I am still processing The General Assembly and over the next few weeks will introduce some of the “other” things that went on and were decided at GA. Some of the decisions will affect our congregation and so as I lay them out I hope that you will engage me a bit on them. Saying that, I wanted to talk this week about the Presbyterian Church and who we are.
There is a book from the Presbyterian Church in Canada that is called “Presbyterians: People of the Middle Way.” This is a very important understanding and it was very evident in some of the discussions and dialogs that happened at this GA. First, the two most controversial decisions at GA, Gay Marriage and Divestment from three companies that deal with Israel. Though I agreed with the decision on Gay Marriage and I disagreed with Divestment, in both cases the committees went out of their way to make the final recommendations as palatable to the church as possible.
In both cases, the language in some of the overtures was toned down considerably from the almost radical and punitive verbiage that some came in with. In the case of the Gay Marriage, it was important that we respected the conscience of the churches and pastors as well as recognizing the traditional language. So even though it is found elsewhere, the amendment includes wording that specifically says that if churches are not comfortable with allowing Gay Marriages in their churches they do not have to, and the same holds true for pastors. This was amazing, since almost 75% of those who were gathered could accept that, and even the conservative wing of the church wrote a letter letting their constituents know that it is not that bad. Honestly, one of the most gracious letters I have read.
In the Middle East Committee we quickly recognized that all of the overtures that were dealing with divestment had language that was so harsh that it would not be acceptable to most moderates. So they took a proposal that was about investment and inserted the language of divestment, in the most simple way possible making the overall text rather positive. While the hope was for that compromise to be a unifier the AP and other news services not only report the divestment line but chose to spirit in a way that aligned the church with the global BDS movement, which the overture explicitly said we were not part of. However, as I said to my committee and to the General Assembly, when you use something like money for your proxy you have no control of what the story is or even how that action actually serves the purpose. A mentor of mine would always say the mantra, money is money, words are words, but actions are what change the world.
The interesting thing is that if somehow we can begin to rebuild the relationship with the Jewish Community, the majority of the overture does call for action and support of real peacemaking efforts. The vote on this was 51% to 49% with a 7-vote separation. Which also goes to show that this was not a run-away liberal GA and that we are still struggling to seek and understand how we can be a diverse church accepting all people: Liberals, Conservatives, Moderates, etc. and maintaining our call to be People of the Middle Way.
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen