Highs & Lows of General Assembly

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It is  now 11:40 pm on Friday night, the last night of the 221st General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).  We are still in plenary session.   Tomorrow by noon the assembly will be done. This has been a week unlike any other. It has been a remarkable experience, both in the prayerful discernment process of the church, the work we have done, and the very democratic nature of a church polity.  Something I have dreamed of my entire adult life.

In thinking of this week’s experience I will say there have been the highest of highs, and the lowest of lows. Yesterday, June 19, 2014, was one of my very best days.  The action Thursday to authoritatively interpret the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to permit pastors to perform same sex marriages in states where it is legal, and to face no disciplinary actions; and the amendment sent to the presbyteries to redefine marriage as being between two people was one of my proudest moments.  Our church has declared that all are welcome, all are equal, and as I saw yesterday on twitter,  #loveWins. This was incredibly special, it was an issue dear to my heart.   And I will forever know I was a part of that process.  

It is only today that I fully understood the pain that those on the other side of the issue felt, and how important our prayerful discernment is.  As I have written before, I have been dedicated, wholeheartedly to the opposition of divestment from three corporations (Caterpillar, HP, and Motorola) due to their use by the Israeli government in the Palestinian conflict.  My focus initially was on what I saw as a divisive, one-sided, and biased “study guide” called Zionism Unsettled.   I authored a commissioner’s resolution, to which five other commissioner’s joined, declaring that it does not represent the views of the church.  That resolution was approved by the Middle East Committee 55-8, and approved on the consent agenda on Wednesday.  This was another incredible high.   But I was equally committed to approving a resolution calling for continued positive investment in Palestine, and against divestment.

I was fully aware of the impact the decade long effort to divest has had on my presbytery, the pain it has caused, the churches which have left – since Caterpillar is headquartered in Peoria and smack-dab in the middle of the presbytery.   I aligned myself with a group called Presbyterians for Middle East Peace.  We worked in solidarity, we strategized, we developed speaking points, messages,  we raised objections, and engaged in what is certainly a political process, but one that was both thoughtful, prayerful, and conscientious.     

Today, after a 3 1/2 hour debate, we lost.   By a margin of 7 votes, the Assembly decided to divest from these three companies.   I spoke early about the damage this would do to our interfaith relations, and how hurtful it would be viewed to American jews. I spoke about the symbolic way this would be viewed by the outside world, as affiliating ourselves with the BDS – or Boycott, Divest, Sanction movement (even though that isn’t officially true).  One of my colleagues spoke passionately about his community of Washington, IL, and how this decision would be viewed.  We fought the good-fight.  It was even harder to lose by such a close margin.    7 votes.  I saw the pain in the eyes of my fellow commissioners and the concern of how our local churches would react.  I saw calls for prayer.   Not everyone in our presbytery – or even in my congregation – is opposed to divestment – but many are.  Five of us opted to sign an official dissent from the vote, so our names will appear n the minutes of the meeting.      

But in the end, I realize that this is what happens in a democracy.  In a representative polity.  We make hard decisions, not everyone is happy, but we have spoken.   I will have more to say, when my brain is less cloudy.  But  in the end, more than fifteen hours after starting today, I think I am out of ideas, and might revisit this entire post tomorrow afternoon at the airport.  

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