The Politics of a General Assembly

Church

Serving as a commissioner is both an honor and a butt-numbing burden.

Last week, I had the honor/burden of being a commissioner to the 220th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church USA. It is truly an honor to be chosen to serve, as not everyone gets to, given that we now do assemblies every other year rather than annually as we used to. But it is also a burden, both because of the butt-numbing tedium of much of the process, as well as having to be subjected to the political machinations of the various interested parties, some of whom have a no-holds-barred approach towards winning. In what follows, I will give my thoughts on the aspects of this GA, much of which I found extremely painful.

Symposium Essays

The Politics of a General Assembly, Postscript; Where Things Stand

I’m a liberal, but I don’t want to be in a liberal church, because liberals unchecked are prone to do stupid things. And I think the same holds true for conservatives that want to make a ghetto for themselves on the right. These would be terrible developments for the church to split ourselves the way some on the right are advocating. In the kingdom of God, the church will have every ideological stripe.

The Politics of a General Assembly, Part 2: The Committee on Confessions

This was my first experience of how the conservatives would use parliamentary maneuvers to block what was shaping up to be a progressive assembly by proposing study after study, utilizing minority reports and substitute motions designed to keep the Assembly from making decisions or even hearing about some important issues for as long as possible, if at all.

The Politics of a General Assembly, Part 3: Divestment

When the Committee on Middle East Peace finally made its motion to divest–you guessed it– a substitute motion was made, not divest but rather to invest in the Occupied West Bank. This was a masterstroke of polity, but a completely ridiculous proposal of policy. Presbyterians suffer from congenital niceness, which is the main reason that it had taken us eight years even to get to the point where we could make the least confrontational action possible on the issue, selling our own stocks and bonds.

The Politics of a General Assembly, Part 4: Marriage Equality (Delayed)

The conservatives did what they had to do to win. They ran out the clock, wore people down, kept their troops in line, and ultimately prevailed thereby. Not letting the Assembly debate the issue of the Authoritative Interpretation, however, is going to be a costly mistake. My sense is that commissioners thought that this is something like the ordination question that we debated for so many years. People could get only so far in one Assembly on that issue, but would reach an impasse, whereupon folks would realize that it would just have to wait until the next Assembly to get to the next step. But marriage is very different from ordination. Councils of the church perform ordinations, so you have to get a group of people to agree to move forward. Marriages, however, are performed by individual pastors. And the emotion surrounding a marriage is way higher than any ordination.