Thursday, June 23, 2016

Reflections on Day 5 - Part 2: Turning the Page

In the first part of my daily reflections, I wrote about the historic vote Wednesday night to adopt the Confession of Belhar. In that post I said the PCUSA entered the 21st century on Wednesday. That claim is borne out by other actions and observations. Day 5 of the Assembly gave witness that the PCUSA has turned the page on the past 30 years (or perhaps 100 years) of civil wars and is moving fully into a new future it is ready to write.

Here is some evidence:

  • The end of the sex wars. There was only a single item this year reflective of the wars over homosexuality, gay ordination, and same-sex marriage. It was an overture seeking to restore the "one man - one woman" language to our Book of Order definition of marriage. It failed by a 79%-21% margin.
  • Darwin wins. One hundred years ago, Presbyterians battled over the challenges to faith presented by Darwin's theory of evolution. From 1910 to 1925 the General Assembly adopted "five fundamentals" of the faith that were incumbent on all persons in ordered ministries of the church. They constituted a rejection of modernist, scientific claims about God and miracles. In two separate actions Wednesday, the church stated forcefully that science is not the enemy of faith; that human beings evolved over millions of years from other species; that the universe is at least 13.8 billion years old, and that God's plan of salvation involves the full use of human faculties of (scientific) reasoning.
  • A more pragmatic approach to worship. Presbyterian worship in the last three decades has been schizophrenic. On the one hand the liturgical renewal movement of the late 20th century generated a revised Directory for Worship in 1987, and a Book of Common Worship in 1993 that were the apex of high-church, theologically correct worship. The revised Form of Government adopted in 2011 boasted a return to theologically distinctive titles for "teaching elders" and "commissioned ruling elders." On the other hand, congregations have moved to less formal, more accessible worship models. In the new revision of the Directory for Worship overwhelmingly approved on Wednesday to be sent to the presbyteries for approval, a more pastoral and pragmatic approach is being recommended, permitting greater pastoral discretion regarding baptism and admission to the Lord's Supper. and on Friday, the Assembly will consider changes to titles for church service that reflect a more common vocabulary, changing "teaching elder" back to "minister" and "minister of the Word and sacrament," and "commissioned ruling elder" to "commissioned pastor."
  • Co-momerators. Wednesday was the first time we got to see our new all-female moderatorial dyad in action. Dubbed "co-momerators" by the YAADs, Denise Anderson and Jan Edmiston led debate with joy, humor, dancing, and a casual ease. It makes one wonder why we hadn't tried this before.
This has been a remarkable and historic day for Presbyterians. It began with powerful presentations for justice in morning breakfast meetings and the ecumenical worship service focusing on Belhar, Black Lives Matter, Palestine, and the anniversary of the Charleston Mother Emanuel shootings. It ended with the historic action on Belhar. Not only has the Assembly managed to move past the divisions that have afflicted it in the past, but the commissioners seem to have regained a shared sense of joy and achievement in the work they have been called to consider. 

A new day appears to have dawned.

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