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Topics of interest to Clerks of Session, Session Moderators and others who are interested in Presbyterian local-church governance.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Wrapping It Up

The momentum at GA grows steadily greater, as the Assembly moves through its last full day of business. The commissioners are starting to get tired. They grow impatient with speechifying, and vote more quickly to close debate.

The Moderator, too, seems very much on-task. She moves through the business so quickly, at times, that some commissioners miss their chance to get to the microphone.

This morning, there was a brief attempt to reconsider the same-sex marriage issue. It didn’t get very far: motions to reconsider rarely do, unless it can be shown that some significant error was made, or that perhaps there’s some new information that hadn’t previously been considered. The motion failed, 60% to 40%.

Yesterday, the Assembly voted to move to the next step in formally adopting the Belhar Confession, from South Africa, as the latest in our Presbyterian Book of Confessions. There was also a successful move to approve a plan to create a new translation of the Heidelberg Catechism. This will be in conjunction with the Christian Reformed Church and the Reformed Church in America.

There had been some overtures asking the Assembly to approve non-geographic presbyteries or synods, which disaffected conservative churches could join, so as not to have to rub elbows with those gay-friendly liberals. Those overtures were all defeated.

The Assembly approved a new Commission on Middle Governing Bodies. Those who will eventually be chosen for this duty will take a detailed look at synods and presbyteries, asking the question of whether we still need synods at all, in this age of rapid communications. The new Commission will also seek to develop models for doing presbytery, so we’ll have a better idea of what size presbyteries we ought to have in the future.

This morning belonged to the Middle East. The report of the Middle East Study Committee has been harshly criticized for being too soft on Israel’s neighbors, while piling criticism on the Zionist state. The Assembly modified the report in several key ways.

A little later, they tackled Caterpillar, the construction equipment giant, for stubbornly continuing to sell military bulldozers to the Israeli Army, which the soldiers then turn around and use for bulldozing Palestinians’ homes. The Assembly passed a motion “denouncing” Caterpillar, and began steps that could be used to divest the church of the shares it owns in this company.

They talked about whether or not to extend benefits offered by the Board of Pensions to same-sex spouses or domestic partners of church employees. This increase in the pool of covered people could add as much as an additional 1% of employees’ salaries to the amount withheld for medical insurance. The Assembly, after some very detailed questioning of the President of the Board of Pensions, decided that adding the benefits would be “doing the right thing” by the employees.

Some supporters of gay rights are declaring that this Assembly gave them two-thirds of what they wanted: approval on ordination, approval on Pension benefits, but a rejection on same-sex marriage.

Speaking of rejection, the Assembly’s vote on the same-sex marriage issue inspired a protest demonstration today by Soulforce, a religiously-based, ecumenical gay rights organization. A group of 20 or so protesters entered the Assembly hall, and came down front. The Moderator called a recess while they sang a couple of hymns and prayed. Then, some Minneapolis police officers came in and asked the demonstrators to leave. Most did, a few refused, and they were arrested. It was clear the Moderator knew about this action ahead of time, but the Assembly gave the group no official recognition, nor did the Moderator even explain who these people were. Her approach was simply to ignore them, calling the recess for the sake of the Commissioners.

Tomorrow morning I hop on a plane to go back to Newark, and then home. It’s been a great Assembly – lots of good work completed and, all in all, a positive, grace-filled atmosphere. Now begins the hard work of interpreting the Assembly’s actions to the Presbytery, and to the folks in the local-church pews.

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