Presbyteries and Background Checks in the PCA

In preparation for the 50th PCA General Assembly in Memphis, TN, Joshua Torrey, Ruling Elder (RE) at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Austin, Texas, crafted Overture 6 "To Require Criminal Background Checks of all Minister and Officer Candidates".

The Assembly voted to send this Overture back to South Texas Presbytery "without prejudice". This vote communicates neither support nor rejection of the Overture but is a statement that the Overture needs more work in order to be ready for adoption.

Articles here and here by Torrey articulate reasons for background checks as well as anticipating some of the potential objections or aspects that need modification or clarification.

In the meantime, Torrey urged Presbyteries and Sessions to implement background checks, a measure they are free to take even without a requirement in the Book of Church Order (BCO), part of the denominational constitution. He encouraged the denomination to "probe deeply into the lives of candidates. We need to be as careful and thorough as we are in our theology exams".

In addition to work by Torrey and other elders to craft a revised background check overture for next year's General Assembly, several Presbyteries are working to revise their governing documents to include requirements for background checks.

Note: At the denominational level, the Rules of Assembly Operation (RAO) dictate the process for the formation of committees and conducting of business at the General Assembly, the annual meeting of the Presbyterian Church in America. Each Presbytery has a similar document that governs parallel procedures at the Presbytery level. It might be called the Presbytery's "Standing Rules," "Constitution," or "Bylaws". For the sake of simplicity, we will refer to all of these documents as "Standing Rules" in this article.

Some PCA Presbyteries Currently Require Background Checks

The Presbyterian Pew is working to collect data about which Presbyteries currently require background checks in their Standing Rules, what type of background check is required, and how that requirement is worded. We hope that this information will be useful to inform the Presbyterian in the Pew about procedures already in place, as well as to provided suggested language for use by other Presbyteries wishing to add background check requirements to their Standing Rules.

Whether or not a Presbytery requires background checks in its Standing Rules, churches within the Presbytery may perform background checks on their own volition when hiring a pastor. That information was not withing the scope of this research. In addition, this article does not cover the topic of background checks on Ruling Elders (RE - usually just called "elders") and Deacons. While Teaching Elders (TE - often called "pastors") are ordained by Presbyteries, Ruling Elders and Deacons are ordained by churches.

Find Your Presbytery

Note: Not sure what Presbytery your church belongs to? You can find a map of Presbyteries here and an official description of each Presbytery's boundaries here. Also, some Presbyteries have websites that list member churches. You can find a list of Presbytery websites here.

Arizona

No response yet from clerk.*

Ascension

No response yet from clerk.*

Blue Ridge

No response yet from clerk.*

Calvary

No response yet from clerk.*

Canada West

No response yet from clerk.*

Catawba Valley

No response yet from clerk.*

Central Carolina

No Presbytery-wide requirement for background checks included in Standing Rules.

Central Florida

No response yet from clerk.*

Central Georgia

No Presbytery-wide requirement for background checks included in Standing Rules.

Central Indiana

No response yet from clerk.*

Chesapeake

No response yet from clerk.*

Chicago Metro

No Presbytery-wide requirement for background checks included in Standing Rules. In communication with clerk regarding request for standing rules.

Columbus Metro

No response yet from clerk.*

Covenant

No Presbytery-wide requirement for background checks included in Standing Rules.

Eastern Canada

Men applying for candidacy, licensure, or transfer must submit a police vulnerable sector check completed within the last three years.

"All applicants for candidacy, licensure, and those transferring in from another presbytery
or denomination, shall submit a police vulnerable sector check that was completed within the last three (3) years of the application for candidacy, licensure, or transfer. The original or a true copy shall be submitted to the Stated Clerk and the Chair of the pertinent Candidates and Credentials Committee. If the check reveals a criminal record, the appropriate Candidates and Credentials Committee shall interview the candidate regarding the record and conduct all other investigations as it deems necessary. The Committee shall then report its findings to the Presbytery in the form of a
recommendation. The Presbytery shall make the final determination as to whether the criminal record disqualifies the candidate from the gospel ministry. The applicant may, if they so wish, reapply at a later time."

