Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Reflections on Day 3

During this Assembly, I am assisting Committee Four - "The Way Forward" - a committee charged with making recommendations on matters concerning the future of our denomination - from decision making to hierarchical structures to our identity and mission. In an afternoon briefing on the evolution of our denominational structures, theologian Amy Plantinga Pauw of Louisville Seminary quoted one of my favorite sections from Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Life Together:

“Those who love their dream of a Christian community more than they love the Christian community itself become destroyers of that Christian community even though their personal intentions may be ever so honest, earnest and sacrificial. ... It is not we who build. Christ builds the church. ... We do not know his plan. We cannot see whether he is building or pulling down. It may be that the times which by human standards are the times of collapse are for him the great times of construction. It may be that the times which from a human point are great times for the church are times when it's pulled down. It is a great comfort which Jesus gives to his church. You confess, preach, bear witness to me, and I alone will build where it pleases me. Do not meddle in what is not your providence. Do what is given to you, and do it well, and you will have done enough.... Live together in the forgiveness of your sins. Forgive each other every day from the bottom of your hearts.”

Those are important words to remember at General Assembly. The church is an imperfect institution. Sometimes actions which we think are "honest, earnest and sacrificial" are in fact self-deceptive, insincere, and self-serving. But we don't have the option of an ideal church, just the real one with imperfect people like ourselves.

Day 3 is the day Assembly committees are in full swing as they work through hundreds of items of business, deliberating what to recommend to the full Assembly. The recommendations are not the final disposition, but they carry a lot of sway with less informed commissioners in plenary session. And inevitably there are actions which persons will either praise as inspired choices or shake their heads in disbelief and dismay. And inevitably there are commissioners and resource people who amaze you with their insight, eloquence, and conviction, and others who shock you with their ignorance, stupidity, and short-sightedness. All you can do is pray that somehow God is in the midst of all this, building the church and its witness, and then live in the forgiveness of our sins, forgiving others theirs.

As I have pledged not to comment on pending business, I can't tell you my own thoughts on some of the committee actions thus far. I can say, however, that the Committee on Immigration and Environmental Issues voted narrowly to recommend approval of an overture calling for the church to divest from corporations engaged in the production and sale of fossil fuels. A minority report, affirming the ongoing work of the denomination's Mission Responsibility through Investment Committee is expected as well.

It was also reported to me that the Middle East Issues committee has recommended endorsement of a two-state solution in Israel and Palestine (vote tally unknown). Both of these actions deal with deeply held convictions that leave many feeling jubilant and others kicked in the gut.

And there are unbelievable stories of genuine inspiration like the community ministry to children at risk personally developed by 86-year old Ruben Armendariz of San Antonio. And stories that are unbelievable in a different way, like the Teaching elder (minister) who reportedly asked what the distinction is between believer's baptism and infant baptism.

But the judgment of what is good and bad ultimately does not belong to us. And even if it did, there is a lot more business yet to come out of committees, not to mention the actions of the Assembly as a whole.

Altogether, not a bad way to spend my 59th birthday. Especially when the 70 commissioners in Committee Four all sing "happy birthday" to you.

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