more debate and discussion before a vote. But if there are a group of Overtures that the Overtures Committee predicts will not provoke discussion, they may recommend that that group be voted on "in omnibus" or "in gross" - in other words, one vote to approve all Overture Committee recommendations on those Overtures.

Any Commissioner can request that an item be removed from the omnibus vote and it will be removed. Once any such requests have been taken, the remaining items can be approved as a group saving time and limiting the number of separate votes that need to be taken.

About the author 

Lynna Sutherland

Lynna has been in the PCA since 1982. Four generations of her family have participated in PCA church planting. Lynna has been around long enough to see the good, the bad, and the ugly and her particular calling is to equip the people in the pew to understand their church government and to advocate for victims of abuse in the PCA.

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