Eastern Carolina

Churches calling a pastor must perform a criminal background check and submit a copy of that form to the Examinations Committee of the Presbytery.

"As soon as the chairman of the Examinations Committee learns of the candidate’s desire to be examined for licensure, ordination, or transfer, he will send him a packet of materials containing the following:

(2) In case of ordination ...
(i) The chairman shall request from the calling party a copy of a formal criminal background check on the man being called, with that man’s permission for such to be provided to the Committee.

(3) In case of transfer ...
(g) The chairman shall request from the calling party a copy of a formal criminal background check on the man being called, with that man’s permission for such to be provided to the Committee."

Eastern Pennsylvania

No response yet from clerk.*

Evangel

No response yet from clerk.*

Fellowship

No response yet from clerk.*

Georgia Foothills

No response yet from clerk.*

Grace

No Presbytery-wide requirement for background checks included in Standing Rules.

Great Lakes

No Presbytery-wide requirement for background checks included in Standing Rules.

Gulf Coast

No response yet from clerk.*

Gulfstream

No response yet from clerk.*

Heartland

No response yet from clerk.*

Heritage

No response yet from clerk.*

Highlands

No Presbytery-wide requirement for background checks included in Standing Rules. In communication with clerk regarding request for standing rules.

Hills and Plains

Candidates and Credentials Committee responsible to perform "relevant background and reference checks". Unclear whether this is a reference to a criminal background check or some other form of background research.

"5-4. Candidates & Credential Committee—to oversee candidates/interns and examine
candidates and pastors desiring to join the Presbytery. Specifically, the Candidates &
Credentials Committee shall be responsible for but not limited to:
d. perform relevant background and reference checks for all candidates;"

Houston Metro

No response yet from clerk.*

Illiana

No response yet from clerk.*

Iowa

No response yet from clerk.*

James River

No Presbytery-wide requirement for background checks included in Standing Rules.

Korean Capital

No Presbytery-wide requirement for background checks included in Standing Rules.

Korean Central

No response yet from clerk.*

Korean Eastern

No response yet from clerk.*

Korean Northeastern

No response yet from clerk.*

Korean Northwest

No response yet from clerk.*

Korean Southeastern

No Presbytery-wide requirement for background checks included in Standing Rules.

Korean Southern

No response yet from clerk.*

Korean Southwest

Request for Standing Rules to be submitted at next Presbytery meeting.

Korean Southwest Orange County

No response yet from clerk.*

Lowcountry Presbytery

No Presbytery-wide requirement for background checks included in Standing Rules.

Metro Atlanta

No response yet from clerk.*

Metropolitan New York

No response yet from clerk.*

Mississippi Valley

No Presbytery-wide requirement for background checks included in Standing Rules.

Missouri

No Presbytery-wide requirement for background checks included in Standing Rules.

Nashville

No Presbytery-wide requirement for background checks included in Standing Rules.

New Jersey

No Presbytery-wide requirement for background checks included in Standing Rules. (Presbytery declined to provide a copy of the Standing Rules, but clerk confirmed no requirement.)

New River

No Presbytery-wide requirement for background checks included in Standing Rules.

New York State

Request for Standing Rules to be submitted at next Presbytery meeting. (Clerk confirms no requirement for background checks in Standing Rules.)

North Florida

No response yet from clerk.*

North Texas

No Presbytery-wide requirement for background checks included in Standing Rules.

Northern California

No response yet from clerk.*

Northern Illinois

No response yet from clerk.*

Northern New England

No Presbytery-wide requirement for background checks included in Standing Rules.

Northwest Georgia

No response yet from clerk.*

Ohio

No Presbytery-wide requirement for background checks included in Standing Rules.

Ohio Valley

No Presbytery-wide requirement for background checks included in Standing Rules.

Pacific

No Presbytery-wide requirement for background checks included in Standing Rules.

Pacific Northwest

The Committee on Ministers and Churches will procure a "national background check" and report anything it deems necessary to the Presbytery.

