Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Six Observations on the PCA's Voting on BCO Amendments

I've been doing some analysis of the voting thus far on the (now failed) proposed amendments to the PCA Book of Church Order (BCO). As I have been creating the maps tracking the voting by the presbyteries, I have also been keep track of the vote tallies for each presbytery. If you are not the sort of person who is interested in number crunching and statistics, read no further. However, I think there are some interesting observations to be had from looking at the numbers. (NOTE: I have the vote tallies of 61 of the presbyteries. To date, 72 presbyteries have voted, so my data is not complete; however, I think it represents a large enough sample (84.72%) to make some observations.)

Observation 1: Abstentions matter! In 5 Presbyteries (Calvary, Chesapeake, Palmetto, Warrior and Western Carolina), the difference between BCO 14-1 passing or failing was less than the number of abstentions. The same is true in 4 Presbyteries for the voting on BCO 14-2 (same presbyteries as above, minus Chesapeake). For example, in Calvary Presbytery, the proposed amendment to BCO 14-1 passed by a vote of 37 to 31 and their were 10 abstentions. If those 10 men (or just 7 of those 10) had voted against the amendment, it would have been defeated.

Observation 2: Those same 5 presbyteries decided on 14-1 without a majority voting either way. There were 4 presbyteries that decided on 14-2 without a majority voting either way. For example, in Calvary Presbytery, 47.44% voted to approve 14-1 while 39.74% voted to reject it. There was not a majority vote for approving the amendment. The same is true of Chesapeake, Palmetto, Warrior, and Western Carolina Presbyteries for 14-1. (Chesapeake's percentages were: Approve: 45.83%, Reject: 47.92%. Palmetto: Approve: 34.55%, Reject: 43.64%. Warrior: Approve: 40%, Reject: 48%. Western Carolina: Approve: 0%, Reject: 17.07%.) For 14-2, the same presbyteries lacked a majority, except for Chesapeake which had 50.98% voting to reject.

Observation 3: The total number of votes from all presbyteries on 14-1 is 1,058 for, 1,167 against, 144 abstain. For 14-2 the numbers are 966 for, 1,221 against, 183 abstain. If all those voters had been at General Assembly last year, these amendments would have never gone to the Presbyteries in the first place. But, in fairness to those who were not able to attend GA, a lot of great opinion and analysis pieces dealing with these amendments have been written since then, as well.

Observation 4: There were more abstentions in presbyteries which rejected the amendments than in presbyteries which approved the amendments. The average abstention rate (# of Abstentions/Total # of Votes) for presbyteries approving 14-1 was 5.52%; whereas, the same rate for presbyteries rejecting 14-1 was 8.98%. For 14-2 the numbers are 5.63% and 8.53%, respectively. I'm not sure what this means, other than, perhaps if voters thought the amendment was going to fail, rather than be on the losing side of a vote, they simply abstained.

Observation 5: The average size of presbyteries (that is, the total of all voting members at the meeting of Presbytery which voted on the amendments) approving 14-1 and 14-2 was larger than the average size of the presbyteries rejecting 14-1 and 14-2. The average size of a presbytery approving 14-1 was 44.71 while the average size of a presbytery rejecting 14-1 was 35.03. For 14-2 the average sizes were 43.73 and 36.1, respectively. There are a lot of reasons why this may be. As noted in Observation 3, the raw total votes is clearly for rejecting the amendments. Why, then, do approving presbyteries have more voting members? It could be that those in favor of approving the amendments did a better job in those presbyteries of getting like-minded elders to Presbytery (the "rally the troops" factor). It could be that those presbyteries have a higher percentage of Assistant Pastors (see here: http://www.baylyblog.com/2009/04/reading-metro-ny-presbytery-minutes.html here: http://www.weswhite.net/2010/02/proposal-for-attaining-ruling/ and here: http://www.therulingelder.com/2010/02/over-at-johannes-weslianus-rev.html for more on Assistant Pastors in the PCA). It could simply be that those presbyteries which approved 14-1 and 14-2 have more congregations in them, on average. There are a lot of reasons why the size of the presbytery is larger in approving presbyteries, and without more data, all I can do is speculate.

Observation 6: What happened in Western Carolina Presbytery? (OK, that's not really an observation, but it is a question I have after looking at the numbers.) Those brothers get the award for most skewed vote in favor of abstention. The tally for 14-1 was 0 voting yea, 7 voting nay and 34 abstaining. For 14-2 the totals were 0, 6, and 35! Perhaps there was some procedural tactic I'm not aware of at work, but it makes me wonder: Why have the amendments on the docket in the first place if all you're going to do is abstain? Perhaps someone more familiar with what happened at Western Carolina can help me understand the situation.

If anyone is interested, I've posted a spreadsheet of the vote tallies, here: PCA BCO Statistics

Feel free to reach your own conclusions based on these numbers.


  1. Seth interesting data, but you have not included all the Presbyteries to date. Also, love the map idea but the colors make this look like a republican and democrat thing, maybe next year if this comes to vote could you change the colors?

  2. Hi John,

    No, I don't have all the Presbyteries to date. I was only able to include the ones that have reported their vote tallies (via The Aquila Report). I'd be happy to add any further data to the spreadsheet I've linked above.