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PARLIAMENTARY PRACTICE IN
Ecclesiastical bodies of a Legislative or deliberative character are subject to parliamentary law just as are secular bodies. The gathering may be called a Conference, a Convention, an Assembly, a Synod, a Presbytery, or it may bear some other title, but being deliberative or legislative, its proceedings must have respect to sound and generally accepted parliamentary practice.
In minor particulars any body may make special rules to meet peculiar conditions in its organization, circumstances, and work, but even they should have regard for general parliamentary principles, and, especially, should a religious body adhere to the principles of common parliamentary usage, for it is important that the principles of general parliamentary practice shall be as nearly universal as possible in order to avoid confusion and misunderstandings.
Certain principles are as fixed as the common law of the land, and while religious bodies may have longstanding usages and precedents growing out of their own peculiarities, nevertheless the civil courts might expect in certain things conformity to common parliamentary law and might inquire, not only as to the act done, but also as to how it had been done and, particularly, as to whether proper parliamentary forms had been observed.
In a religious body parliamentary law is just as much needed as in other organizations. Indeed, there is perhaps greater need that in the ecclesiastical gathering all things shall be done "decently and in order."
Human nature is human nature no matter where it may
be found, and even in the church meeting there is a tendency for it to assert itself, and, sometimes, in an unseemly manner. In the ecclesiastical convocation there are persons with differing views, just as people in other meetings may vary in their views. The fact that one organization has a religious object while the other has a secular motive makes no difference whatever; or perhaps we should say that parliamentary restraints are more necessary in the religious gathering in order that there shall not be unseemly wrangles which are possible, or probable, in moments of excitement, and where some persons do not know the points and proprieties of parliamentary procedure.
The Rev. William E. Barton, D.D., has well said:
"Every Christian minister has occasion to preside at meetings that require an intimate knowledge of parliamentary law; and nearly all ministers have part in representative assemblies where they have occasion to meet other men in the arena of discussion. For them, above most men, it is important that they know the principles of parliamentary law, and those special obligations and precedents which are peculiar to religious assemblies.
"What is said of ministers is true in hardly a less degree of church officers and delegates.
"The application to religious assemblies of the principles of parliamentary law means, not that mere technical routine should dominate with rigorous hand the assemblies of Christian people, but that within all gatherings that represent the church, men should know their own obligations and the rights common to themselves and their brethren, that so the spirit of truth may express the will of God through the united judgment of the church. We are many members, yet with one body. Parliamentary law is the application of the Golden Rule and the principles of order and fair play within the Church of Christ. Justice, courtesy, order, precision-these are the principles for which parliamentary law stands, and every church and every gathering under the auspices of the
church should seek to embody these principles" (Rules of Order for Religious Assemblies, p. 117).
With the kindness of Christian courtesy pervading a religious assembly, parliamentary law is the sure protection of the rights of each individual participant, is preservative of order, and promotes dignity and dispatch in business. Parliamentary law is the spirit of the Golden Rule logically applied to deliberative bodies, and in no place is it more fitting than in an ecclesiastical assembly.
In a local church meeting it is proper that the pastor preside, unless the law provided otherwise. In the superior church meetings the law of the denomination usually determines who should preside, and ordinarily it is one from the ranks of the clergy, but, where there is no specific provision in the law, naturally the body itself can decide who shall be the presiding officer.
It is just as important that the journal of a religious assembly shall be accurately kept as it is in any other kind of a deliberative gathering, and it is important, not only that the minutes be properly kept, but that they be kept in the sense of being carefully preserved.
All church meetings are not necessarily public meetings, and the church has a right to hold private meetings, to which the public should not be admitted, and from which persons not legally entitled to be present may be excluded. Ordinarily, this must be the case in moral investigations and in trials of any sort. These inquiries are matters for the church itself, and a degree of privacy may be necessary to avoid the spread of scandal and to avoid injury to individuals as well as the church, but with all this prudence, the right of the accused and his counsel to be present and to hear all that is said must be strictly enforced. In such a case the church cannot go beyond the mere exclusion or expulsion of a member, though it may in a proper way give notice that the person has ceased to be a member. "But it has no right to go beyond what is necessary for self-protection and publish the charges against the member. In a case where a member of the