"4.56 Committee on Ministers and Churches - Duties include:
g. requiring all ministers and candidates with a call seeking admission to the
presbytery to meet with the Committee before moving to the field in order to be
examined regarding their pastoral character. The M&C shall, with the
candidate’s written permission, procure a national criminal background check
and report to the Presbytery anything it deems necessary. M&C will also counsel
them regarding matters the Committee believes will assist them in the decision
to accept the call, and advise them of the assistance the Committee is ready to
provide pastors, sessions, and congregations"

Palmetto

No response yet from clerk.*

Pee Dee

No Presbytery-wide requirement for background checks included in Standing Rules.

Philadelphia

No response yet from clerk.*

Philadelphia Metro West

No response yet from clerk.*

Piedmont Triad

No response yet from clerk.*

Pittsburgh

No Presbytery-wide requirement for background checks included in Standing Rules.

Platte Valley

Request for Standing Rules to be submitted at next Presbytery meeting.

Potomac

No Presbytery-wide requirement for background checks included in Standing Rules.

Providence

No response yet from clerk.*

Rio Grande

Ordinations Committee is encouraged to use background checks as one means of ensuring a candidate's fitness in faith and life.

"B. Ordination Committees: This committee is delegated with the responsibility of dealing with all pastoral dismissals, resignations, transfers, calls, and all issues relevant to the training, examining, and processing calls for candidates, licentiates, and ministers as explained in BCO Chapters 18-20.
2. The committee will make every effort to ensure that candidates are thoroughly examined in
matters of faith and life as well as in doctrine (1 Tim 4:16). This includes things such as
speaking to Sessions, candidates’ wives, references, background checks, etc."

Rocky Mountain

No response yet from clerk.*

Savannah River

No response yet from clerk.*

Siouxlands

No response yet from clerk.*

South Coast

No response yet from clerk.*

South Florida

No response yet from clerk.*

South Texas

No Presbytery-wide requirement for background checks included in Standing Rules.

Southeast Alabama

No Presbytery-wide requirement for background checks included in Standing Rules.

Southern Louisiana

No Presbytery-wide requirement for background checks included in Standing Rules.

Southern New England

In communication with clerk about obtaining a copy of Standing Rules.

Southwest Florida

No Presbytery-wide requirement for background checks included in Standing Rules.

Suncoast Florida

The Candidates and Credentials Committee requires candidates to undergo a FDLE [Florida Department of Law Enforcement] background check and provide that report to the calling church and the Candidates and Credentials Committee.

"7.7. The Candidates and Credentials Committee
7.7.2. The duties of this committee shall include:
- Conducting examinations for all candidates and ministers;
7.7.2.2. - Requiring candidates for licensure or ordination, and any TE transfers into Suncoast Florida Presbytery, to undergo an FDLE background check and provide that report to the calling church and the Candidates and Credentials Committee."

Susquehanna Valley

No Presbytery-wide requirement for background checks included in Standing Rules.

Tennessee Valley

No Presbytery-wide requirement for background checks included in Standing Rules.

Tidewater

No response yet from clerk.*

Warrior

In communication with clerk about obtaining a copy of Standing Rules.

West Hudson

No response yet from clerk.*

Westminster

Request for Standing Rules to be submitted at next Presbytery meeting. (Clerk confirms no requirement for background checks in Standing Rules.)

Wisconsin

No response yet from clerk.*


* The role of Presbytery Clerk is a volunteer position, assumed in addition to the responsibilities a Ruling Elder (RE) or Teaching Elder (TE) holds at the local church. Notation of lack of response should not be construed as a negative comment about the Presbytery or clerk, simply an indication of date-collection status. If we don't yet have a copy of the Standing Rules from your Presbytery and you are authorized to share them (or know someone who is), please send the document to info (at) presbyterianpew (dot) org.

Note: If the information we have listed for your Presbytery is inaccurate or incomplete, please email info (at) presbyterianpew (dot) org with corrections. If your Presbytery's requirement for criminal background checks is included in an ancillary document (such as a manual for your Candidates and Credentials or Examining Committee) please send a copy of that document.

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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