General Assembly Day 1 Reflections

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Today was the first day of the 221st General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).  The day started for me with a breakfast offered by Presbyterians for Middle East Peace at 6:45am. The breakfast was educational and enjoyable.  After that, I spent some time at the exhibit hall, got to meet a “virtual” friend from Instagram who I “met” after last year’s Big Tent Conference in Louisville.  It was cool to finally meet Staci, and her two twin teenagers.  

Opening worship was at 11, and it was very nice.   Perhaps not as contemporary as worship at Big Tent, but quite impressive.  After lunch I went to a strategy session for Presbyterians for Middle East Peace, the advocacy group of presbyterians who I have aligned with, to find ways to have the General Assembly pass resolutions supporting a two state solution and positive investment in Israel and Palestine.   This session, led by staff from a Presbyterian Theological Seminary was very valuable, and will play a role in an issue I am working on.  

After lunch I submitted to the Tracking Office what is known as “Commissioner Resolution -06” — a commissioner’s resolution is an overture, a resolution to be considered by the assembly.    Our business comes in three forms.  Overtures approved by regional presbyteries (with a concurrence from a second presbytery); business from Church committees, and resolutions from commissioners, signed by at least 2 commissioners from different presbyteries.  The resolution I submitted is one I started working on in March.  In January, the Israel/Palestine Mission Network of the PCUSA issued what was called a “congregational study guide” called Zionism Unsettled.   This 78 page four-color book and DVD presents a one-sided look at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.   It uses inflammatory language, half-truths, refers to Israel as “towards a jewish Apartheid state,” and even seems to question Israel’s right to exist.   I read this “study guide” after a wonderful four week class taught in our congregation by the local Jewish rabbi.  And I was mortified by what I read; the polemic nature of it, and the fact that it appeared to speak for the Presbyterian Church.  As someone who teaches adult christian education, I knew this was in no way a study guide.  

I worked with several people, across the country, and refined the resolution, to call for the Presbyterian Mission Agency to cease distribution of the document and to remove it from the PCUSA web store immediately.    The resolution was signed by six commissioners from four presbyteries and is now before the Bill and Overtures Committee.  I expect to advocate for it on Tuesday.  In writing this, I have put myself on the side of a debate that some of my friends, both at home, and in the Presby-world disagree with, but I feel strongly about building strong relations between Christians and Jews.  Zionism Unsettled does much to harm that relationship.   I am excited about what is to come with this resolution, and will write separately about it later on. 

Since 2pm, I have been in plenary session (with a 90 minute break for a convention center dinner with bad coffee, but good desserts).   Eight hundred commissioners and advisory delegates each have ethernet cables at our desk.   We are supposed to use computers for our business, and to vote.   Well,  a simple rule is that if 800 people – plus probably another 1,000 on wi-fi, are trying to access stuff at the same time, you better have a BIG bandwidth pipe.  Yeah… well, that obviously did not happen.   We had computer voting problems, the website kept going down.  It was frustrating.   Needless to say, after dinner we switched to “clicker” keypads.  And guess what?   They took about six tries to work.  We think they are fixed.  Soon we will vote for moderator.   Yes, we are still in session.  It is 10pm.   

That leads me to the final task of the day.  We are listening to Q&A from three moderator candidates. They gave five minute speeches, and there has been 45 minutes of questions.  And then we vote.   And then we go home.   I am still hopeful that my favorite candidate will 

This has been a long day.  Rewarding in some ways, frustrating in others,  tiring, given that the 5:45am wakeup was really 4:45am, but I would no be anywhere else right now.  And am pretty darn happy to have the opportunity to be a ruling elder commissioner, and to be serving with my friends from Great Rivers Presbytery.  

Ok, time to vote for a moderator…   more tomorrow.  

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