Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Reflections on Day 4

Tuesdays at General Assembly are a rush of activity as committees consider and make recommendations regarding the most important issues before the Assembly. They are only recommendations for the full body to consider but they frame the debate and provide guidance for commissioners who have not had the opportunity to hear and consider the issues as closely. When the Assembly acts counter to the recommendation of a committee, it is newsworthy in its own right.

But committees are not the Assembly. One important difference is that in committees, advisory delegates (Young adult, Theological student, Missionary, and Ecumenical) have full voice and vote.  In the committee I resourced, for example, of the 78 voting members, 18 were advisory delegates, including 15 Young adult advisory delegates.  This is a significant percentage, so that their votes can sway a committee recommendation in a different direction from the commissioners alone. 

This almost certainly happened in Committee 9, on Immigration and Environmental Issues. Arguably the most important issue before the Assembly is Item 09-01, an overture asking the Church to divest immediately from companies involved in the production and sale of fossil fuels. Groups organized on both sides of the issue have been engaged for months preparing for this Assembly. Of the 64 members of this committee, 56 voted on this item, recommending divestment by a vote of 31-25. But there are 13 Young Adult and Theological Student advisory delegates in this committee, who are among the most vocal proponents of divestment.  It will be interesting to see how the plenary body - in which advisory delegates do not have a vote - will act on this recommendation.

Another notable committee recommendation happened in Committee 5, on Mid Councils. The committee voted 28-15 to recommend approval of an overture to rescind the actions of the 221st General Assembly to reduce the number of synods from the present 16 to no more than 12.  This is the culmination of a six year process of consideration on the future of synods, which included four assemblies and two administrative commissions, had led to previous recommendations to eliminate or consolidate synods. A minority report, signed by two commissioners in the Synod of the Covenant, calls for the formation of a task force of eight persons from the two previous commissions to recommend boundary changes to the next Assembly if they cannot convince the 16 synods to agree to a plan within 8 months.

My friend and colleague Sallie Sampsell Watson, General Presbyter in Mission Presbytery, has written an excellent piece on the committee process on this item on her blog:

The actions of committees (and later, of the whole Assembly) can be found on under "Action Summary" for the appropriate item. Items are listed by committee, but you can use the search function to find a specific item.

Today (Wednesday) is expected to be a historic day, as the Assembly considers final ratification of the Confession of Belhar to be our 12th confessional document.

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